College bound!

Columbus’ Youth Development Coach Kiecha McCrae (third from right) with Columbus High School AIM student winners (l-r) Jermaine Johns - Most Improved Student Athlete; Akheeme Bailey – Male Leadership Award; and Nichelle Watkins – Highest GPA (female), AIM co-founders Jim Presbrey (far left) and Terry Quinn (center), and Riley Nickols (far right), AIM program director at an award ceremony held earlier in the year. Terrence Lee won the Highest GPA (male) and Shaunese Crawford won the Female Leadership Award, but were not pictured.

While Columbus has fared well on the basketball court this year, its players had their most success off the court. 

Ahmed Nagaya, of the boys’ varsity team, will be attending Buffalo State this fall, while his counterpart, Amelia Shuffler, of the girls’ varsity team, will be attending St. John’s University. 

While on different teams, the one thing they have in common is their Academics in Motion Youth Development Coach Kiecha McCrae, or as her charges like to call her – Coach Kie. 

“I wasn’t sure what college I wanted to go to,” said Shuffler.  “Coach Kie helped build up my confidence, kept me focused and put me on the right path to make the right decisions in life.”

Not bad for a rookie academic coach who had no idea what was in store for her when she came to Columbus. 

“To be honest with you, when I first applied for the job, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing,” said McCrae.  “I just knew I had to keep them eligible for basketball, make sure they went to class and reached a higher level in the sport.”

AIM officials feel she accomplished those goals and more and were impressed with her efforts throughout the year. 

“We’re very happy and encouraged with Kiecha,” said AIM founder Terry Quinn.  “She brings a lot to the table as an ex basketball player with college experience.  She is familiar with the importance of academics and what sets her apart from others is her willingness to think outside the box.”

McCrae utilized a contact she has with a local videographer in order to film college recruitment footage for students.  Columbus never filmed their players in action before. 

McCrae even went so far as to rent vans and set up field trips to visit local college campuses with her students, placing the idea of higher education into their minds. 

One such student; Shuffler plans on majoring in business management with a plan to one day open a hotel.  Although she does plan to try out for basketball as a walk-on player, the former Columbus baller was not accepted to SJU based on her athletics.  The Bronx graduate was accepted based on her school work.  And that’s what AIM is all about.   

AIM’s Project Rebound program brings coaches like McCrae to schools to help its basketball players maintain the grades to remain academically eligible throughout the season and more attractive to colleges during the recruitment process. 

Coach Kie came to Columbus after the school had already went through three such coaches.  McCrae doesn’t plan on going anywhere and students feel they finally have a stable force that will remain with them until their graduation day. 

Nagaya, who like Shuffler was accepted to Buffalo State for academics and plans to try out for the team as a walk-on player, will major in engineering at the school and he has an idea on what he will do to manage his finances for the future. 

“Coach Kie would go over what it would take to buy a house or pay the rent,” he said.  “She went above and beyond for me.”

Now McCrae has her eyes set on a second season, pointing to players like Shaunese Crawford, Asia Wheeler, Akheeme Bailey, and Jermaine Johns as stars to watch. 

“I think there are a lot of players on both teams with a lot of great potential,” she said.  “I want to work with them on and off the court and get them into a good college.  There is no reason why these gifted students shouldn’t succeed.”

More from Around NYC