Big Apple Basketball HS Challenge Recap
Who said NYC lost all of its talent?
by Franklyn Calle
You would think that with some of the top players leaving New York City every year as of late to go play at prep schools or even just across the Hudson, it would get to a point where there would be a down year in NYC high school basketball. But the 6th annual Big Apple Basketball HS Challenge, held this past weekend, once again proved there is no such thing as a down year around here. The two-day event held annually in December, features the top teams from the PSAL (Public School Athletic Association) against the some of the best in the CHSAA (Catholic High School Athletic Association). Anyone that has attended the event in the last few years will tell you that the games are taking very seriously as there are bragging rights on the line for both leagues as to who is the strongest. Just a couple of years ago the CHSAA was regarded as the toughest league in America and for the most part have some of the strongest teams in New York City on the annual basis. In the previous five BAB HS Challenges, the CHSAA has won four of them, including the 2006 (8-1) win over the PSAL. That year the CHSAA was loaded with talent featuring Kemba Walker (UConn), Erving Walker (Florida), Darryl Bryant (West Virginia) Sylvan Landesberg (Virginia), Malik Boothe (St. John’s), Durand Scott (Miami), Lamont Jones (Arizona), Kevin Parrom (Arizona), and Omari Lawrence (St. John’s) and Doron Lamb (senior at Oak Hill). So you get an idea of just how talented and competitive the league has been over the years. And although the PSAL hasn’t had the same amount of talent, there is no denying that it’s no easy league to compete in. Coney Island natives, Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair, Quincy Douby, and current Cincinnati freshman Lance Stephenson all starred in this league in recent memory. But the last couple years, the CHSAA has witnessed a exodus of their top tier talent to prep schools as well cross-river powerhouses St. Anthony’s, St. Patrick’s, and St. Benedict’s. Many of the players have also made questionable decisions by transferring over to the PSAL. Since I think its somewhat old news, we won’t get into the names but all you need to know is that it is getting ridiculous.
Just like last year, I went in to the games with low expectations considering all of the shuffling of players out of the city, and just like last year, I came out blown away with how many players step in to the spotlight and make up for the lost talent. Like I said, there is no down year in NYC as new stars always rise for those gone.
So the games got underway on Saturday afternoon at Baruch College in Midtown, with Blessed Sacrament (CHSAA-New Rochelle) and Campus Magnet (PSAL-Queens) kicking things off. Campus Magnet, who came into the game winless at 0-5, for a while seemed to possibly be on there way to their first victory of the young season after a good performance in the first half and leading 33-27 as they headed to the locker room. But in the second half, Blessed Sacrament’s David Samuels rose to the occasion and led his team to a 62-53 victory. Samuel, a 6-5 senior forward who transferred out of CHSAA national-powerhouse Rice HS after his freshman year due to academic reasons, took home MVP honors after his 25 points and 13 rebounds performance. He is expected to end his recruitment this week when he chooses between locals Fairfield, Loyola and Iona. Samuels proved to be just that much of a threat from the perimeter as he is in the paint. For Campus Magnet, 6-1 senior guard Sasha Clarida gave a valiant effort finishing with 31 points, including six 3-pointers.
Two Brooklyn schools followed with Paul Robeson representing the PSAL and Bishop Ford representing the CHSAA. With the exception of the third quarter, Robeson was in much control of the game throughout. Everyone wanted to see just how Robeson would come out and perform, given that they had handed Coney Island famed Lincoln HS their first home loss in close to four years (more on Lincoln later) just two days prior. Senior wing Jamel Noel, who hit the buzzer beater that snapped Lincoln’s 30 home league-game winning streak, followed that 28 points outing on Thursday with a 21-point and 13 rebounds performance on Saturday afternoon. For Bishop Ford, 6-2 senior guard Matthew Hall finished with a game-high 23 points in the loosing effort.
Then, another Brooklyn rivalry — this time Boys & Girls (PSAL) and Xaverian (CHSAA) took the floor. This game wasn’t even close from the tip-off as Xaverian had no response to B&G’s suffocating defense. Boys High man to man press was at full display. Xaverian only had 16 points at the half to B&G’s 32. By the time the final buzzer sounded, Boys & Girls easily came away victorious by the final score of 59-33. Although sophomore guard Jeffland Neverson led the way for Boys High with 15 points, it was junior guard Mike Taylor who took home the MVP honors after finishing with 10 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds. Taylor is receiving interest from numerous Big East schools, among others. Another sophomore guard Brian Bernardi led the way for Xaverian with 11 points, followed by senior guard Justin Exum’s 10 points and 4 rebounds.
In the final game of day one, two Bronx rivals– St. Raymond and Wings Academy went at it. St. Rays unfortunately has fallen victims to the CHSAA mass exodus over the last couple of years. But on this night, they proved to have youngsters in their roster that can make some noise for years to come. After jumping out to a 14-4 lead, St. Raymond didn’t look back and eventually came away with a 71-59 victory. Senior guard Gabriel Burroughs led the way for the Bronx Catholic school with 17 points while 6-6 sophomore forward Daniel Dingle received the MVP award following his 15 points and 8 rebounds performance. St. Ray’s other sophomore forward, Nkeruwem Okoro, also held his own, finishing with 13 points. For Wings, junior guard Deonte Houston scored a game-high 19 points along with 6 rebounds.
So after one day of play, the CHSAA and the PSAL were all tied up at 2 wins apiece.
The first two games of day two were mostly controlled by one team. Harlem’s Wadleigh took on legendary coach Jack Curran’s Archbishop Molloy. The Harlem school extended its winning streak to five after a great overall team effort, which led to a 71-59 win. Leading the pack was 6-5 senior forward Tyrie Orosco with 20 points and 7 rebounds. Senior center Malik Thomas added 16 points while senior forward Karim Rowson and senior point guard Dominique Nanton finished with 14 and 10 points respectively. For Molloy, who has numerous players out due to injury, 6-1 senior guard Ernest Rouse scored a team-high 24 points while junior wing Chris Dorgler finished with 18.
The second game featured two Queens schools. Holy Cross for the CHSAA and Forest Hills representing the PSAL. Holy Cross seemed to be more poised through out the match and it showed by the final score as, they came away victorious 67-53. Leading the way for the winning team was 6-2 junior guard Evan Conti with 22 points and 5 rebounds. Felix Jahleel, a 6-1 senior guard, contributed 14 points while sophomore guard William Davis and junior center Marcus Hooper each added 10 points. On the loosing side, UConn-bound Maurice Harkless had a quiet 14 points along with 5 rebounds and 4 blocks.
Up next were PSAL defending champs Lincoln and All Hallows of the Bronx. Lincoln, who were led by McDonalds All-American Lance Stephenson the last four years, are now back to reality as they are now just another team in pack. With no true senior go-to-guy, junior guard Shaquille Stokes has taken over the role of team leader. Stokes, who started out his high school career across the river at national-powerhouse St. Patrick, is your typical tough NYC point guard who drives to the basket aggressively with no fear. As mentioned previously, Lincoln suffered their first home loss in about four years last Thursday. Some are calling it the end of the Lincoln “Dynasty Era” in which they have won seven of the last eight city championships, including the last four. Although I wouldn;t go as far to say all of that, it is certainly not something we have gotten accustomed to around here. For a while it seemed as if Lincoln might be headed for their second straight loss, but a late rally brought them back into the thick of things and eventually were able to escape with a 60-56 win. After being down 34-24 at halftime, Lincoln fought their way back behind Stokes’ 19 second-half points. The 5-11 guard was helped out in the backcourt by 6-0 senior guard Raymond Oloughlin, who finished with 14 points. For All Hallows, 6-2 senior guard Michael Alvarado scored a team-high 18 points while forward Omar Kellman added 14.
The final game of this year’s event featured Stephenson’s successor as New York City’s top basketball player, Villanova-bound forward Jayvaughn Pinkston (left). He is in a tough position, having to live up to the hype that comes with being the main guy in NYC as well as following Stephenson’s record breaking career. But on this night, he proved why he holds the crown. His Bishop Loughlin team woke up in Miami and took a delayed flight back to New York just in time for the 6:15 p.m. scheduled tip-off. After going 2-1 at the AROD Basketball Classic in Florida, Loughlin was looking to revenge last year’s loss to Thomas Jefferson at this same event. Early in the game, Loughlin’s fatigue from all the traveling was very noticeable as they were having a tough time getting back on defense and contesting shots, allowing Jefferson to go on a 9-0 run after a Pinkston 3-pointer to start the game. But Loughlin would soon wake up and go on 9-2 run of their own to finish off the first quarter and tie things up at 11 apiece after one quarter of action.
Pinkston, listed at 6-7, 235 pounds, is simply too much for any high school player in the city to attempt to contain. In the paint, he is simply a man among boys. And to add to that, he has improved his perimeter shooting over the years, and now defenders are forced to step out and guard him 18 to 20 feet away. With Jefferson leading 30-27 at the half, Loughlin began the third quarter on a 8-2 run to gain control of the game, behind two monster jams by Pinkston which seemed to had sparked his teammates. After three quarters of play, Loughlin led 49-44. The fourth starts and Loughlin’s long and adventurous day starts to show in their play once again as it did at the start of the game. Jefferson notices it and takes full advantage of it, going on a 11-2 run to start the final quarter, and taking the lead at 55-51. All of the 11 points were off lay-ups. Jefferson began to triple-team Pinkston on the post, but that’s when others stepped up for the Brooklyn school. With just over two minutes remaining and Jefferson holding on to a 62-54 lead, Loughlin junior guards Dunham Davonte and Kareem Canty hit back-to-back 3-pointers cutting the deficit to two, at 60-62. A Loughlin steal would lead to junior guard Anthony Givens at the free throw, tying the game at 62 apiece. With under a minute remaining, Pinkston hits a layup off an offensive rebound, giving Loughlin a 64-62 lead as part of his team’s 10-0 run. Jefferson’s junior forward Shamel Williams found his way to the basket with under 30 seconds to go for a putback that sent the game into overtime with the score tied at 64. But in overtime, Jefferson seemed as the team whose legs were giving up on them while Pinkston made sure he finished them off, ending a long day with a 75-72 win over PSAL championship contender Jefferson as well as avenging last year’s 63-61 loss to the same team, at the very same tournament. Pinkston led Loughlin with 25 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks and 2 steals. Canty finished with 15 points while Davonte and senior Branden Frazier added 14 each. For Jefferson, Stony Brook-bound guard David Coley scored a team-high 19 points while Williams contributed 14.
Day two would end with another 2-2 tie, summing up the challenge to a 4-4 draw for the first time in the six years of the event’s existence. It should also be noted that the top two teams in the CHSAA and national-powerhouses, Rice and Christ The King didn’t participate in this year’s event.
If the weekend was any indication, NYC hoops is should be just fine for years to come. As it always has.