Correction: Najee Pride is a four-year starter.
ORANGE, NJ (corrected Thursday March 16, 8:05 a.m.) – Najee Pride isn’t just like any other player.
The Orange resident arguably is the best player on the Christ the King Prep boys’ basketball team. This season, the 6-foot-1 senior guard displayed his
all-around skills while averaging 14 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals for the Newark team, which finished with an impressive 23-5 record after the fifth-seeded team lost to fourth-seeded Morristown-Beard in a 62-60 heartbreaker in the NJSIAA North Jersey Non-Public “B” state tournament
But what’s remarkable about Pride is the fact that he was born without three fingers on his right hand, with his thumb and pinky as his only fingers.
Najee’s surname best describes his approach to the game, much to the delight of Christ the King head coach Cecil Stinson.
“He just has a will to win; he’s very competitive, said Stinson of Pride, a two-year captain and four-year starter. “He does not take losing very well at all. His will to win is what allows him to overcome his handicap. I feel he is just as good as the next player without a handicap on the floor.”
Stinson had an inkling that Pride would develop into a standout player, recalling the time when Pride had 39 points, 16 rebounds and eight steals in a Christmas tournament game during his sophomore year.
On the court, Pride refuses to allow his handicap interfere with his determination and multi-faceted game. In fact, fans wouldn’t even notice that he has just two fingers on his hand, especially when Pride launches his perfectly-executed jump shots.
“If you don’t know that Najee has a handicap, you would not know by watching him shoot,” Stinson said. “He actually has, what I call, a textbook form for a shooter.”
Opponents and teammates alike know that Pride will always come with his “A” game, whether in practice or in a game.
“They see toughness, from other teams and within our team,” Stinson said. “As far as practices, Najee is a competitor, and he’s a leader and that he is a very tough guy to go up against in practice. Even guys on the other team, in my opinion, I believe he is usually the focal point of a scouting report. Other teams know he is a fierce competitor. Guys don’t want Najee to get going.
“You can tell when we play other teams that he is the focal point of the scouting report, whether it’s a box-and-one or a much tougher defense being played on him as an individual,” Stinson added.
Stinson, indeed, will miss Pride and the other six seniors on the team who helped build up the program for the past four years. Those guys “built the house,” so to speak, said Stinson.
In the first-round state tournament win against Eastern Christian, Pride had 10 points to give him exactly 1,500 points for his career. Pride scored 13 points against Morristown-Beard in his final game to finish with 1,513 points. He also had a team-high 11 rebounds along with four assists in the tough loss.
Stinson feels that Pride is an under-the-radar prospect who can play collegiately, whether it’s Division II, Division III or junior colleges. Pride right now is exploring his options, Stinson noted.
But make no mistake, Pride will continue to work hard despite his handicap.