Ozzy DeJesus is going from one championship basketball team to another, with the Mekeel Christian Academy guard announcing his commitment to Madonna University in Michigan on Saturday with a Twitter post.
DeJesus’ clutch play in the closing minutes helped Mekeel secure the Section II Class A title back in March, while Madonna won the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference postseason title and made an appearance in the 32-team National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Division II tournament.
DeJesus, who averaged 18.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists his senior year and made The Daily Gazette All-Area first team, will attend Madonna on an athletic scholarship.
“It’s a great program. They had 25 wins last year,” Mekeel boys’ basketball coach Chad Bowman said. “They’ve got a good, exciting young staff. He’ll be in good hands.”
Madonna head coach Noel Emenhiser’s staff includes assistant Dan Decker, who in the past served as Mekeel’s athletic director.
“He is someone I can trust and look to take me under his wing,” DeJesus said.
Madonna had been after the 18-year-old DeJesus for quite some time and, according to Bowman, he was the Crusaders’ No. 1 high school recruit.
“Honestly, it was a blessing to hear that. That showed me how much they wanted me,” said DeJesus, who played both shooting guard and point guard while at Mekeel as well some small forward. “There were over 50 kids they were looking at.”
“The loyalty and passion they showed while recruiting him meant a lot to him,” Bowman said. “They love the moxie he has and the toughness he has. He’s a player who will run to the fight rather than shy away from it. He’s a relentless competitor.”
The 6-foot-1 DeJesus said he was looking at several prep school opportunities as well as a handful of colleges including Oneonta and Madonna, which is located in Livonia, Michigan.
“A couple of days ago, I decided that’s what I want to do,” DeJesus said. “I appreciate all of the schools that reached out to me. I felt Madonna was the one.”
DeJesus said he thought long and hard about attending a school so far away from his Scotia home.
“It might be a struggle the first couple of months, but it will be good for me,” said DeJesus, who attended Amsterdam schools before going to Mekeel for his junior and senior years. “It will be like a new start being away from home. It will help me develop into a man.”
DeJesus will be joining a Madonna team that lost one senior to graduation. That team went 25-9 and won three games in the WHAC tournament before a two-point loss in the NAIA tournament.
Madonna went 23-10 and 17-13 before last season.
“Their roster is stacked with high-level players,” Bowman said. “He’s not walking in as a savior. He’ll try to help a winning program continue to win. He’ll have to earn his time. He’s excited about the challenge.”
“With my ability and the way I get guys involved, I think I can make an impact,” DeJesus said.
DeJesus did that in the Section II Class A final when he scored seven of his 27 points inside the final three minutes to lift Mekeel past Lansingburgh 74-67. That was Mekeel’s final game in a 20-2 season cut short because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“He put the team on his shoulders and brought us a championship,” said Bowman, who had lost standout junior Alex Barnhill to fouls just before DeJesus took over. “At the biggest moment, he made four big plays. The biggest games is when he plays his best, and that’s a great compliment.”
DeJesus scored a career-high 43 points in a win over Binghamton that was part of Mekeel’s 17-game winning streak to close out the season. He was named to the Class A all-state fourth team, selected the Kirvin Cup MVP, and made the Section II all-tournament team. In a 79-53 semifinal win over Gloversville, he showed off all of his skills with 17 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and a pair of steals.