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Wednesday, 22 January 2020 15:24

Pioneers 2026 Draft Recap

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KANSAS CITY, MO (AP) -- Following the trade of All Star Mack Lavoie to the Manhattan Swing the Kansas City Pioneers found themselves with the #10 pick in the 2026 OBWL Rookie Draft, their highest draft pick since they drafted Marshall Gaudett with the 4th overall pick in 2015. Entering the draft the Pioneers were interested in adding a youthful wing to the roster and were rumored to have brought UNLV forward Gerald Mathers and San Diego state swingman Bryant Walsh in for multiple workouts.

When the time to select #10 came, the Pioneers front office was shocked: the player they had ranked as the #1 prospect in the draft, St. Peter's forward Ambrose Vela, was still on the board.

"There were maybe two players in this draft that I thought had similar talent but were more OBWL-ready on draft day" said Pioneers GM Ben Johnson. "But based on sheer raw talent and athleticism, our scouting department had Vela at #1. In any event, I never dreamed he'd still be available at our pick. I couldn't believe it even as it was happening."

"Ambrose was off the charts in the athletic tests and drills at the draft combine" said Scouting Director and Vice President of Player Personnel Kevin Parker. "He's got ideal size, speed, and explosiveness for a wing player in this league. Obviously, he needs a lot of skill development and experience given that he did not come up through the AAU circuit or compete in a major OCBL conference. Still, we got a good long look at him as he played down the road on the Sun Kings' summer league team and we're convinced he has the tools to develop into an outstanding player."

Ambrose Vela was born in Front Royal, Virginia. The son of Venezuelan immigrants, his father a civil engineer and his mother a nurse, Vela grew up more interested in the sports of his parents' home country like soccer and baseball. "I wanted to play shortstop for the [Washington] Nationals after college" recalls Vela. "But then I got big. Fast." Vela grew nearly 8 inches (from 5'11 1/2" to 6'7") between the end of his sophomore year and the start of his senior year in high school. As a senior he decided to focus on basketball as it was now his best shot at a college scholarship.

"It was tough at first because I really hadn't played much organized basketball up until that point" said Vela. Although he put up good numbers in his sole season of varsity high school ball (mostly due to height and athletic ability) and earned Virginia All State honors, Vela was too late to the national recruiting scene to make much of an impression. Rated a three star prospect by OCBL scouts, Vela accepted a scholarship from St. Peter's University, a private Jesuit school in Jersey City, New Jersey.

"My parents were happy I picked a Catholic school. I was excited because it was just a couple miles from New York City" said Vela with a laugh. Despite his inexperience, Vela played well as a freshman, starting 32 games and averaging 17.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per 36 minutes played. Vela was named the Conference Freshman of the Year in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.  When his raw talent and performance at the Draft Combine Summer League grabbed the attention of OBWL scouts he declared for the draft after just one season at St. Peter's.

At just 19 years old and less experienced than most rookies his age, Vela recognizes he has a lot of work ahead of him. "I'm kind of nervous and excited at the same time. I know I need to really put in work and a lot of hours but I want to get better, be the best player I can be. From what I've seen the Pioneers have great coaching and a lot of really good veterans, so my plan is work really hard, keep my eyes and ears open, and try absorb it all and do whatever they need me to do."

"It's been wild, going from like only two years of serious basketball to being a lottery pick in the best basketball league in the world. I want to make myself and everyone who has helped me get here real proud" said Vela.

With their two second round picks the Pioneers selected Colorado power forward Kenneth Friday with the 37th pick and Illinois combo forward Andrew Hadley with the 56th and last pick of the draft. Friday was waived a few weeks after the draft. "We think Kenneth has a solid future as a traditional rebounding, post defending power forward" said GM Ben Johnson. "But after we signed Andrew Sutton in free agency there just weren't enough roster spots to keep him. We decided to waive him sooner rather than later so he can hook up with a team before training camp." Friday was later claimed off waivers by the New Jersey Evolution.

PIONEERS ROOKIE DRAFT CAPSULES


SF Ambrose Vela | 6'7" | 223 lbs | Freshman, St. Peter's

Drafted Round 1, 10th Overall

Strengths: Ideal body type for an OBWL wing player... Has elite combination of size, speed, and jumping ability... Displays a knack for scoring from 18 feet and in... Good touch on off-the-dribble runners, floaters, and other midrange shots... Knows how to draw contact, averaged nearly 6 free throw attempts per 36 minutes... Isn't afraid to mix it up on the defensive glass with bigger players, tracks and attacks opponent's misses even outside of his immediate rebounding zone... Shows promise as a ball hawk with long strides, quick hands, and good instincts in passing lanes.

Weaknesses: Funky mechanics on his jump shot, slow release and shoots a bit of a flat knuckleball, made only 24.8% on 3.4 three point attempts in college... Turnover prone, really shows a lack of confidence and experience handling the ball under defensive pressure... Poor man-to-man defender and totally lost in help defense schemes... Tends to float and ball watch when his man is off the ball, vulnerable to back cuts and getting screened out of the play.

SF Andrew Hadley | 6'6" | 221 lbs | Senior, Illinois
Drafted Round 2, 56th overall

Strengths: Strong outside shooter, made 40.8% on more than five 3-point attempts per game in his four years at Illinois... Tough minded defender who fights in the low post, denies entry passes, and bodies up opponents... Front office feels he may have potential as a stretch PF who can defend bigger forwards in the paint while providing floor spacing on offense.

Weaknesses: Terrible ball handler, can't create his own shot off the dribble... Struggles defending on the perimeter, footwork is poor and often gets hung up trying to go over ball screens... below-average rebounder due to lack of height and lower body strength... Long shot to make a crowded veteran roster but will be invited to training camp for a look-see.

 

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