When it comes to his dream of playing college basketball, Kahlil Singleton is willing to go farther than most.
In recent months, that quest has taken the Fort Vancouver junior across the nation.
With Washington’s high school basketball season mired in uncertainty due to COVID-19, Singleton wasn’t going to risk not playing during a vital time in his college recruiting.
That’s why he looked elsewhere. While remaining enrolled at Fort Vancouver, Singleton joined prep school teams playing in isolated bubbles in states where such tournaments are allowed.
Playing first for a California-based team and now for one in Minnesota, Singleton is sharpening his skills against top recruits and generating valuable film for college coaches.
Singleton called his decision “a gamble,” but one where the risk of not playing outweighed the reward of staying home.
“At first I was playing the waiting game,” Singleton said. “It came to the point where I was less hopeful of us actually having a season. As far as that, leaving was the smarter move. If I leave and play somewhere else, there’s a 100-percent chance of having some kind of a season.”
Singleton burst onto the college recruiting radar with a breakout sophomore season. The 6-foot-2 sharpshooting guard averaged 21.9 points per game and broke a 64-year-old Fort Vancouver single-game record by scoring 55 points on Dec. 29.
Though he’s already received a scholarship offer from Eastern Washington University, Singleton was counting on last summer’s club circuit and this winter’s prep season to raise his profile further.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Restrictions on travel and gatherings imposed by Northwest states put a heavy damper on the summer AAU season. That’s typically where high school players, especially those entering their junior year, make or break their prospects with college coaches.
Singleton found some opportunities to play, mostly at small events in Oregon and Idaho. But for many Northwest players, the summer club season was a wash.
It wasn’t long before disruptions hit the 2020-21 high school basketball season.
In July, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association unveiled a modified four-season sports calendar that shortened the basketball season to eight weeks from its usual 16 weeks.
But spiking COVID cases across the state forced the WIAA to further cut the basketball season to seven weeks and delay the potential start until Feb. 1. Even that plan, however, is uncertain.
Amid that flux, Singleton began reaching out to any prep school that planned to play this winter. In November, he found a taker in the upstart Southern California Institute of Sport based in Ventura.
Within days, Singleton headed south, staying with relatives as he connected with his new California teammates.
“He just kept calling and finding out information until he found a team,” said Fort Vancouver head basketball coach and athletic director James Ensley. “He has a goal of wanting to be a great basketball player. He was willing to make sacrifices to make that happen.”
SoCal Institute joined a grassroots collection of prep school and AAU teams as part of The Grind Session, a circuit that hosted an Arizona tournament last month.
There, Singleton didn’t disappoint. He averaged 19.5 points per game including going 7 for 7 from 3-point range in one game.
From Vancouver, Ensley watched Singleton’s games online.
“For me, it was kind of nice just being a fan,” Ensley said. “It’s been absolutely wonderful watching him go through the process and steps to make this happen.”
Singleton’s performance in Arizona opened further opportunities. He switched to the more established Minnesota Prep Academy, which has tournaments in Kentucky and Indiana scheduled this month.
Singleton has already seen his game blossom while playing mostly against fellow Division-I recruits.
“It’s for sure helping my defensive IQ,” Singleton said. “Here, players put pressure on you to guard them. Back home, I don’t want to say you can relax. But here, you always have to be aware on the defensive end. The game speed is a lot quicker.”
The level of competition isn’t the only way Singleton is learning about what it takes to play at the next level. In many ways, his team’s bubble mimics what college players are experiencing this winter.
In Minnesota, he’s living with roommates and adjusting to staying inside a virus-free controlled environment.
Mornings are devoted to online classes. That’s followed by a shootaround, weight training or skill workouts, then a game in the evening.
“I actually like it,” Singleton said. “You think it could get boring, but you’re busier than you think.”
Despite playing for prep schools, Singleton remains enrolled at Fort Vancouver and takes classes there online. Ensley said Singleton’s already stellar grades haven’t suffered.
“His mom said, ‘If your grades slip you’re coming home,’ ” Ensley said. “Where a lot of people are struggling, he’s actually thriving when it comes to doing the best he can to chase his goals.”