Ray Bethea Jr. committed this week to attend Howard University on an NCAA Division I basketball scholarship.
The Washington school probably had the inside track on the recruiting of the Atlantic City High School standout.
Bethea’s sister Natasha Rae Bethea graduated from Howard in 2011. Bethea attended his sister’s graduation.
“I think it would be a good situation because I have a family line there,” Bethea said. “My sister was telling me how I would like the school, and it was a really good school.”
As a junior last season, the 6-foot-5 Bethea averaged 18 points and 6.3 rebounds. He was a first-team Press All-Star and one of the Cape-Atlantic League’s and South Jersey’s most versatile players.
Bethea visited Howard twice this summer.
“I liked the atmosphere,” Bethea said. “Everybody was very supportive. I felt like the school could make me a better man.”
Bethea has long intrigued college coaches with his wingspan and jumping and shooting abilities. As a sophomore, he sparked the Vikings to the S.J. Group IV title and a state final appearance.
He played mostly small forward during the 2016-17 season. Niagara, Robert Morris and Quinnipiac are among the colleges that also offered him scholarships.
“To get a free education means everything,” Bethea said. “I get to go to college for free and play basketball — the thing that I love.”
Howard plays in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with schools such as Morgan State and Norfolk State. The Bison finished 10-24 last season under coach Kevin Nickelberry, who took over the program in 2010.
Howard has increased its New Jersey presence over the past few seasons. St. Anthony of Jersey City point guard R.J. Cole, one of the state’s top players, will be a freshman at Howard this coming season.
Bethea said the Howard coaches see him as a combination shooting guard and small forward.
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“They’re adding some good pieces,” Atlantic City coach Gene Allen said. “I think the MEAC is a very good conference for Ray. I think he’ll get a chance to fit in right away. It’s a great, great opportunity.”
The decision allows Bethea to focus on his senior season. The Vikings once again are projected to be one of the state’s top teams.
“I have a lot of stress off my back now,” he said. “I don’t need to impress anybody else.”
Howard University was founded a few years after the Civil War ended as a theological seminary for black clergymen. The school played a role in the civil rights movement. Among its graduates are deceased U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
That history appealed to Bethea, who plans to major in business.
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“It’s a special place,” he said. “I believe I’m going to learn a lot as a young man.”