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    Saturday, October 01, 2022

    Former NL standout Bland-Fitzpatrick commits to Seton Hall

    Former New London star Joniyah Bland-Fitzpatrick, who left the Whalers after her sophomore season in 2020 to attend prep school in New Jersey, has committed to Division I Seton Hall. She is preparing for her final year at a prep school in West Chester, Pa. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    She was a freshman on the New London High School girls’ basketball team in 2019 when the Whalers reached the Class LL state championship game at Mohegan Sun Arena.

    Joniyah Bland-Fitzpatrick had all the promise, 27 points in an early-season victory over Capital Prep; she always knew her way to the basket, but was sometimes without the finesse she needed to finish a play.

    Now Bland-Fitzpatrick, who transferred away from New London after her sophomore season, has all the promise and the polish.

    As she readies to begin her senior year at Westtown School, a prep school in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Bland-Fitzpatrick has committed to play collegiately beginning with the 2023-24 season at Seton Hall University, coached by Tony Bozzella.

    She committed to the Big East school in late July following a summer in which she scorched the camp and tournament circuits.

    She played for New Heights NYC at the high-profile Select 40 in Indianapolis and claimed four awards, including MVP, Defensive MVP and Queen of the Court honors, at the Hoop Group Girls’ Elite Camp in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.

    Now, she sometimes shortens her name to Joniyah Bland Fitz and signs her name that way.

    “I’ve been working on it and working on it,” the 18-year-old Bland-Fitzpatrick, a 5-foot-10 guard/forward, said of her game. “I feel like once you get older, you get wiser.

    “When you get the knowledge, when you get that mindset to push yourself ... you have to remember it’s step by step; being good is taking it step by step, stepping out of your comfort zone.”

    When Bland-Fitzpatrick left New London, she was a member of The Day’s All-Area girls’ basketball team as a sophomore. She transferred to powerhouse Trenton Catholic in Hamilton, New Jersey, where she reclassified as a sophomore and quickly took a step backward.

    “I was on a roller-coaster. I went downhill,” she said in a telephone interview Monday. “At the end of the day when you’re in a new situation, there are going to be ups and downs. You have to change the way you do certain things.”

    With Trenton Catholic set to close — although it eventually remained open — Bland-Fitzpatrick made a quick transfer to St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, where she played last year before taking more time to pick Westtown for her final season.

    She and her mother, Tamiko, live in Irvington, N.J., relocating from New London. Bland-Fitzpatrick plans to major in cardiology or sports medicine at Seton Hall to follow Tamiko, who is in the health care field.

    Seton Hall finished 24-13 last season, reaching the Big East tournament semifinals and the championship game of the Women’s NIT.

    “They were very interested and whatnot,” Bland-Fitzpatrick said of Seton Hall. “I’ve been on the campus, talking to the teammates, the team. It felt like home. It felt like positive energy.

    “They do a lot for their kids. They have a great system. On the court, off the court, it’s like a family. They compete at a high level, which I love. It’s very exciting. It’s very family-oriented and they provide the education I want, as well. ... Who wouldn’t want to play for the Pirates? They’re very spectacular in many ways.”

    She said it was a relief to go from “no (scholarship) offers to having a few offers.”

    She said she feels like driving to the hoop is still her strength.

    “There’s always that weakness that you have to perfect each time. I’ve been gaining the confidence to do other things to get myself open,” she said.

    Bland-Fitzpatrick said she returns to New London on occasion to visit and participate in basketball events in what she still considers her community.

    “I remember it like it was yesterday,” Bland-Fitzpatrick said of the 2019 Class LL championship game, when she was still a newcomer at the varsity level. “I miss that moment so much.”

    v.fulkerson@theday.com

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