Naquan Pierce froze the defender by hesitating before quickly crossing over, the ball quickly switching from his left to right hand. He buzzed past his man, into the lane, just to the right of the paint.
Instead of pulling up for the shot jumper in traffic – one of his go-to moves as a junior at John F. Kennedy – he found Metrohawks teammate Leroy Isler underneath for an uncontested layup.
The next time down court, he rose up immediately. But as Pierce was going to quickly release the ill advised 3-pointer, he dished to an open teammate. This possession didn’t end nearly as well as the previous one.
The Metrohawks failed to get a good shot off, but it illustrated the changes Pierce is attempting to make, from an undersized shooting guard to pass-first point guard.
“Sometimes, I got to think twice about it,” he said.
“Less shots, less turnovers and staying aggressive,” is the approach Pierce has adopted.
The diminutive guard led Kennedy on a magical run to the PSAL Class AA city championship game last March. In a quarterfinal victory over McKee/Staten Island Tech, he had 39 points, and added 23 points in the semifinal victory over Thomas Jefferson, emerging as one of the top guards in the city,
Yet, Pierce figured he had to alter the way he played if he wanted to go to the next level. At just 5-foot-9, he wasn’t going to land a Division I scholarship of any kind as a shooting guard.
“College is different,” Pierce said. “They are looking for me to get my teammates involved.”
It’s been an up-and-down summer for Pierce, the result, Kennedy assistant coach Starr Jones said, of the transition. Kennedy was his team. He had the green light from the opening tip to the final horn.
“He’s being asked to do different things now,” Jones said. “He has to learn to pass the ball.”
Pierce said the transition hasn’t been too difficult. He was a point guard growing up with the Bingo All-Stars. He played off the ball the last two years at Kennedy because fellow guard Jeffrey Arzu, who has since graduated, was a better penetrator than shooter.
With the talented Metrohawks, the team doesn’t depend on him to score. Although Pierce said he still has the option to shoot whenever open, he doesn’t mind the change.
“As long as we get the win, I’ll look good,” he said.
Kennedy teammate Jeffrey Short said he has noticed Pierce looking to get everyone involved. He is shooting less and passing more while still producing offensively.
He has taken an unofficial visit to Seton Hall and drawn significant interest from mid-major programs such as Binghamton, Jacksonville and Niagara. One mid-major assistant coach familiar with him said, “He would be great there. I like him on that level.”
The coach said, unless something extraordinary changes, he doesn’t see Pierce as a Big East player because of his size and skill set. Low-to-mid-major would be the best fit. Metrohawks coach Sean Adams agrees with that assessment. He, however, doesn’t feel Pierce has to change much.
“He’s small, but he’s quick,” Adams, also a Canarsie assistant coach, said. “You don’t find too many point guards who can shoot like him.”
Pierce seems to understand the balance, although he still second-guesses himself, which Adams said, is part of his development.
“I don’t mind changing,” Pierce said, “because it’s going to help me improve.”