Kings of New York
It’s NYC’s biggest rivalry as Lincoln and Boys & Girls battle for the PSAL Championship Sunday!
by Franklyn Calle / @FrankieC7
Arguably the biggest rivalry in New York City high school basketball will compose another chapter this Sunday when Lincoln and Boys & Girls clash at the World’s Most Famous Arena for the PSAL (Public School Athletic League) Championship. Both Brooklyn programs are known for having produced a load of top-notch talent that has gone on to excel at the collegiate and professional level throughout the years. For Boys & Girls (formerly Boys High), the alumni list includes the likes of Lenny Wilkens, Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, Connie Hawkins and Jules Bender, among many, many others. For Lincoln, Stephon Marbury, Jamel Thomas, Sebastian Telfair and Lance Stephenson are some of the guys that have landed in the pros. Evident by the time difference in the alumni rosters, Lincoln has had more of recent success in the last decade or so, while Boys High holds tradition dating back to a handful of decades.
Madison Square Garden, where the PSAL host the men’s and women’s varsity basketball championships, has been a second home floor to Lincoln for the past decade. The Railsplitters have made it all the way to the title game nine of the last 10 years (counting this Sunday), with the only exception being last season, when they were eliminated by Wings Academy in the quarterfinals. Coming into Sunday’s game, Lincoln has won seven of their last eight visits to the Garden. The team “3-peated” from 2002 to 2004, fell to JFK in 2005, and then won four consecutive titles from 2006 to 2009 during Stephenson’s high school years. The Coney Island school has a total of 11 city championships and four state titles.
Despite not having the same success over the last decade as their rivals, Boys & Girls has been a team to fear. After last season’s early exit for Lincoln, Boys & Girls was able to capitalize and win their first city championship since 1979. Prior to last year’s championship season, the Kangaroos reached the title game in 2007 and 2008 seasons but were ultimately defeated by Lincoln in blowout fashion.
So the stage is set for a classic game at the Mecca, and no better matchup than the two most successful basketball programs the PSAL has to offer.
Lincoln, which holds a 28-2 overall record and is ranked as the best team in the city, comes into this game looking to reclaim their throne. Led by senior guard Shaquille Stokes and having beaten their Brooklyn rivals in their two meetings during the regular season, Lincoln couldn’t arrive at the game for the chip in a better position. Stokes, a 5-11 guard who’s been recruited by Big East schools and is still undecided, is very effective off the dribble and is able to create space and shots for himself thanks to his quick moves. A streaky shooter that can get in a rhythm rapidly, Stokes has continuously worked on becoming a pure point guard during his time at Lincoln. Stokes averaged over 18 points per game during the regular season. He’s maintained that leadership throughout the playoffs and has averaged 17.4 points over the course of five postseason games.
In addition to Stokes, junior big man Kamari Murphy—who’s reportedly been getting looks from Big East, ACC and CAA schools—will play a big role in the final outcome of Sunday’s game. The 6-9 Murphy can be a pest in the paint for opponents. Having averaged over 13 points and 10 rebounds during the regular season, he’s known to do most of his damage underneath the basket. But it’s whether he can hold his own on the defensive end and protect the paint that might decided who takes home the trophy.
And last but not least, there’s a new kid on the block by the name of Isaiah Whitehead who has begun making an impact at the famed school soon. The 6-4 wing has already been compared to his precedes Marbury, Telfair and Stephenson. But for now, he’s only a freshman that’s demonstrated a whole lot of promised. Having averaged over 13 points and 5 rebounds per game during the regular season, it’ll be interesting to see how he handles playing under the bright lights. Whitehead is a confident kid and a strong and aggressive guard that slashes and finishes with authority.
For Boys High (23-6), Rutgers-bound guard Mike Taylor might be the one that will ultimately dictate the final outcome. A do-it-all guard, Taylor was suspended from the team in early February for reportedly failing a math class. It wasn’t until Wednesday that he was reinstated, just in time for the evening’s semifinals game. He would go on to finish the game with eight points and help the Kangaroos reach the championship for the fourth time in the last five years. Taylor missed six postseason games while serving the suspension. The team’s star player, Taylor averaged over 18 points and six rebounds this season. Taylor can shoot the lights out, hence being nicknamed “Lightz Out.” He can also put together a series of move on his way to the hole. If he’s on his A game come Sunday, it may not look so well for Lincoln.
But the Boys High offense doesn’t stop at Taylor. Senior guard Antonie Slaughter has been a big part of the Kangaroos success—especially during the recent absence of Taylor. Although only 5-7, Slaughter has been responsible in orchestrating the Kangaroos’ offense and gets the best out of his teammates. Averaging nearly a double-double in the season (12 points and 9.2 assists), he will play a major role in the pace of the game. Junior wing Jeffland Neverson, who posted over 13 points and 8 rebounds in the regular season, has picked up the intensity to a whole new level during the playoffs—averaging double-double figures of 14.6 points and 11.4 rebounds. Hofstra-bound Malik Nichols, who transferred for his senior year from Hillcrest, is also a player to keep an eye on and whose numbers have risen during the playoffs. The 6-6 wing has averaged 15.2 points and 11.8 rebounds during the previous five postseason games.
Aside from winning back-to-back city championships, a win for the Kangaroos would avenge their two losses to Lincoln earlier this season, as well as their two blowout losses in the ’07 and ’08 PSAL Championships at the very same stage. The Kangaroos’ core isn’t too different from last year’s championship team, having returned four starters and overall hosting nine seniors.
Ironically enough, Lance Stephenson will also be suiting up and playing at MSG on Sunday. The Indiana Pacers are in town and will face the New York Knicks later on that afternoon following the PSAL games. It is more than likely that he’ll be in the stands—or maybe even accompanying his former team on the bench—during the championship game.
No matter the final outcome, all signs point to Sunday’s PSAL AA Championship being another classic.
I’ll be there live-tweeting the game and then we’ll have a full recap plus video highlights Monday here on SLAMonline.
And as we await the start of this highly anticipated match-up, we though it would be cool to provide you with a gallery of shots from the last time these two teams met in February.