A Potential Draft Pick, Birch Emerges from Car Crash

NEW YORK — Khem Birch was sitting in the front seat of a 2011 Dodge Journey alongside Notre Dame Prep coach Ryan Hurd Saturday afternoon as they traveled on I-95 to New York City.

Hurd’s car was the first of three Notre Dame Prep vehicles taking the basketball team from Fitchburg, Mass., to face South Kent (Conn.) for a 3:30 tip-off at the Big Apple Basketball Invitational at Baruch College.

All of a sudden, while they were in Norwalk, Conn., another vehicle cut across two lanes of traffic, causing an accident about six cars in front of them.

Hurd managed to stop the car, only to be rear-ended, causing the Dodge to smash into the car in front of them.

“We just crashed,” said the 6-foot-9, 210-pound Birch, a Montreal native. “It was scary. Everything went through my mind. I don’t even know what happened. I was scared.”

He added: “My neck snapped in front and my headphones almost broke.”

After meeting with the police and having the totaled Dodge towed from the scene, Birch and his teammates got back on the road in the remaining two vehicles and made their game.

Yet once at Baruch, Birch soon rolled his ankle during warmups when he landed on a ball.

“The first half I was kind of slow because we had a month off,” Birch said. “And we had the car crash. And before the half, I tweaked my ankle. In the first half everything didn’t go so well.”

Yet after scoring just 4 points and grabbing 6 rebounds in the first half, Birch came alive in the second and finished with 18 points, including 4 of 5 from the stripe, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks in Notre Dame Prep’s convincing 86-70 victory.

Birch was very active in the paint and in transition, scoring on alley oops, putback layups and dunks.

“When you get him get into the flow of a game, he’s going to be a difference-maker,” Hurd said.

“When he can block some shots and get some rebounds and we get him a  couple touches, he just takes off for us.”

Birch is one of several talented young Canadians who has taken off in America.

Texas currently features Canadian freshmen Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph, and will add another Canadian, Findlay Prep point guard Myck Kabongo, next season.

The Joseph family — Cory, Kris of Syracuse, Devoe of Oregon and Troy of LIU — are all Canadian.

Birch says one of his goals is to put “Canada basketball on the map.”

Birch spent the 2009-10 season at the Winchendon (Mass.) School, but opted to transfer to Notre Dame Prep this season.

“I would be stupid not to answer that phone call,” Hurd cracked.

In September, Birch, then listed as the No. 1 power forward in the Class of 2012, verbally committed to Pittsburgh.

But in November, he signed a Letter of Intent to attend Pitt in 2011, becoming the highest ranked recruit to choose Pitt since Brian Shorter in 1987.

“There’s no point” in waiting until 2012, Birch said. “I didn’t need it. Right now I’m trying to be a McDonald’s All-American, Jordan Brand, all that. So they said, ‘You might as well just leave.’ And I thought it was the right decision, too.”

He selected Pitt over North Carolina, Kentucky, Syracuse, Connecticut, Ohio State, St. John’s, West Virginia, Florida, Texas, Arizona and Providence.

Birch joins a recruiting class that includes Malcolm Gilbert, Jaylen Bond, Durand Johnson and John Johnson.

Next year he will join the current crop of big men that includes Dante Taylor and Talib Zhanna, who have helped No. 5 Pitt go unbeaten in the Big East so far.

“I talked to the [assistant] coach [Pat Skerry] about it [Friday],” Birch said. “He said me and Dante will play the five, I’ll play four. Talib will play four, too. We’re going to get a good rotation because [Gary] McGhee’s out [graduating], so all three of us are going to get a good rotation.”

Hurd believes that Birch is so talented, he has the potential to eventually play in the NBA.

“I feel confident that if he can stay focused, trust his own decision-making and continue to work hard, then he’ll leave Pitt a draft pick,” the coach said.

Before then, however, Birch wants to finish up strong at Notre Dame Prep by making the McDonald’s All-American Game March 30 at Chicago’s United Center.

“Of course, of course,” he said.

And hopefully avoiding any future car accidents, too.

FREE THROWS

As first reported on my Twitter, 2012 Providence commit Ricky Ledo is officially at Notre Dame Prep as of Wednesday after withdrawing from South Kent. He joins a Notre Dame Prep team that includes Birch, Louisville commit Angel Nunez, Fordham commits Fatty McMillan and Jeff Short and uncommitted guards Todd Mayo and Myles Davis…Arizona signee Josiah Turner is now at Quality Education (N.C.), according to Dave Telep, where he will team with St. John’s signees Sir’Dominic Pointer and Dwight Meikle and DePaul commit Charles McKinney.

(Photo courtesy Damion Reed, Big Apple Basketball)

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