Khayree Wilson still remembers what a college coach told him early in his tenure at Imani Christian High School.
It was a conversation that college coaches believe Pittsburgh is a bottom-of-the-barrel recruiting place for basketball, and how the talent level isn’t where it should be to be recruited by Division I schools.
Now, it turns out Wilson, who is about to begin his fifth season as the basketball coach at First Love Christian Academy, can’t get those same college coaches to stop calling about three players on his team.
D.J. Gordon, Jett Roesing and Isaiah Wilson – all from Western Pennsylvania – have turned their years at First Love, the Washington-based prep school that practices and plays at the Brownson House and travels across the United States, into 49 scholarship offers.
The three rising seniors have shot up recruiting boards, helping to continue Khayree Wilson’s expectation of a basketball breeding ground and a belief that if you’re good enough, coaches will come.
“You feel it the minute you walk into the gym,” Khayree Wilson said. “You feel the culture and environment. They are held to high expectations. They hold themselves to high expectations. There is something special that goes on inside this gym.”
It’s a feeling that all three players referenced in what has turned them into highly sought after recruits.
“At First Love, we have a saying, ‘It’s about the environment,’” Isaiah Wilson said. “The environment you are around every day, being able to compete against the best, only gets you better.”
Improving so much so that all 49 of their offers have come since arriving at First Love prior to their junior years. Their freshman and sophomore seasons were spent elsewhere throughout the WPIAL. Gordon played at Obama Academy, Isaiah Wilson at North Catholic and Roesing at Sewickley Academy.
“I’m real happy I made the move to transfer to First Love,” Gordon said, who has since been offered by Pitt, Penn State, St. John’s, Rutgers, Illinois, Wichita State, Georgia Tech, Minnesota and others.
“I was known but wasn’t getting that attention before. Now, after picking up over 20 offers, it’s like wow.”
Khayree Wilson described Gordon – a 6-6, 170-pound wing from Garfield/East Liberty – as an athletic machine who is very explosive, knows how to finish in the open court and can score on all three levels. He also credited his defensive ability, which he has shown in AAU tournaments against some of the best in the country.
“Before I came to First Love, all I wanted to do was shoot the ball,” Gordon remembers. “My game has matured. I am playing faster. We are just trying to put Pittsburgh on the map. Whether it’s traveling outside of the state or going over to Philadelphia, we are trying to make noise as Pittsburgh boys. We can hoop, too.”
Isaiah Wilson, Gordon’s cousin, said the elder Wilson has helped him develop leadership and a mid-range jump shot, making him a true point guard.
His 13 points, seven assists and three steals per game to go along with his explosiveness and high basketball IQ has led to bigger offers, including ones from Georgetown, Rhode Island, Winthrop and Kent State.
“It’s a surreal feeling to know that schools want you,” Isaiah Wilson said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, wow. I can’t believe this is really happening.’”
Roesing, a sharp-shooting 6-4 guard who averaged 15 points, five rebounds and made 47 percent of his three-pointers last year, said the transition from Sewickley to First Love got off to a rocky start.
“It was hard,” Roesing said. “I was in a good environment with good relationships with teachers, coaches and friends (at Sewickley). For me, it was that extra step forward I had to take to get to my goal in life, which was to keep playing basketball. But all these athletes when I came in were stronger and better than me. It is straight business. It is four hours of non-stop practice. It is running and lifting. That competitiveness has turned me into a better basketball player.”
Roesing’s father, Nate, is the CEO at First Love, which will expand this year to playing tournaments in Florida, Las Vegas and Canada.
“These kids, I can’t emphasize enough, work so hard and love one another,” Nate Roesing said. “They watch out for each other’s successes. They start in August and are in the gym every day until the end of May. You go through a lot of ups and downs together. They have opened the doors for each other to be successful.”
Their success – and offers – are nowhere near done.
With all three still having another year, they are chasing a number set by previous players at First Love. Khayree Wilson has challenged them to eclipse 62 offers, a mark set by a former graduating class that included USF’s David Collins, Mississippi State’s Prince Oduro, Pitt’s Samson George and Christian Bentley, who went to Sienna before transferring to Iowa Western.
None of those players, however, was from Western Pennsylvania.
Now, the homegrown talent might be proving Khayree Wilson right; that if you build it, they will come.
“I’m like a kid in a candy store,” Khayree Wilson said with excitement. “I get just as excited as the kids. I don’t take any of this for granted and am in awe of it all. This is a kid from Sewickley and two are inner-city kids from Pittsburgh. What these kids have done for First Love and all of Western Pennsylvania, they have opened up a door that has made coaches come to see who we have.”