01/22/2010 12:28 PM ET
Cheek emerging for Wildcats
Freshman guard finding his way at Villanova
By Adam Zagoria / SNY.tv
Freshman Dominic Cheek (left) is contributing on the defensive end at Villanova as well. (AP)

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Coming out of St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, N.J., Dominic Cheek was one of the most highly recruited players in the nation.

Nearly every major program in America wanted the long and lanky 6-foot-5 McDonald's All-American from Jersey City.

But in a story first reported by ZAGSBLOG.com, Cheek ultimately chose Villanova over Kansas, then the reigning national champion.

Asked the reason why, Cheek said, "Like I said, loyalty. Villanova was great to me."

After a slow start to his freshman season with the Wildcats, Cheek is finally beginning to emerge as the potential star many thought he could become.

He scored a career-high 17 points in Wednesday's 94-68 rout of Rutgers and is averaging 5.6 points and 2.9 rebounds entering Villanova's game Saturday against St. John's at Madison Square Garden (noon, ESPN).

"I think he's got all the tools to be an outstanding Big East basketball player," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "He's just got everything. He can handle the ball. He can shoot it. He drives it. He defends. He rebounds. He's just a pure basketball player. He's got to get a little bit stronger and get a little bit more experienced in the Big East, but I just think the sky's the limit for him. He's got the ability to do anything on the basketball court."

Growing up on the rough streets of Jersey City, Cheek first picked up a basketball at the age of 10.

"I didn't really start taking basketball serious until I was like 13 and I started playing with the Jersey City boys club," Cheek told filmmakers Collin Orcutt and Michael Preston for their documentary, "A Star Emerges From City Streets."

Like many St. Anthony players, Cheek used basketball as a vehicle to avoid the dangers of the street.

"I'm from Jersey City, but I live on Lexington Avenue," Cheek said in the documentary. "It's probably one of the worst neighborhoods in Jersey City. People dying like every week. That's the neighborhood I grew up in, so it's something I had to get use to, staying out of the streets and everything."

With the support of his grandmother, Izaphine "Ice" Howard, and legendary St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley and his family, Cheek was able to find shelter in the storm.

"Here we kind of extend the Hurley family around the kids," Hurley said in the documentary. "He's apt on a Saturday night, unlike a lot of city kids, to call up and ask if he can play video games with Gabe [Hurley's son-in-law].

"He comes from a very, very rough neighborhood, so any night that he's not in the neighborhood, it's a night where there's less concern."

Now that he's out of Jersey City and on the Villanova campus, Cheek has had to adjust to being a freshman on a team loaded with talented guards.

Senior guard Scottie Reynolds is a contender for Big East Player of the Year and juniors Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes are among the top guards in the conference. Senior guard Reggie Redding is back in the rotation after missing the first part of the season because of disciplinary reasons.

Cheek also came to Villanova with fellow frosh Maalik Wayns, who is getting steady minutes at the point.

"It's going good," Cheek said. "Scottie and Reg, they are the leaders of the team and they help me out and everything. And they help me adjust to the college level and everything. I think I'm doing pretty well."

Against Rutgers, Cheek played 17 minutes and did a lot of good things. He deflected a Mike Rosario 3-pointer late in the game. He was 2-for-2 from beyond the 3-point arc. He scored in the lane with his bouncy athleticism. And he anchored Villanova's full-court press.

"I was so impressed with the way he played on top of our press, how he came in and made things happen defensively," Wright said. "He did all kinds of things that usually a star high school player doesn't understand because they were used to having the ball in their hands all the time. I think that comes from Bob Hurley -- you're not just a shooter, you're a basketball player."

Adam Zagoria is a regular contributor to SNY.tv. Read his blog at ZagsBlog.com and follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AdamZagoria.
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