By Jim McGrath
At first glance, Andre Screen looks like a typical college student. With his scholarly wire rimmed glasses and a beard that is filling in, Screen fits in well with the rest of his fellow Markets, Innovation and Design majors at Bucknell University.
Yet, as one moves closer to Screen, it becomes obvious that he is not the typical college student. At seven-foot-one and 261 pounds, he towers over the student body at Bucknell, as well as many of the teammates and competitors with which he shares an athletic space as part of his sporting endeavor, more specifically, the starting center for the Bison basketball team.
It has been an interesting trip for the St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes alumnus, Class of 2020.
“I started out at Lane Elementary School, and then attended Mark Twain Intermediate,” Screen said following a recent Bison practice. “I was supposed to go to Edison or Hayfield, but [former SSSAS] Coach [Ron] Ginyard saw me in seventh grade and brought me to St. Stephen’s.”
At the time, Screen’s basketball skills were not in great demand. He was tall in seventh grade, but at six feet even, Ginyard would never have guessed that the bespectacled youth would end up becoming a dominant center for the Saints. In fact, the “big man” spot was already filled by Charles Thompson, who would go on to play for Towson University.
Soon after arriving at the SSSAS campus in Alexandria, Screen began growing at a rate of three inches per year – a growth spurt that would last for four years – adding a whole foot to his frame. While Screen was growing into a larger role on the basketball team, moving from public school to private school brought along numerous challenges.
“It was a tough transition in the beginning,” Screen said. “Everyone, the teachers and students, were speaking so fluently in class. And I wasn’t used to all the homework. In the past, I could finish all my work on the bus ride home. But once I got used to the work and building study habits, it got better.”
Ginyard left before Screen’s sophomore year and the new coach Mike Jones began. Jones brought a wealth of basketball experience with him, including 11 years of playing as a professional. He joined the SSSAS staff after a stint with the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets.
“He was gangly – long,” Jones, who is now the head basketball coach at DeMatha High, said of Screen. “But I didn’t know he’d end up being seven feet tall!”
Screen had one attribute that got Jones’ attention, and it had nothing to do with height.
“He always asked a lot of questions. I appreciated that about Andre. He is always interested in improving,” Jones said.
There was one great deficiency in Screen’s toolbox.
“It wasn’t that his body grew too fast. [In terms of coordination] he got his body right by junior year. But when I met him in middle school, [Andre] could probably only do five or six pushups,” Jones recalled.
Playing behind Thompson and learning from his teammate’s work habits helped. “By the time he was a senior, Andre could do 25 pushups,” Jones said.
There was also a matter of building stamina.
“We’d go out to the track at St. Stephen’s to run the mile, and it would take Andre about 17 minutes to finish,” Jones said. “But he was phenomenal, and always had a smile on his face, even when we were doing track work. He managed to go from 17 to 12, and then 10. I believe the last time we talked he told me that his mile time was now 9-something.”
Yet the brainpower was always working for Screen.
“Andre always had good hands and a good basketball IQ,” Jones said. “I believe his mother played basketball.”
Tragically, Screen’s mother Deborah Screen passed away in her sleep on Jan. 13, 2021, at age 60.
“It was unexpected, quick and abrupt,” Jones said.
As Screen progressed, so did the Saints. During his ninth grade year with the JV, the SSSAS varsity sported an 18-10 record. But by his junior year, with Screen playing center, the Saints won the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division I and Interstate Athletic Conference championships, while finishing with a 27-3 record. They followed up in his senior year with a 30-4 record and VISAA runner-up.
Screen was well courted by college recruiters and armed with roughly 35 scholarship offers. However, he made the decision to commit before his senior season at SSSAS. “I liked my visit to Bucknell, and how they stressed academics and basketball,” Screen said.
“I didn’t want to go to any school unless it was one that fit my system.”
The Bison are struggling this year, with a record of 10- 15 (3-9 in the Patriot League), and the center has been playing through growing pains.
“I had an ankle injury, and just got over a broken nose, that forced me to wear a mask for weeks,” Screen said.
Still, the first seven-foot player in Bucknell history is averaging just under 11 points and six rebounds per game. He remains optimistic about his team, and sees hope for improvement.
“We’re just in a slump, a bad rut, and we’re trying to figure it out,” Screen said.
There have been high points this season. Screen scored a season-high 20 points against LaSalle and Colgate, and he hit a pair of tie-breaking free throws with two seconds remaining to give Bucknell a 68-66 win over Army.
Bucknell Coach Nathan Davis said Screen has progressed with improving his body and stamina, but that he still has areas in which to develop.
“Andre is in much better shape, which really helps him get up and down the floor and bang with the other big bodies in the post,” Davis said. “He has a tremendous shooting touch with both hands and can rebound outside his area. Consistency game in and game out is where Andre can make his biggest improvement.”
The ceiling is high for Screen, who also possesses a strong three-point shot, but has only needed to attempt one this season as the Bison are ranked 13th out of more than 360 teams in the NCAA for three-point proficiency.
“If he locks in, he has the tools to be a pro,” Jones said. “You gotta have that confidence and he has the mindset to keep improving.”
Screen models his game after NBA Hall of famer Tim Duncan, about whom he said, “I like his presence and post play.” But the player Screen slightly resembles is all-time great NBA center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. When asked if there are any similarities between his game and that of Abdul-Jabbar, Screen had a ready response.
“Well, when I was younger, Dad would always work on a hook shot with me,” Screen said.