By Carolo Pascale
Princeton High School and Rider are just a 15-minute drive from one another. With both Rider and Princeton University in the area, both athletics programs scout their own area for prospective high school athletes that want to play at the Division I level.
Yet, a student-athlete who scored 1,000 career points for Princeton High School’s men’s basketball team slipped through the fingers of both schools.
That student went on to be a program changer at Division II Lincoln, earning the 2021-22 Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) Player of the Year award, averaging nearly 19 points a game and finishing top-five in the conference in rebounding, field-goal percentage and steals.
That student was Zahrion Blue, and with his four years at Lincoln up after last season, Rider men’s
basketball Head Coach Kevin Baggett gave him an opportunity to return home.
The graduate student guard couldn’t say yes quickly enough.
“The feeling is wonderful,” said Blue about playing just a couple minutes from where he grew up.
Being local, Blue actually wanted to be a Bronc after high school. He already had a connection to the university, with one of his five siblings graduating from Rider in 2019.
“When I was in high school, since I was so close, I did actually want to go to Rider, I actually did. My sister actually graduated from here,” said Blue. “It was like a dream come true.”
Baggett who said he didn’t have Blue on his radar when he was starring in high school, were able to snag the 21-22 CIAA player of the year the second time he was available.
“I think he’s really come a long way,” said Baggett. “To have an opportunity to grab him the second go round, it was definitely a great opportunity for us. This is the first time we’ve legitimately got another guy that’s in our backyard.”
Returning home to play at Rider also comes with the ability for Blue to get all of his family and friends to watch him ball with the Broncs at Alumni Gym.
“It actually feels amazing. There’s a lot of family members who have always wanted to see me play,” said Blue. “When I was up in [Pennsylvania], my grandmothers and grandparents, they couldn’t really make it, but now that I’m here, 15 minutes, even 12 minutes away, I think we could get a whole crowd at the games.”
The process to get to Rider was an interesting one for Blue, as he actually had to pass a summer class just to become a Bronc. Due to him having to pass to graduate from Lincoln, the guard wasn’t able to participate in Rider’s trip to Europe over the summer, according to Baggett.
He eventually passed the class, officially becoming a Bronc and making his return to play for the team he dreamed of playing for in high school.
“He was close to graduating, so he didn’t need to have a waiver if he graduated,” said Baggett. “He needed that last class to graduate. In fact, he didn’t play with us in Europe because he was finishing up there.”
Coming into the 2022-23 season, Blue, who stands at 6’4 and 210 pounds, will likely be a core contributor for the Broncs coming off the bench. Playing a different role at Rider than he did at Lincoln, he’ll be a jack of all trades player for a Rider team that needed someone with his skillset last year.
“I’d like to put him at the sixth man and try and get him to be the sixth man of the year,” said Baggett. “Bringing someone off the bench that’s capable of scoring, having experience … he was great at Lincoln, so I’m hoping that experience will translate over here, bringing him off the bench.”
Blue himself has Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Championship aspirations for the Broncs, and hopes he can be one of many key members to help them get there.
With the season just four days away, Blue wants to make every minute count.
The guard said, “I just want to play my role, be a team player, win a MAAC Championship, get deep in the tournament and to make some history.”