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Rising Star: Iona Guard A.J. English

Kansas Jayhawks fans attempt to distract as A.J. English #5 of the Iona Gaels shoots a free throw. (credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Kansas Jayhawks fans attempt to distract as A.J. English #5 of the Iona Gaels shoots a free throw. (credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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By Andrew Kahn

Quick: How many NBA players hail from Delaware? According to Basketball-Reference.com, only four players who attended high school in Delaware made it to the league, combining for 10 seasons.

The lack of big-time players from his home state gives Iona sophomore A.J. English, who hails from Middletown, an edge. “Every time I step on the court I have to prove myself,” he said. He gains added confidence from the fact that one of the answers to the trivia question is his dad. The others are Dexter Boney, Laron Profit, and Terence Stansbury.

English is averaging 17.8 points, 4.1 assists, and 3.9 rebounds for the Gaels, who are tied atop the MAAC with an 8-2 conference record after winning both games last weekend. Since taking over as Iona’s full-time point guard, English’s numbers are up; he’s scored at least 25 points three times this month. Iona plays Manhattan on Friday (9:00 ET, ESPNU).

English was named the MAAC Rookie of the Week three times last year before breaking his right (dominant) wrist, an injury that cost him the final 15 games of the season. Not being able to contribute as Iona won the conference tournament wasn’t easy, but English gained insight from the bench, sitting next to the coaches and soaking up knowledge. Even though he averages 35 minutes a game this season, he’s still asking questions. “He wants to become smarter,” Iona head coach Tim Cluess said after Friday’s win over Quinnipiac. “He asks about the score and situation—whether we should push the ball or run a set, what’s a good shot, things like that. He’s really trying to educate himself.”

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His transition to point guard has kept Iona’s offense on track despite losing last season’s leading scorer, MoMo Jones. Through Sunday’s games, when Iona last played, the Gaels are fifth in the country in both effective shooting percentage and three-point percentage and 11th-best in turnover percentage. English played the point in high school and Iona’s coaches felt he could create mismatches at 6’4”. “I like having the ball in my hands and being the quarterback out there,” English said. “I have to make sure Sean (Armand) is getting the ball. If Tre (Bowman)’s got it going, I get it to him. I feed (forward) David Laury.” English has done an excellent job balancing getting his teammates involved and scoring. Against Quinnipiac, he played all but the final minute and tallied 20 points, seven rebounds, and five assists.

Cluess recruited English, who spent a year at a prep school in Connecticut, because of his edge and his offensive ability. “He doesn’t back down from anyone,” Cluess said. “And he believes in himself; he’s got a ton of confidence.”

English can thank Delaware for that. Growing up, he didn’t spend much time with his dad, who after two seasons with the Washington Bullets embarked on an eight-year overseas career that took him around the world. A.J. remembers his dad telling him he’d work on his game year-round, sometimes shoveling snow in order to make the court playable. “It’s one in a million to make the NBA, but seeing someone in my own family make it inspires me to work hard.”

Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local Sports who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at andrewjkahn@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn

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