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SPECIAL REPORT: From the House to D1, the story of Arizona Western’s Yaxel Lendeborg

After a journey that took him across two countries and three different states in the US, Arizona Western men's basketball player Yaxel Lendeborg will be taking his talents to the D1 level - 13 On Your Side's Luis Lopez reports

YUMA, Ariz. (KYMA, KECY) - It wasn’t until Yaxel Lendeborg’s senior year in high school that he took basketball seriously.

For a player seen as one of the hottest junior college prospects, it’s almost hard to believe his career on the hardwood started back in 2019.

“That was when I started seeing that I could actually be something as a basketball player,” Lendeborg said.

Lendeborg played in just 11 games during his lone season at Pennsauken High School in New Jersey, winning 10 of them.

His game was still enough to catch the eye of Arizona Western Matadors Head Coach, Kyle Issacs, who had been told about Lendeborg by a fellow coach in New Jersey.

“We just watched a little bit of film, it was very very short, we had one scholarship left, and we said yeah let’s bring him on,” Issacs said.

That prompted a conversation with the person Lendeborg considers to be his biggest inspiration.

His mom Yissel Raposo.

“Pretty much my mom told me I was coming to Arizona Western. I was like, 'Sure ok I guess I gotta go,'"Lendeborg said.

Raposo immediately knew it would be the best choice for her son.

“Because I know he loved basketball, and I said ‘Yaxel,’ Arizona is the good choice for you, so he said yes,'” Raposo said.

Lendeborg and his mom are about as tight-knit as it gets, thanks in part to their shared journey. Born in Puerto Rico, Yissel moved the family to Ohio when Yaxel was just two years old.

“So we go to Ohio you know to (get) a better job, better education for Yaxel,” Raposo said.

Through it all, Yaxel felt comfortable wherever he went.

“Ohio was nice you know I made a lot of friends, pretty much elementary school, that’s when I learned English and all that, New Jersey is a big jump as well," Lendeborg said.

Despite his previous experience with a change in environment, the move to the Desert Southwest was by far the most jarring.

“I was really scared, it was going to be my first time being away from my mom, and I definitely didn’t think I could handle my own,” Lendeborg said.

But the beauty of joining a team is bonding with your teammates, and for Yaxel, one quickly came to help him feel at home. Guard Marquis Hargrove was among the first to make Lendeborg feel at home.

“I was just kind of like ‘You know you can talk to us,’ so, when I seen him I went up to him and said a few words and yeah that kind of sparked our friendship that we have now,” Hargrove said.

A friendship that has grown so much, the two will actually be making their next step together.

As the duo will be taking their talents to the University of Alabama Birmingham next year.

“Like a dream you know, like a brother I never had you know, I’m glad I get to play with him,” Lendeborg said.

It’s a relationship Hargrove is happy to continue.

“It’s been fun to watch you know he’s grown from a kid to a man, now he seems to be stronger and confident in his game,” Hargrove said.

The numbers help to tell the story as well. In his three years at Arizona Western College, Lendeborg scored over 17 points a game on an unreal 72 percent from the field.

But more amazing than his scoring, is his ability on the glass.

Lendeborg averaged over 13 rebounds a game. En route to becoming the all-time leading rebounder in National Junior College Athletic Association history with 429 career boards.

“That’s just one trait that he came in with, and a nose and a knack for going in and grabbing the ball whenever it came off on a shot,” Issacs said.

Lendeborg credits Issacs and the whole coaching staff for helping him get to where he is today.

“I’m grateful for coach Issacs, coach Roe, Coach Parker, all of them the whole staff because they really molded me into a better man and a better player,” Lendeborg said.

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Luis Lopez

Luis Lopez covers sports and weather for KYMA.

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