JONAH Antonio’s move to the US to complete high school under a specialist basketball program has paid off with the graduate earning a spot in the top echelon of college sports.
The 18-year-old Stirling Senators product, whose family lives in Currambine, has signed with Maryland-based university Mount St. Mary’s, which is in the Northeast Conference of NCAA Division I.
The team, known as the Mountaineers, has been among Northeast’s best in recent seasons, winning the conference title in 2014, which earned it a place in the national championship tournament, one of the country’s biggest sporting events.
The side has not made it to the national tournament since then, most recently finishing in the conference semi finals with a national ranking of 247 from 351 teams.
Antonio hopes to help the Mountaineers return to the national stage where basketball folklore beckons and future NBA stars roam.
His goal is to be named the Northeast’s freshman (first-year player) of the year.
He turned down offers from Montana (Big Sky Conference), Pepperdine (West Coast Conference), Stephen F. Austin (Southland Conference) and Weber State (Big Sky Conference) to join Mount St. Mary’s because it offered him the best prospect for court time.
“I knew I’d have an opportunity to come in and play right away and make an impact,” he said.
“It’s awesome – not many people from WA or even Australia really get to go NCAA Division I.”
Antonio committed to his grand plan while still in high school, moving to the US to complete his final years of secondary education with successful basketball school Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas.
He described it as easier academically but said the basketball was tough.
“It was a great experience and helped a lot. I played on TV and against some of the best high school basketball prospects in the world,” he said.
Antonio faced 216cm WA product Thon Maker, who was recently drafted to the NBA directly from high school, on two occasions.
While an NBA contract is the 194cm guard’s obvious target, he hopes to play professionally in Australia should he not realise his US dream.
“I’d love to come back and play in Australia; I have a great relationship with Rob Beveridge, former Wildcat coach and Illawarra head coach, so if he’s still coaching I’d love to play for him,” he said.
“But NBA is the goal, just have to work extremely hard and show out in games.”
It would be easy to assume he would draw inspiration from Australia’s latest No. 1 NBA draft pick Ben Simmons, but he explained this was not the case.
Instead, it’s the achievements of NBA championship players Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills he follows for motivation.
“I wouldn’t say I draw inspiration from Ben seeing as he’s only a little older than me but obviously he’s a great talent and its exciting to see what he will be able to do for Australian basketball,” he said.
“Patty Mills and Delly have inspired me; they took the college route and were very successful so they kind of set the dream to play college basketball on the highest level.”
Antonio’s signing with Mount St. Mary’s puts his name among such WA-bred basketballers as Cody Ellis (St Louis), Keanu Pinder (Arizona), Majok Majok (Ball State), Tevin Jackson (McNeese State) and Trian Iliadis (Old Dominion), as an NCAA Division I player of recent years.