PCT’s Vazquez has turned into a go-to player

PHOTO PROVIDED Penn College’s Elijah Vazquez dribbles during a game this season at Bardo Gym. Vazquez has quickly established himself as one of Penn College’s top players.

It all started two years ago as a third-year coach at Thomas College in Waterville, Maine. Now the Penn College coach, Geoff Hensley heard about a sharpshooter at Community College of Rhode Island, a Division II junior college, which is the largest one in the New England region. Some of Hensley’s players that transferred in were buzzing about an opponent they faced at their previous college.

After talking with his players and watching some of his game film, Hensley was enamored with Elijah Vazquez. He knew he had to have him and now he does.

Over two years and nearly 400 miles away from home, Vazquez finally united with Hensley, and for both, the match couldn’t have worked out any better.

“Just like any good coach, I’m trying to get the best players I can get,” Hensley said. “…Now he’s a Wildcat. The day he stepped on campus is the day that the whole future of this program changed.”

“He recruited me, I recruited him too. When he was at Thomas College, it seemed like he was a really good coach as well,” Vazquez said. “Honestly, having that, players and coaches on the same page, it just makes everything better and he seemed like a good person that I could play for.”

One of the first things Hensley did when he got to Williamsport was try to assemble a respectable squad with good players. Vazquez was his first target. Though he wasn’t with the Wildcats during the first semester, the wait was well worth it. Vazquez has quickly turned into Penn College’s go-to player and its best player just 10 games into his career in Williamsport. The junior guard is averaging 19.2 points per game while shooting 49 percent from the field and 48 percent from 3. He’s scored 20 or more points in seven of his last eight games and is already third on the team in total scoring even though he’s played half the games of everybody else. As a team the Wildcats have 15 20-point games. Vazquez has seven of them.

Vazquez has been a bright spot in a dim year for the Wildcats (2-19, 1-11 NEAC). He’s provided hope and a potential look into the future for a program that has a combined 24 wins in the last six years. But with his arrival, plus a young roster parlayed with incoming talent, the best might be yet to come for the Wildcats.

“He’s a big step in the right direction. Getting Elijah Vazquez to come down here and play for us definitely bumped us up. Every game, we’re in it,” Hensley said. “It was crazy last (week). I think Lancaster Bible was up by 20 points at one time but all of a sudden the game changed and in the last minute, it was almost a single-digit game and their coach sent in the whole starting lineup because he got nervous. It was funny to see that but that’s the element that Elijah changed. Maybe in the first semester we wouldn’t have fought back but now with Elijah out there, we always have that shooters chance where a couple 3s and the whole direction of the game can change.”

After a strong high school career at Woonsocket where he earned first team all-state honors as a senior, Vazquez played two years at CCRI where he averaged 12.5 points per game and hit 43 percent of his 3-pointers in almost 60 games of action.

Vazquez arrived in Williamsport late in December and hasn’t been home since. He’s enjoyed his short time here and his teammates are a major reason why.

“They’re making it feel like home,” Vazquez said.

Vazquez had to get acquainted with his new teammates and a new system very quickly. He was thrown into the rotation immediately, playing 19 minutes in his first game. He came off the bench his first four games, but has been in the starting lineup ever since.

The wins haven’t come yet, but with a full offseason coming up, healthy teammates returning, and talented freshmen on their way, the best may be yet to come for the lurking Wildcats.

“I’m looking forward to (next year),” Vazquez said.

“I honestly believe next year with those guys healthy and Elijah back starting from the beginning, adding some better pieces in there as well, (we’ll be much better),” Hensley said. “The future is very promising.”