East Flatbush native Dublin enjoying breakout summer with New York Belles

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Ayonna Dublin is getting a basketball education this summer, and opening the eyes of some elite college coaches.

This rising junior and East Flatbush native received her first taste of the girls’ basketball travel circuit after playing in basketball anonymity for the last two seasons. The 5-foot-10 wing has quickly caught the eyes of college coaches while playing with the New York Belles, and is beginning to garner interest from Division I schools like Manhattan, Sacred Heart and St. Francis (Brooklyn). Belles assistant coach Jessica Villaplana said many people have asked her and head coach Mike Kotrozo where Dublin came from.

“No one really knew she was right in out own back yard,” Villaplana said.

All of this attention is new to Dublin. She has been enrolled at Grace Church School, a small downtown private school, since kindergarten and played on the junior varsity team at its three-year-old high school for the last two years. She said she’s given up on explaining to people where she is enrolled. Many think it is an inter-faith institution, but Grace Church was originally founded as a choir boarding school and has no specific religious affiliation. Dublin just tells those who ask that she goes to private school.

Her summer basketball before this year included training with former Medgar Evers coach Barney Davis and playing in local tournaments. It was intimidating for her in the beginning to compete against some of the nation’s top teams in huge, 30-court facilities with hundreds of college coaches watching.

“At first it was kind of terrifying, but I noticed that everyone here is kind of just like me, trying to get somewhere in college,” Dublin said.

The experience has brought out the best in her. She said that often at Grace Church she finds herself playing down to the level of the competition despite the encouragement of her coaches. Being with the Belles has done the opposite. Dublin had to adjust to the speed of the game and raise her level of play. Kotrozo still wants her to be even more aggressive than she is now.

“She has it,” he said. “It just has to come out.”

Doublin’s biggest asset is her speed. She is a middle-distance track runner at Grace Church, so her endurance allows her to make plays on both ends of the floor late in the game and makes it tough to stay in front of her defensively. Doublin’s athleticism allowed her to also be a consistent rebounder.

“She has springs on her legs,” Villaplana said. “You can’t teach that.”

Working with Davis laid the foundation for Dublin’s game and now she is branching out. Her time on the travel circuit has made playing locally easier, and Dublin finds herself playing harder consistently. The college interest has reinforced what her coaches are telling her, but it isn’t always easy to turn what people say in action. Dublin still needs to improve her ball handling and outside shooting after playing center for Grace Church. But her travel-ball coach believes all if that will happen.

“She is a great athlete,” Kotrozo said. “Her skills are starting to come together too now. Next year she is going to be a real problem.”

Reach reporter Joseph Staszewski at Follow him on twitter @cng_staszewski.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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