Monday, April 21, 2014

McGill, Mitchell Headline House Of Sports

As a coach, there is a certain button you must press to evoke late-game heroics.

Through powers of persuasion, motivational maxims and simple calming methods, a flair for the end game can be instilled.

Like Spring Valley coach Willie Worsley, House of Sports AAU coach Andy Borman is cognizant this button is virtually non-existent with junior guard Rickey McGill.

 There is no button to press, no switches to flip.


The killer instinct is always coursing through the 6-foot-1 point guard's veins, ready for eruption when the stakes heighten.

"He's a hunter," said Borman of McGill.

"He's been our best player all year. He's really been the kid who has been consistent. He's really getting better scoring at all three levels--at the rim, behind the arc, and from 18-feet. When he goes into kill mode, you want to make sure he doesn't to fall in love with one area. You can be in kill mode and still have a variety."

 Kill mode reared its presence during last summer's BCANY tournament in Johnson City, N.Y.

 During the tournament quarterfinal against Suffolk, McGill snaked out to the perimeter and swatted a 3-point attempt from Shaundell Fishbourne, plucking the ball as soon as it left Fishbourne's fingertips.

 The loud block, with 5:41 remaining, was as necessary as it was electrifying.

Fishbourne had been operating a one-man clinic up until that point, as McGill's Hudson Valley squad nearly frittered away a 17-point lead.

 McGill swiftly recovered the ball and zipped a pass up court to a streaking Jack Daly, who drew a foul. They held on for a 78-68 win.

Then there's McGill's play during a 67-66 Sectional semifinal win over Clarkstown South.

The soaring McGill capped a 23-point, eight-rebound, five-assist performance, cramming a violent two-handed alley oop which sent the County Center crowd into a frenzy.

Blanketing, panic-provoking, in-your-chest defense was paramount to House of Sports'  2013 summer ascension.

This was most notable during an upset of vaunted New Heights and several marquee performances during an elite tournament in sun-baked Las Vegas.

While House of Sports has lost a significant portion of last year's luster, they return with a super-sized frontline.

Featured on the blocks is Scanlon's Jonathon Nwankwo, a powerful 6-foot-9, 250-pounder.

Nwankwo, a junior, has offers from myriad programs, Manhattan, St. Peter's, Minnesota, Niagara and Fordham, to name a few.

 Nwankwo's stock has taken off the past few months. Seton Hall, Marquette, Tennessee and Georgetown have quickly become believers.

Harvard, Stanford, and Bucknell have rapidly shown interest, as Nwanko now has a mixed bag of Ivy League, Patriot League, and high-majors in pursuit.

 There is Brandon Aughburns, another behemoth at 6-foot-9, 240 pounds. The Flushing, N.Y. native, who plays at the Canterbury School (CT), is a mid-major prospect.

Spring Valley's Kai Mitchell, at 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, is expected to stabilize this troika.

 Mitchell may be the least acclaimed of the trio, but he's light on his feet with the mobility and athleticism to blossom this spring.

And so Mitchell, who averaged 16.3 points and 12.0 boards, establishing a resplendent inside-outside punch alongside McGill, is flushed into a prominent role.

Monmouth, Manhattan, Elon, and a scattered gaggle of programs across the way have been on the prowl for Mitchell.

"We're getting a ton of (Division-I) calls for him," Borman explained.

"This really is a big season for him, because during the high school season he's got to play the five-spot. He's got the hands, the footwork, and a mid-range game out to 15 feet. Last year, programs were a bit gun shy because he's not a five."

Salim Green, out of Rye Country Day, has also been an important figure.

 Green, who has interest from Ivy League and Patriot League schools, is a threat on the attack. He loves to create his shot off the dribble, penetrate the driving lines, and work his defender with freelance, one-on-one moves. Playing off McGill's reads gives Green the freedom to run off screens, ready to pull and pop.

Borman preaches the power possessed within the No.2 pencils, pens, and term papers.

With several players earning Ivy League interest, the message hasn't fallen on deaf ears.

"What's the point of playing AAU, if you can't qualify academically?" Said Borman.

 "Why am I going to put you in front of a coach so he can fall in love with your game, only to realize he can't have you? It doesn't work like that."

Borman, who played soccer and basketball at Duke and was the Basketball Academy director at Florida breeding house IMG, stays true to the principles of his system.

 The nephew of famed Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, Borman installs a disciplined style, ensuring that no player gets enamored in the flashy or selfish style that tends to corrupt the AAU scene.

"I think the kids realize that the more they play as a team, the better their interest will be," Borman said.

"I want the identity to be of a team that nobody likes playing against because we play every possession. The goal is to be a team on the AAU circuit, that does not play AAU basketball. We really try to run it like a small college program."

Borman continued,  "We play man because if you play man, you can play anything. That's kind of where we're at. We are by no means a finished product. We're going to be a hell of a lot better two months from now than we are now. We've got games where we look like a team. But we've got other games where we look like a bunch of misfits."

McGill will take some responsibility in melding this piecemeal into a functional unit.

"I don't know what it is about AAU season, but Rickey just morphs into a different player. The bottom line is, he's just pretty freaking good."

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Thomas To Visit St. John's, South Florida

St. John's and Fordham are both recruiting Westchester Community College forward Keith Thomas as aggressively as any other potential Division-I suitor.

Now, New York area recruiting ace Emanuel "Book" Richardson and Arizona have jumped in on the ever-growing KT Sweepstakes.

"He's going to visit St. John's on Monday and Tuesday, South Florida on Wednesday and Thursday, and Arizona just knocked on the door," said Vikings head coach Tyrone Mushatt, who helped nurture the 23-year-old Thomas' basketball resurrection following a sabbatical.

"St. John's and Fordham are both showing interest in Keith and Giovanni (McLean). We've got schools 500 miles away, now all of a sudden we've got schools 15 miles away."

Richardson, a Harlem native and, like Mushatt, a product of St. Raymond's High, came in during the 11th hour.

 Thomas plans to schedule a visit to Florida State.  FSU has been in persistent pursuit since Thomas dropped 11 points, snared 13 rebounds, and doled out four assists during a wild, 101-99 double overtime loss to Wallace State at the NJCAA national tournament in Hutchinson, Kan.

That game was played before a veritable sea of mid and high-major coaches. It enhanced the exposure for the troika of 6-foot-8 Thomas, McLean, and shooting guard Luis Montero. Montero has been thoroughly hounded by Alabama, the program which has expressed the most love.

Penn State, LSU, and South Florida are also in the hunt for the 6-foot-8 Montero, who averaged 15.6 points, 5.9 boards, and 3.0 assists.

South Florida head coach Orlando Antigua, who supplanted Stan Heath in late March, is a longtime friend of Mushatt's.

USF has had success with Westchester, as they netted heavily-pursued 6-foot-11 forward and former JUCO Player of the Year Jarrid Famous in 2009.

Both programs, however, were under different coaching staffs back then. Antigua and Mushatt both played under Gary DeCesare at St. Raymond's in the early 1990s, an unrivaled era of prosperity for New York City hoops.

Thomas, who averaged 15.3 points and a NJCAA-leading 15.7 boards this season en route to NJCAA Region XV Player of the Year, piloted the 28-4  Vikes to their first JUCO national tournament since 1996.

"It's hard to pinpoint Keith's best attribute as a player and that's because he's always working on all components of his game," Mushatt explained.

"He's always in the gym. The best part about him though, is that he doesn't take prisoners. It doesn't matter who you are playing."

Thomas, a Mount Vernon, N.Y. native, played just one year of high school basketball. Surfacing as one of the best passing big men in Section 1, he helped lead Yorktown High School (N.Y.) to a Section 1 Final Four at the County Center.

Thomas was dismissed from the team a year later, following a felony assault.

He staged a comeback on the AAU scene and continued to ply his trade at Solaris in Yorktown, immersed in constant pickup games.

After approaching Mushatt in his office, professing a newfound passion for the game, Thomas showed up to tryouts in October.

The rest is history.

With a proclivity for snatching 50-50 balls and a monstrous work ethic that Mushatt likens to a NAVY SEAL, Thomas flourished this season.

The impact was felt instantly, as Thomas averaged 11.0 points through his first six games, shooting 28-of-50 during that span.

His game took off mid-way through the season, as he shot 60 percent from the floor during the month of January. His production rate increased in February, when he averaged 20.3 points and racked up various double-doubles.

"Keith was so consistent all year," Mushatt said.

"We ran something similar to the Chicago Bulls offense, the triangle. I put a wrinkle in it, where you have your three best scorers on the floor. On the other side of the floor, you've got a guy who can knock down a steady 15-17 foot jumper. You've got a triangle on one side. It started out good, then the sky was pretty much the limit after that."

Friday, April 18, 2014

Huskers Look To Right Ship Following Maryland Trip

The playoff-hardened 2014 Huskers didn't enter the season bedecked in championship attire.

Though Yorktown is the reigning Sectional champions, the team with a price on its head, the Huskers are collectively cognizant that they let a state tournament loss to Niskayuna slip away.

The feeling of numbness experienced following that loss, the overwhelming, irritable heat and decisive moments have morphed into motivation.

Motivation for a return trip to the promised land, that is. Nobody wants to relive the pain and agony that hovered over the team as the bus chugged out of SUNY Albany, their thoughts dispersed and their aspirations helplessly shattered.

And so the Huskers have prioritized crafty dodging from up top and deft passing over gunslinging. Last year, the Huskers' chock full of shooters ran roughshod over Section 1 competition, featuring a fleet of snipers who could rip from 25+yards out. Akin to pure shooting guards who launch 100 free throws, 200 3-pointers, and 150 baseline jumpers before exiting the gym, the Huskers' trigger men extended practice time with long shooting drills.

 Keeping their cadre of grenade launchers polished and engaged was a major point of emphasis.

This season, the focus has shifted to feeding the open man. With an influx of new scorers and several players acclimatizing to enhanced roles, the offense has featured more scorers. Everyone has a chance to eat off the plate, with spacing and ball-protection as the essential ingredients. The system is predicated on precise passing, cutting, the keeping the cleats moving and sidestepping defenders.

"The offense is pretty much evenly-distributed, which is fine by us," explained Villanova-bound senior captain Luke Palmadesso, whose knock kick-started a 6-0 spurt during Yorktown's 13-12 victory over Shenendehowa on Saturday.

"We don't care who it is that scores or pulls the shot, we just want to find the right shot."

Subscribing to this selfness style and empowering an all-inclusive effort,  Yorktown has outscored Section 1 foes by an 87-32 margin.

The Huskers made quick work of Arlington, coasting to a 22-2 drubbing. Reserves sustained the insurmountable lead after halftime.

 Then they outdueled a familiar, formidable foe in Somers, 14-6. They dismantled Hen Hud by an identical score. The tightest game occurred against Bronxville, in which they gutted out a 13-10 grinder.

 Buoyed by the senior savvy of Connor Vercruysse (2 goals, 3 assists) and Nicky Bonitatibus (1 Goal, 2 assists) and continued production from junior Ryan Baker (2 Goals), the Huskers avenged a 2013 loss to Shen.

Defensively, principles of the past have been intact.

"We aim to pressure the ball all over the field," explained All-American and Syracuse-bound senior Austin Fusco, who has assumed some ownership of the defense.

"We want to push the transition attack, win ground balls, win every hustle battle and play smart."

Maryland Mayhem

The Huskers weren't overmatched, nor did they fall victim to a Division-I launching pad more potent than their own in a 10-4 loss to Maryland power McDonough. They simply didn't finish enough. The Huskers' nose for the net, the fortifying factor of their dodge-centric catch-and-rip offense, was lacking.
 The opportunities were there, albeit McDonough goalkeeper Jacob Stover prevented them from cashing in.  Stover, a junior Loyola-commit, stoned shots at point-blank. He stopped bullets and sealed the net shut en route to 18 saves.
That high-level composure between-the-pipes derailed the Huskers, which entered the game averaging 13.2 goals per game. Prior to this, Yorktown hadn't dipped under seven goals this season. In both losses, however, the high-octane offense was neutralized.
The Huskers spent the Maryland trip exploring historic landmarks such as the U.S. Naval Air Station. They'll look to steady the ship on April 23, renewing hostilities with border town rival Mahopac.

The road to sustained national prominence only gets tougher, as Yorktown is slated for grit-testing barometers against Chaminade and Ridgefield on the road.
 Ridgefield, under the guidance of iconic Husker and former professional Roy Colsey, was a memorable signature win during last season's 17-3 campaign. You can bet every last dollar in your bank account that Ridgefield, which employs a year-round focus, is eager to exact vengeance.
Dedvukaj Thriving
Heading into the season, Section 1 prognosticators knew of weapons possessed by the Huskers' junior class. Division-I commits such as Nick Delbene (Towson), Dan Delbene (Manhattan), and Baker (UMBC) have earned credibility.

Billy Strassmen, Tim Forbes, goalkeeper Liam Donnelly, as well as Ryan Cegialski, who was immense during the Ward-Melville game, have also ensured that the future is safe.
 The unheralded of this clique of lax bros was Mike Dedvukaj, who has found the trigger.

 Dedvukaj, whose received interest from schools such as UMASS-Lowell and Detroit-Mercy, has made good on opportunities to score off the ball and dodge. He drilled his first goal just 90 seconds into the season, lacing a shot off a feed from Kris Alvarado during the 13-4 pelting of Putnam Valley. His production rate has soured, with back-to-back four-goal games against Somers and Shen.
Mahopac Waiting In The Wings
One of the few local area teams to defeat Yorktown in the past few years, with an overtime victory in 2011, the Mahopac Indians will renew hostilities with the Huskers on April 23.

Mahopac and Yorktown have been heated rivals since the inception of their sports programs.
The Crop vs. The Maniacs has made for much entertainment value and must see TV. If one had to take an educated guess, the Indians and Huskers won't be hanging out in a post-game cookout. They won't be heaping effusive praise on each other, sharing stories, or busting out stomach-bursting jokes amongst each other. A "keep in touch" or "hit me up on facebook" in the post-game handshake is not happening.
This is not freshman orientation. Nobody will be wearing nametags and looking to make friends with the other side. That is the nature of this old-school, traditional high school rivalry.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

From Egypt To Cold Spring, Dwidar Builds Soccer Culture

Look Ahmed Dwidar in the eyes and ask him what he'd sacrifice for soccer. You will find there isn't much that he wouldn't.

Dwidar's fondest, most revisited childhood memories stem back to 1997, when he was a striker for the Gomhoria Club U12 team.

Framed pictures of that memorable squad, which practiced before the professional team, still adorn the walls of Dwidar's Wappingers Falls home.

Dwidar's father, Talat Dwidar, has coached soccer in Egypt's professional ranks for over 20 years. And so Dwidar took after his Dad in Shebin Al Kawm, a sprawling city located in the Nile Delta of Egypt, where soccer is the holiest of pastimes.

The passionate fan bases arrive at Elmenifa stadium in droves, as captivated as an American on Superbowl Sunday. The competitive spirit, often akin to bloodsport, has a tendency to go overboard.

There are riots.

There are violent fights, resulting in arrests and blood-soaked shirts and even death. The ramped up hostilities, sullying relationships from fan base to fan base on game day, are live and real in Egypt.

 Dwidar, who grew up a 10-minute bike ride from Elmenifa, witnessed this first hand as a kid.

 He recalls the tempers flaring frequently, the hot heads brawling it out in the stands.

 He can still pluck memories of a fist-trading fracas that morphed into a free-for-all.

 The lunacy exacerbated in 2012, when a horrifying post-game clash following al-Masry's victory over Cairo-based Al-Ahli resulted in 74 deaths. It is the country's worst soccer disaster.

Dwidar, who has captured two Section 1 championships in four years at Haldane, remembers the intense rushes of panic that swarmed him when he witnessed the massacre on television.

 His friends from Egypt were startled as the two fan bases warred.

The 28-year-old coach no longer wishes to talk about these events or revisit the  nightmarish sideshows of the Egyptian game. He's seen fan-player fights gruesome enough to make the Malice In The Palace look like an episode of Looney Tunes.

What Dwidar does like to discuss, however, is the evolution of his younger brother, Mahmoud Dwidar.

The 24-year-old, who turned professional when he was a teenager, has become a key striker for Gomhoria's professional team.

Depositing goals with his head and emerging as an aerial threat, Dwidar believes his younger brother possesses the gifts and coach's son IQ to have a long and prosperous career.

"He played for the Egyptian Olympic team and plays on the Gomhoria pro team," said Dwidar.

 "He's a homegrown product. My father has coached him since he was 10. I think coaching kids has helped us love the game even more. One thing he really emphasizes as a coach is to play with heart at all times. He rewarded his players by truly allowing them to love and respect the game. I always wanted to be a coach like him."

Dwidar moved to the United States in 1999, translating from Arabic to English that summer.

 He enrolled at RC Ketcham as a freshman in the fall of 2000, immediately earning a spot on varsity. The team won a sectional crown that year, but Dwidar's relationship with the coaching staff frayed over in-house disputes. He opted not to return.

Oddly enough, leaving the team enlivened his draw to the game.

 He began a three-year soccer odyssey, never once scouring the rearview mirror or entertaining thoughts of returning to the team following a sabbatical.

Rather than prolonging his career on the same Section 1 fields which he currently finds himself coaching, Dwidar became a mainstay at the open gyms. He dipped his feet into the club team waters.

 Today, Dwidar is not the biggest fan of the club and soccer routes, perceived by many as a threat to the varsity game.

Dwidar nearly had to re-recruit one of his former players, Sean Daly, when Daly flirted with pursuing the club route.

When Dwidar arrived at Haldane in the fall of 2010, the challenges were inevitable. His immediate goals were to slay the minimal expectations and shred any lingering doubt. From Day 1, his intentions were to refresh the brand.

"I had to coach nine seniors that year, which was tough as a 23-year-old," said Dwidar. "We always played schools in Class AA, A, and B during the regular season, rarely Class C. I think playing bigger schools helps us prepare, especially when it comes to Sectionals and big stage atmospheres like that. We were a smaller team, but we had a big heart. We wanted no excuses and only results."

The early results weren't much for promise.

Dwidar admits that managing the vastly different personalities and melding them into one was arduous. Soon enough, however, Dwidar spread his convictions of selflessness and sold his players on the team identity. He rehydrated the same tenets his father preached abundantly in Egypt.

Dwidar began incorporating catch phrases and motivational maxims and adages, writing a new quote on the chalkboard prior to every game. The team was fueled by then-senior Chris Marchese and the aforementioned Daly,  tandem Dwidar referred to as "Batman and Robin."

The Blue Devils snuck up on the prognosticators and fled obscurity, registering a 2-0 win over favored Solomon Schecter in the program's first Section 1/Class C championship.

Chris Marchese, now a starting midfielder at Mount St. Mary's College in Newburgh, accounted for both goals.

This past fall, the Blue Devils again won the Class C crown. They avenged a 2012 title game loss to Schecter, again with a 2-0 triumph. The Blue Devil's hyperactive defense, which made a sustained effort to negate Schecter's scoring threats, was crucial.

"Ahmed was always a laid back coach and knew how to have fun, but he never forgot about the most important thing which is winning," said senior captain Jay Marchese.

"If we were doing well and doing big things on the field, he would be okay with us joking around and having some fun, that's what soccer is all about. That really helped us come together as one. He also never let anything get out of hand, and knew when to be assertive."

While the championship was an end product of the work applied from August to November, Dwidar sees it as much more than that.

Since becoming Haldane's head coach, his vision was to establish a soccer culture. While there are no grass-roots or feeder programs in tiny Cold Spring, Dwidar instills a 12-month focus. It's all done in team format. The Blue Devils put forth a team in the Tarrytown Dome during the winter.

They practice at St. Basil's Academy gym throughout the ensuing seasons.

 "(Dwidar) has built a family at the school," explained Aiden Draper, who ignited the Blue Devils by drilling a 1-0 penalty kick during the Section 1 championship.

"He wants to get to know each player. It's a great environment for such a small district, he really works with what he's got."

Dwidar is an accurate depiction of film junkie, scouting teams and revisiting plays and getting a read on who to apply the clamps on. That work comes into focus during practice, as his players simulate opponents and Dwidar plots out defensive schemes.

"We have to keep the kids playing all year," Dwidar said.

"There is no other way. The culture at Haldane has definitely changed. The kids are tough and they play with heart. Of course, we couldn't have done it without (assistant coach) Rocco Appolonio."

While Dwidar is grateful for Appolonio and values his friendship with Lakeland coach Tim Hourahan, taking note of the traditionally-potent program he's furnished, there is one coach looks to when advice is needed.

"I pick up the phone and call my old man," Dwidar said. "He's always there with the words."

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bronx-Bred Guard McLean Receiving Heavy NCAA Interest

Giovanni McLean's prodigious handle and ability to pilot a team has allowed his stock to balloon the past three months.

The 6-foot-1 guard is suddenly a sought after product on the recruiting agora.

A sophomore at Westchester Community College in Valhalla N.Y., Mclean averaged 16.8 points, 7.3 assists (third in the NJCAA) and five boards as the Vikes (28-4) garnered their first JUCO national tournament berth since 1996.

 McLean has steady interest from Missouri, Texas State, Eastern Illinois, St. John's, Fordham, Oklahoma, Missouri,  Memphis, Virginia Tech, Quinnipiac and Duquesne.

Fordham and St. John's have been making a strong late pitch, according to WCC head coach Tyrone Mushatt.

Mizzou and Eastern Illnois, however, appear to have the upper hand in the sweepstakes.

"Right now, I like Mizzou a lot," said McLean, who spent a lot of time at Missouri's campus while  playing for Moberly Area Community in Moberly, Mo.

"I like Texas State a lot. Eastern Illinois, I have familiarity with them because (head coach) Jay Spoonhour coached me my first year at Moberly. He's a great coach, his style is a lot of ball screens and his defensive philosophy I love. He's all about denying the wing, taking charges. Nobody has really motivated me to play defense like him. Of course, I can't rule Oklahoma out just because of who they are."

When will McLean arrive at a decision?

"I'm going to have 2-3 more visits at the most, then I'll decide," he explained.

 "I'm taking it by ear right now."

McLean began the season as a veritable jack of all trades, leaving his fingerprints in every statistical category in the book.

He was a scorer, a distributor, and a presence on the boards, spurring the transition game instantly after snaring a defensive rebound.

McLean, who discovered basketball following a soccer-obsessed childhood, averaged 25.2 points during a four-game stretch.

When shooting guard Luis Montero suddenly became eligible, during the 16th game of the season, McLean quickly adapted. He hunted for his shot less and created more.

A product of PSAL alternative school Bronx Regional, McLean has had his share of academic issues. He's on target to graduate this spring, however, and plans on immediately enrolling in summer courses at whichever campus he lands.

He swiftly established an effective inside-outside game with 6-foot-8 forward Keith Thomas, another burgeoning high-major prospect. His ball handling and patented spin moves, during which his dribble is maintained and the rock is protected, lured in defenses.

Defenders who overplayed him were constantly in chase. He capitalized by feeding the interior and kicking out passes to Montero. Montero, who has earned significant interest, with Alabama, Penn State, Oklahoma State and LSU in persistent pursuit, averaged 15.6 points and 5.9 boards.

"The ball is still bouncing while he's spinning," Mushatt said. "You don't see the kind of moves he pulls too often anymore."

 Mushatt continued, "During the first half of the season, Gio was kind of doing everything for us, he was leading us in scoring and assists. He lessened his role kind of by mistake.

When you add another scorer to the lineup, it changes the makeup of the team. A lot of guys would have folded. Gio didn't pout. He adjusted. He realized, we didn't need him to score 25 anymore. He's still going to have his games, like he did, where he goes off."

That much was on display during McLean's 34-point eruption, on 13-for-20 shooting, during the Vikes' 101-99 double overtime loss to Wallace State in the national tournament.

Prior to that, McLean dropped 21 points during an 82-70 win over Baltimore City Community College.

Leading the perimeter assault, McLean drilled three 3-pointers in each of the Vikes final four games. On the season, he had five games of four 3-pointers or more. He shot 46.6 percent from the floor.

The Bronx-bred guard, a fixture at NYC basketball proving grounds such as Dyckman and Rucker Park, said the team's chemistry was paramount to the historic 2013-2014 campaign.

"I think learning how to play with each other was key," McLean said.

"Sometimes you are going to have arguments and bumps and bruises down the road. We kept that to a bare minimum. The chemistry allowed us to play the way we did. When it was game time, everyone was focused and together."

McLean renewed his basketball jones a few summers ago, authoring numerous scalding performances on the streetball circuit.

Known as "Batteries Not Included" on the blacktop scene, McLean has always been the younger kid up against the established wolves.

He's been entrenched in marquee battles with guards such as Corey Fisher and former NCAA scoring cyborg Keydren Clark.

Mushatt said McLean's leadership qualities are what makes the 23-year-old such an appealing prospect.

"He's just a kid that doesn't give up," he explained.

"I've seen games where he struggled, shooting-wise, because they're running double teams on him. He just hung in there. He'll tell me 'Coach, we're not going to lose this game.' He puts the team on his shoulders, and you don't see that a lot."

Friday, April 11, 2014

Nedwick's Career Blossoming In Italy

A black BMW is blurring down a long, tight road en route to the burgeoning metropolitan area of scenic Ascoli Piceno, Italy.

The blazing-fast BMW, along with several cars trailing it and gunning to pick it off, is eclipsing 110 miles per hour.
Nick Nedwick, saddled in the back of a navy blue bus directly behind all the passing cars, is nauseated.

Never has Nedwick been car sick before, albeit the quick-whipping wind and speedsters and the fatigue of three consecutive road games is beginning to wear on him.

What begins as a sharp stomach pain rapidly intensifies, and Nedwick is suddenly feeling dizzy.
"Guys, we've got pull over," says Nedwick, who typically comes with the tagline "The American Boy" to Italian basketball announcers, to his teammates.
"I'm sorry, but I've got to jump out real quick."
Nedwick pops out, pummeled by more dizziness than a young child after his first rollercoaster. As the cars continue to storm by, Nedwick effortlessly dispatches his breakfast on the side of the road.

 Nedwick's teammates look on, shrugging and not uttering one word.

 Andrea Bocelli and other Italian music, a long ways from the Jadakiss and Styles P and Jay-Z bangers that Nedwick routinely warmed up to before his Ferris Ave. summer league games in White Plains, hums from the radio throughout the trip home.
Italy is rife with enough maniacal drivers to give even a Midtown cabbie fits, but few other differences have fazed Nedwick.
As a lightly recruited 6-foot-1 off guard out of Irvington High School (N.Y.), and the the all-time leading scorer at Division-III Eastern Connecticut State University with 1,605 points, Nedwick has hurdled obstacles more arduous than aggravating, speed-crazed drivers.
 The Irvington native's innate joy for the game has allowed him to prolong his basketball career in Italy's professional ranks. Nedwick currently averages 22 points per game for Cestica Ascoli Piceno, Italy's Basketmarche League.
Nedwick, whose offensive output has come on a mixed bag of mid-range jumpers, pull-ups, 3-pointers, and surges to the rim, learned of the overseas opportunity through former Mercy College/Gorton High guard Nick Volchok.

Volchok, with whom Nedwick plays long, hyper-intense games of pickup ball at New York Sports Club in Dobbs Ferry and House of Sports in Ardsley has plied his trade in Italy's professional leagues as well.
"Nick put me in contact with the right person and it all took off from there," said Nedwick, who registered his presence with a 40-point game earlier this month.
"Playing professionally now, being 6-1 is just too short for a shooting guard. I have to transition my game to the point. I still play the two-spot, because I can score but to make it to the next level I have to become an efficient point guard."

Nedwick describes Ascoli Piceno as a soccer-obsessed community, where the residents typically pack bars to the gills for heavily-anticipated matches. The soccer fanfare has long been established in Italy, which took home the 2006 World Cup.

 Bordered by tall mountains, living in an apartment roughly 30 minutes from the Tronto River, Nedwick is adjusting to a slow-paced lifestyle away from the city area. With little distractions, Nedwick spends much of his time training and practicing. Games are typically played on Saturdays, as all Sundays are reserved for Holy Day festivities. He's assimilated to the culture, taking Italian Speaking classes twice a week and learning to communicate with his teammates. He is no longer fazed by his teammates' puzzling language, which created a slight barrier during his first few weeks in the country.

"It's really nice over here," Nedwick said. "The only downside is I'm in a very small town in the country. It's beautiful, but boring."
You may remember Nick Nedwick during his heyday at Irvington High, when he stabilized a radiant 1-2 scoring with bullish guard Brittain Purcelle, a high-volume scorer who carved through defenses throughout Class B. 

Nedwick's high-energy, frenetic style helped spur the resurrection of a once ailing Bulldogs program.

Behind Nedwick, Purcelle, and countless others who played with unbridled passion and 32 minutes of sustained relentlessness, the boys basketball program was finally on the same plane as the storied, tradition-rich girls program under Hall of Fame coach Gina Maher.

Nedwick, a 2008 Irvington graduate, was known for locking up opposing guards in a Ziplock bag, vowing to provide nary a slither of breathing room. Defense was Nedwick's calling card, since his early days as a smurf-sized runt in Billy Ottovich's Irvington Rec league.


The appeal of that aspect of the game has endured the test of time, mirroring Nedwick's true basketball identity.


"Nick's a physical 6'1 guard but plays as if he's 6'5," said Erik Gormley, the former Dobbs Ferry point guard, who has played against Nedwick since their CYO days.


"His ability to move without the ball and read the play all at once is something that's extremely hard to guard. When he has the ball, he's good with both hands. He's improved his ball handling dramatically. Some players give up on plays or take plays off to catch their breath, Nick doesn't."
Nedwick's game is predicated on coming off screens, freeing himself off the ball, and sidestepping traffic. This allows him to get the ball in position to pull-and-pop or knife to the bucket.
"Probably the biggest adversity I've had to overcome as a player was proving I could be effective at the two-guard despite being 6-1," Nedwick said.

 "I really thought I was overlooked a lot in high school. I just had to prove to everyone I can play the game."
 The blanketing defense, those deep corner 3-pointers, quick slashes amid contact, and the ball disruption which sparked run-outs and easy layins, it's all still in Nedwick's arsenal. He's still as active and super-hyped as ever. The game day energy still soars through mountaintops, as he's lasered in on every play and diving for loose balls.
"He's always had that drive," explained Ryan Riefenhauser, the former Dobbs Ferry guard who went up against Nedwick before joining forces with him in the aforementioned Ferris Ave. league.
"What makes him difficult to guard is how versatile he's become. First it was with the three, then he started driving a lot more. Now, he's got a pull-up jumper. He still can't hold me though."
Having shifted his gaze to facilitating the attack as a lead guard, Nedwick hopes to earn his paycheck in one the country's higher leagues.
"My goal is to make it to one of the top leagues, I hate how Division-III players are looked down upon and people think that were not good enough," Nedwick explained.
"I just want to prove that D-III players can play professionally and make it out here. That's what drives me so much. I was told by an agent that European coaches will look at D-I or D-II guys with little to no stats before they look at a D-III player with top notch stats."
Nedwick is not certain about his basketball longevity. He's far away from home, pursuing lifelong dreams. He always told himself he would "ride it until the wheels fall off," but he knows nothing in life comes with a guarantee.
"I know I'm not going to be able to play basketball for the rest of my life," Nedwick said.
"I want to play as long as I can but obviously there are concerns. In the next year or two, if I'm not making good money, I can't stay here. I have to be able to support myself financially. It's definitely tough being away from family and friends, but I get so much support and I'm always on Skype, Facebook and WhatsApp talking to everyone."


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Hotly-Pursued Thomas To Visit Loyola-Chicago On Friday

Keith Thomas' consistency, collection of double doubles, and furious-paced work ethic is what makes the 6-foot-8 Westchester Community College forward appealing to high-major Division-I programs.

Thomas played just one year of high school basketball at Yorktown (N.Y.), spearheading the Huskers to the Section 1 Final Four. A rediscovery of how much he loves the game allowed Thomas to make a second run.

Now the Mount Vernon, N.Y. native is one of the nation's most hotly pursued forwards.

"He was so consistent this year, but what I really like about Keith is he takes no prisoners on the court," said Vikes head coach Tyrone Mushatt, who played at WCC himself in the mid-1990s.

"There were some games against lower level competition where could have cruised. He could have said 'Oh, this is going to be a cupcake game.' He didn't take anything for granted. He gave everything in every game."

Thomas averaged 15.3 points and a NJCAA-leading 15.7 boards en route to NJCAA Region XV Player of the Year honors. He helped propel the Vikes to their first JUCO national tournament berth since 1996. Thomas is slated to visit Loyola-Chicago on Friday.

St. John's, Fordham, Loyola-Chicago, Florida State, and Wright State have been in active pursuit of Thomas, according to Mushatt.

Memphis and Dayton have jumped in the KT sweepstakes, expressing significant interest in the 23-year-old freshman. He'll likely have three years of eligibility.

"Loyola-Chicago has been recruiting him for about 4-5 months now," Mushatt said.

"Keith is a kid who is about loyalty. They've been there since the very beginning and he recognizes that. Florida State is trying to get a visit setup. They're another powerhouse program that he's considering."

Mushatt has referred to Thomas as his "NAVY SEAL" for his toughness during workouts and ability to finish through contact and withstand the brutal hits inside the paint.

 Thomas authored efficiency during his freshman year at WCC, shooting the rock at a 65.4 percent clip. This was underscored by a mammoth 29-point eruption (13-for-14 FG) against Harcum and a 10-for-11, 22-point shredding of Orange County Community College.

Will Thomas stay local?

New York schools appear to be rolling out the red carpet for him.

"St. John's is on him a lot, they're trying to keep him in New York," Mushatt explained. "Fordham is showing him a lot of love too."

Thomas was once the young kid in the stands, watching with a hawk-like gaze as his uncle, former Mount Vernon guard Randy Brunson, won a Section 1 championship alongside Ben Gordon.

Frequently engaged in afternoon-long pickup games at Solaris in Yorktown, Thomas can best be described as a gym rat. He is stoked with growing confidence, which manifests itself during high-pressure moments.

An adept passer, Thomas is always working on applying new components to his game, incorporating new moves into his arsenal.

"He lives in the gym," Mushatt deadpanned.

Saving his loudest performance for the tail end of the regular season, Thomas dropped 28 points and tore down 17 rebounds during WCC's 82-70 win over Baltimore City Community College.

 Thomas dropped 11 points, snagged 13 rebounds, and doled out four assists during the Vikes' 101-99 double-overtime loss to Wallace State in the national tournament.

Facilitating the balanced attack for the Vikes was Giovanni McClean, third in the nation in assists with 7.4 per game. McClean is currently receiving interest from St. John's, Oklahoma, Memphis, and Duquesne, among others.

 Luis Montero, who averaged 15.6 points and 5.6 boards playing off McClean in the backcourt, has entertained steady interest from Alabama, LSU, Penn State, and Oklahoma State.