ALBANY — In a span of less than 24 hours, the UAlbany men’s basketball program cut in half its number of available scholarships for the 2020-21 season, as head coach Will Brown’s program received verbal commitments from a pair of guards on back-to-back days.
Monday evening, Chuck Champion — a graduate transfer from Loyola (Maryland) — committed to play for the Great Danes, he confirmed Tuesday in a phone interview. Then, Tuesday afternoon, C.J. Kelly — who spent a pair of seasons at Norfolk State before spending the last season at Pratt Community College in Kansas — also made his commitment, announced with a social-media post, to play for UAlbany next season.
Attempts to reach Kelly were not immediately successful.
Both players are expected to be immediately eligible to play next season for UAlbany, and will add guard depth to a program that is losing its top playmaker in Ahmad Clark to graduation and often struggled to generate offense when Clark was off the floor. The 6-foot-4 Champion from Philadelphia has one season to play, while the 6-foot-5 Kelly from Long Island has two.
While he didn’t play last season because of an injury, Kelly was at Pratt this past season with Jamel Horton, a 6-foot-4 guard who committed a couple of weeks ago to join the Great Danes. Before heading to Pratt, Kelly was at Norfolk State for two seasons, but only played during his second year there after redshirting the first as an NCAA partial qualifier. As a redshirt freshman, Kelly averaged 4.5 points in 12.3 minutes per game, but landed on the MEAC All-Rookie team and earned MEAC All-Tournament recognition.
Meanwhile, Champion will join the Great Danes after a four-year career at Loyola that saw the guard suffer a broken right foot early in his senior season.
“Once I found out it was a possibility I could get another year of eligibility, I was all in for that,” Champion said. “I didn’t want my career to end like that.”
Champion only played in nine games last season before suffering a season-ending injury on Jan. 5. Champion averaged 4.6 points in 17.9 minutes per game on 30% shooting from the field prior to his injury as a true senior.
As a sophomore and junior, Champion was more effective. During those two seasons, Champion averaged 11.1 points in 30.7 minutes per game on 39.3% shooting, plus 3.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists and one steal.
In UAlbany’s offensive system, Champion said he could contribute at the 1, 2 or 3 positions.
“And I can guard all those positions, as well,” said Champion, whose first cousin is former NBA player Raja Bell. “I like to create for myself and others off the bounce. I can shoot it a little bit. My stats aren’t amazing, but I can shoot the 3 a little and my pull-up game is strong.”
Champion said he still needs to work to strengthen his right foot and leg after his injury, but he no longer needs to wear a protective boot. Before committing to UAlbany, Champion said he received significant interest from Northeastern, Rice, Stony Brook, Towson and UMBC.
“It’s been kind of weird, just like for everyone else, with everything that’s going on,” said Champion, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic that has removed all in-person contact from recruiting. “I was trying to take the time with my process, see all my options, lay them all out on the table, and pick what’s best for my last year. They [the UAlbany coaches] were on me pretty heavily and consistently, and I built a good relationship with them.”
With Champion and Kelly committing to join UAlbany, the Great Danes have two open scholarships remaining for the 2020-21 season. The Great Danes finished 14-18 last season after losing their final six games.