Aaron Estrada’s Alabama ascension also a Hofstra boon

Speedy Claxton was out to dinner Saturday night, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the college basketball game on TV.

The Hofstra coach was stunned, and it wasn’t because there was a player he hoped would enter the transfer portal.

No, Claxton had his eyes on Alabama’s No. 55, Aaron Estrada, who had played for him the previous two seasons, twice becoming the CAA Player of the Year.

Crimson Tide guard Aaron Estrada (55) cuts the net after defeating the Clemson Tigers in the West Region final. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When it was over and the fourth-seeded Crimson Tide was headed to the first Final Four in program history, Claxton beamed like a proud father.

“I’m so happy and excited for this child,” he told The Post in a phone interview. “I couldn’t stop smiling. Being on that stage and seeing him cut the nets, you couldn’t ask for anything more.

When last season ended for Hofstra with a second-round NIT loss to Cincinnati, Estrada had options.

He could stay in school for another year with the Pride, turn pro or transfer.

The first two possibilities appealed most to the 6-foot-3 Estrada, but Claxton pushed the idea of ​​the third.

He could get paid big money through name, image and likeness (NIL) and play at the highest level of the sport, a perfect way to spend his final year of college basketball before turning professional.

“Honestly, he wanted to stay here and we had to force him into the transfer portal. No, this is the best decision for you. It will put you and your family in a better position,” Claxton said. “It was tough, because if he came back, I might have had a top-25 team in the country. But ultimately, I have to do what is in the best interest of these children, not what is in the best interest of myself.

Aaron Estrada could have stayed at Hofstra or gone pro, but coach Speedy Claxton gave him another idea. Lee S. Weissman

Claxton and his team worked with Estrada to find the best solution, participating in phone calls with him and his suitors and helping to arrange tours. They thought Alabama made the most sense, because of the Crimson Tide’s fast-paced offensive attack, Liberty coach Nate Oats gave his guards and a need in the backcourt.

It turned out to be a wonderful decision.

The Woodbury, New Jersey native excelled alongside Mark Sears, leading Alabama in assists (4.7), finishing second in scoring (13.4) and setting a career high for interceptions (1.6).

He thrived on the big stage – averaging 12.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists in four NCAA Tournament games, the first four of his career.

The financial aspect of the move also benefited him.

Claxton beams watching Estrada play with the Crimson Tide. Getty Images

Estrada was able to financially help his mother, Brianna Melton.

He helped her buy a new car she needed and was able to pay for her family to attend all of her NCAA tournament games and take care of their hotel accommodations.

They’ll be there in Glendale, Ariz., when Alabama takes on top-seeded Connecticut at State Farm Stadium.

“It’s like a dream,” Melton said. “It’s definitely everything we imagined, but so much more.”

Alabama Crimson Tide guard Aaron Estrada (55) shoots against Clemson Tigers forward Ian Schieffelin. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

None of this happens without Hofstra. Estrada developed into one of the best middle guards in the country at the Long Island school. When he arrived there, he had lost confidence after a season at Oregon where he barely played. The coaching staff played a major role in his success even after he finished playing for them.

“As soon as they started recruiting Aaron, they really made us feel comfortable. Family, literally Hofstra, is family,” she said. “I kept in touch with their coaching staff, they sent us Christmas cards and everything like that. The most important thing is they helped Aaron, man. He was a priority and a goal for them. They gave him confidence and just helped him be great.

Estrada’s rise also helps Hofstra.

He will be in the news this week and the school will obviously use him as an example of what can happen to future incoming transfers while playing for the Pride.

It’s the nature of sports now that programs like Hofstra have become a feeder system for big names like Alabama.

But as Claxton showed with three 20-win seasons in his three years as head coach by turning transfers such as Estrada, Tyler Thomas (Sacred Heart) and Darlinstone Dubar (Iowa State) into stars , it can work for them too.

“He really made a name for himself when he was here with us. There are going to be stories about his journey, and we are a big part of his journey,” Claxton said. “We have the plan for this. (Dubar) is about to do it, Jaquan Carlos is going to do it. The path is there. Come to Hofstra, become a really good player and we’ll do what’s best for you.

It couldn’t have gone better for Aaron Estrada.

New York Post

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