CHAMPAIGN — The last five months have served as a statement for Kylan Boswell.
His entry, if you will, into the conversation circling the top high school basketball prospects in the country.
How could it not? Boswell simply stacked championship after championship between June and August. His list of accomplishments is lengthy.
First came a CIF Southern Section Open Division championship in early June. Boswell knocked down six three-pointers and scored 24 points to lead Corona (Calif.) Centennial to an 80-72 victory against ballyhooed Sierra Canyon (Calif.).
LeBron James was in attendance.
So was Drake. But Boswell stole the show, drilling a pair of late three-pointers to seal the victory.
What followed was just as impressive. Two additional titles in June at Section 7 events in Phoenix where Boswell was again the headliner for Centennial in what’s essentially an elite high school summer league. Then came a Nike Peach Jam U16 championship playing for Team Why Not in July. All Boswell had left as an encore was a gold medal, as he played a key role in helping Team USA win the FIBA U16 Americas Championship in Xalapa, Mexico.
The result of all that success? Boswell will essentially have his pick from the top college basketball programs in the country. He’s already reached five-star status and is considered a top-15 prospect in the Class of 2023 with scholarship offers from nearly two dozen teams.
“I’m not going to lie; it’s been pretty crazy,” Boswell told The News-Gazette. “A lot of this attention gets a little overwhelming at times, but I think I’ve done a good job with it. It’s definitely a lesson getting to have all those opportunities and also win them. It’s been a pretty crazy summer.”
Illinois is one of the slew of high-major programs to offer Boswell, and it came before his string of championships this summer. He remains a top priority for Brad Underwood in the 2023 recruiting class.
The Illinois coach has a chance to sell Boswell on the Illini this weekend. Sell him on the opportunity to come home. Champaign-Urbana, of course, is where Boswell’s basketball journey began.
Trent Meacham put in early morning workouts at the YMCA when he was back in Champaign during breaks in his professional career overseas.
About five years ago, the former Centennial standout and Illinois guard shared his 5:30 a.m. court time with a middle-schooler for the first time.
That was Meacham’s introduction to Kylan Boswell, the son of his former Centennial classmate and friend Brandon Boswell. Meacham figured out fairly quickly that the not-yet teenager could eventually become a special basketball player.
“It was pretty evident even at that time when Kylan was going into seventh grade that he was a very skilled player,” Meacham said. “What impressed me more than that was his work ethic and his maturity. This was an incredible young kid at 12 years old in terms of his approach to the game and his professionalism.”
Meacham started to work with Kylan the summers he was in Champaign while he was still playing professionally. While Meacham maintains he played a “minuscule role” in Kylan’s development and operates more as an encouraging voice, he’s enjoyed watching Kylan’s progression to elite point guard prospect status. Not that it’s come as some surprise.
“He’s a kid that has some physical gifts,” Meacham said. “He’s strong and is a good athlete, but he’s not where he’s at because he’s 6-9 and an incredible run and jump athlete. He has worked tirelessly at his game. His skill level is elite. His skill level would trump the majority of Big Ten players today.
“That’s primarily because of his work ethic. I think his dad has done a really good job of bringing him along and getting him connected to some really good coaches. What was evident at a young age was his drive to work on his craft to get better. There’s kids that have parents that are dragging them to the gym. That was never the case with Kylan.”
Carlon Butler saw that work ethic up close, too.
The Urbana graduate played in college at both Parkland and Millikin before becoming the Urbana Middle School basketball coach. Kylan played on both the seventh- and eighth-grade teams that made it to the state tournament in 2018.
“Compared to other seventh graders, he was very mature and always on top of everything he needed to do,” Butler said. “Mentally, he definitely was ahead of his time. Throughout the summer and in the offseason and even during the season, he would have multiple workouts. He would be the first guy in the gym and last guy out of the gym. I definitely knew that he was going to be special further down the line.”
The Boswell family had a difficult decision to make about Kylan’s basketball future despite his growing level of success in middle school. Actually, because of his growing level of success.
Leaving Champaign-Urbana — leaving home — might be for the best.
“We kind of recognized, although we love Champaign, the basketball community was a little smaller,” Brandon said. “It didn’t have the media attention. It didn’t have the history. We knew a few guys had come out of the ranks of Champaign and made it to where we wanted to be, but we saw the community of basketball was growing in bigger metropolitan areas.”
The Boswells considered Chicago before ultimately deciding on a move to southern California. Ashley Boswell, Kylan’s mom, had family on the west coast. Brandon’s mother had just moved to the Los Angeles area.
“Honestly, that is probably one of the hardest choices we’ve ever made,” Ashley said. “It was very emotional — very scary — leaving family and such a great foundation that really supported everything that we did. Ultimately, we were concerned with Kylan’s development as a basketball player and the exposure. We had advice from other people who had been successful with their kids or themselves. The recommendation was to get to a higher market and try to penetrate that if we really wanted Kylan to have an opportunity to be recognized nationally.”
Kylan played at Ontario (Calif.) Colony his freshman year of high school before transferring to Centennial for his sophomore year. He’ll play at powerhouse Compass Prep (Ariz.) this coming season. The initial move westward has worked the way the Boswells wanted, with the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Kylan emerging as a top national prospect.
“Many more opportunities when we moved out there,” Kylan said. “There’s a lot more attention in California, that’s for sure. Most of my family lives (in Champaign) and most of my childhood friends, so it was a tough decision, but we knew it was best for me basketball wise.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, played havoc with that progression. It wiped out the end of Kylan’s freshman season at Colony and delayed the start of his sophomore season at Centennial.
“It was stressful, to be honest,” Brandon said. “It was very stressful just to see the kids playing actual basketball and you’re just training. We were kind of blessed to be in a space, where although there were a lot of regulations, we still had access to gyms and we had access to trainers and guys who had facilities. We could get in there pretty regularly and keep his game where it needed to be.”
All Boswell needed this year was the opportunity. An opportunity he took advantage of by stringing together that series of championships this summer.
College coaches certainly took notice. Illinois was far from the only program to offer. Other high-major programs involved in Kylan’s recruitment include Arizona, Arizona State, Auburn, Creighton, Florida, Kansas, Louisville, Michigan, Mississippi, Stanford, Texas, Texas Tech, UCLA, Southern California, Vanderbilt and Washington.
Per NCAA rules, those coaches couldn’t contact Boswell until June 15. They haven’t stopped in the four months since.
“That day my phone blew up,” Kylan said. “It was definitely a new feeling for me. It’s been kind of crazy. Coach Underwood was the first one to text me at midnight.”
As in 2 a.m. back in Champaign. That certainly made an impression.
“It definitely shows the program cares about you and wants you if they’re going to wait until 2 a.m. just to text a kid,” Kylan said.
Ashley described the recruiting process as intense. Not as many coaches have her phone number, but she said Brandon and Kylan are fielding calls and texts almost constantly throughout the day.
“I mean, from the minute they wake up or even before they wake up, their phones are just going off until the minute we go to bed,” she said. “There’s times we have to put our phones on airplane mode, because we just need to recharge. Of course, we’re grateful. We’re so happy for the opportunities that are being presented. We couldn’t be more appreciative, but it is definitely intense.”
What’s happened the last several months, though, is what Brandon and Ashley hoped for as parents. That the hard work they saw Kylan put in would be rewarded.
“For it to just kind of erupt into this thing, it’s been exciting,” Brandon said. “It’s not overwhelming so much, but it’s a lot of pressure. The reality is you’ve got to stay at a level where they want you, and you’ve got to consider where you want to go and make sure it fits exactly what works best for you. It’s more pressure than you could imagine as a parent. You think you want it and then get it and are like, ‘Oh, wow, this is serious.’”
How Kylan has handled the growing attention is what has impressed Ashley the most about her son in the last few months. She saw it catch him by surprise initially in June almost to the point it was overwhelming. It isn’t so much anymore.
“I think it was nerve-wracking for him to speak with these coaches,” Ashley said. “The questions that they had, those weren’t questions he had really been asked before. What he wanted from a program. What he wanted for his future. I’m not even sure he had really thought about those things. He’s learning how to mature on that aspect. I think he’s done a really good job with it.”
Illinois was among the first high-major programs to offer Kylan. The Boswells had initially been in contact with Orlando Antigua, but when he left for Kentucky, Illini assistant coach Geoff Alexander picked up the lead on Kylan’s recruitment.
“Geoff reached out and let us know Illinois had strong interest still,” Brandon said. “Since then, we’ve been in a close relationship with him, and Brad now. Their idea is to come home, right?”
It’s not just that Kylan grew up in Champaign-Urbana. There are family ties to Illinois, too. Ashley’s dad, David Aina, was a defensive lineman for Mike White’s Illini in 1984 and 1985. Several of Kylan’s aunts and one of his grandmothers also graduated from Illinois.
“For him to be in the position he’s in now, to come back, we think it would be kind of a big deal,” Brandon said. “It’s definitely a strong consideration for us, but we’re obviously going to pick what we think is the absolute best choice for Kylan. Definitely Illinois is very strong in our hearts.”
Ashley said her dad tries to play down the fact his grandson could be an Illini, too, although he’s thrown out No. 98 as a jersey option just in case.
“I know he’s pretty excited, and of course, I know he’d love it if Kylan followed behind him and became an Illinois alum,” Ashley said. “Illinois has a totally separate spot in our hearts. We love the Illini and grew up there. It is a special place for us, and we’ll always be Illini fans whether Kylan attends the school or not.”
Underwood and Co.’s pitch is more than just “come home” for the Boswells. Illinois’ style of play, how Underwood uses its guards and the success the past two seasons have made a difference early in Kylan’s recruitment, too.
“I feel like they’re letting their guards play with a lot more freedom,” Kylan said. “Coach Underwood is a great coach, and this past year, he did really well with the program. Watching (Ayo Dosunmu and Andre Curbelo) play and watching him let them have that freedom is definitely how I want to play when I get to the next level. Now, Ayo is in the league. He makes pros.”
Brandon got a chance to sit in on an Illinois workout when he was back in Champaign earlier this fall. What he saw made him realize he needed to get Kylan the same experience. So a trip back home for father and son to see their family will double as an unofficial visit.
“I see the entire program is developing into a powerhouse,” Brandon said. “I think people don’t know how good they’re probably going to be this year yet. I’ve been at practice, so I’m excited for Kylan to see it. It’s just a good environment for basketball — period.”