MIDDLE VILLAGE — It’s a slam dunk for Fordham University.
The Bronx school's struggling basketball program received a major boost Wednesday afternoon when Christ the King basketball standout Jon Severe signed a letter of intent to play for the team instead of some higher profile squads.
“I knew in my gut,” said Severe, 18, who is hoping to help turn the team's fortunes around. “My gut was telling me to go [to Fordham] and my coach was telling me to follow my gut. I think I was ready.”
The 6-foot-2 shooting guard picked the Rams over Pittsburgh and Rutgers, which made an 11th-hour push when newly hired head coach Eddie Jordan visited Severe Tuesday night. West Virginia and Wake Forest were also in the mix.
“I think if it would have happened before, it might be a different situation,” Severe said of Jordan’s hiring after coach Mike Rice was booted for alleged abusive behavior. “He seemed very cool and everyone I talked to said he was good. I think it was just bad timing.”
But it was at Fordham where Severe said he felt most comfortable. Head coach Tom Pecora and assistant David Duke were dogged in their recruitment of Severe since early in his senior season.
“They did everything that was possible in order to bring home a recruit who, in my estimation, will be the biggest recruit Fordham’s had in the last 20 years,” Christ the King coach Joe Arbitello said.
Severe, who was named New York’s Mr. Basketball, the first player in the Middle Village school's history to earn that honor, was emotional as he donned a maroon Fordham hat, ending a lengthy and difficult recruitment process.
“It was hard, the hardest decision of my life,” Severe said. “I’m happy all the stress is off my back and now I can just worry about next year.”
He initially set a date of May 22 to announce his decision, but said he didn’t want to wait anymore.
“I think it was just time,” Severe said. “I was just tired and stressed. I wasn’t waiting for any new colleges. I think the time was just right.”
The Bushwick native averaged 22.5 points per game during this past season, leading the Royals to their third Catholic High School Athletic Association Class AA title in four years and the New York State Federation title.
"He just scores and scores. It comes naturally to him," Fordham coach Tom Pecora said. "He'll have an immediate impact in that sense. Over time, he'll become a more complete player on a high college level, a better defender, a better rebounder. He has the potential to be a special college player."
Severe has experienced nothing but winning during his four years at Christ the King and believes he can bring success to a Fordham University program that has struggled to compete in the Atlantic 10 since joining the conference in 1995-96.
The Rams were 7-24 overall last year and didn't win a conference game in 2009-'10, but the record didn’t deter Severe. He said several of those losses were close, including a 68-63 loss to Butler, which at the time was ranked No. 11 in the country.
“I think I can change the whole program around,” Severe said. “I think Fordham was just missing a couple of pieces and I think I can change it around.”
Severe is expected to start immediately for the Rams, which also recently received a commitment from Dobbs Ferry junior Eric Paschall and 6-foot-10 Manny Suarez from Marist High School in New Jersey.
“I know we’re going to win,” Severe said. “You just have that feeling. I just know. I’m used to winning.”
Pecora is hoping Severe sets an example with his decision to bypass high-profile programs to stay home and play at Fordham.
"It sends a strong message and a positive message to local kids that it's not always the glamour decision," Pecora said. "I think he made a really mature decision. It's about the next 40 years, not just the next four."