Saturday, October 3, 2015

Hastings Hoops Legend Eyeballing Triumphant Return

Now in his 40s, legendary Hastings Hall of Fame point guard Lewis Lefkowitz assures you he's "still got it."

Lefkowitz, enshrined in the Hall of Fame four years ago, says he's still got he handle on a string.

 He can still light up a gym, scoring in bunches and barreling to the rim on 20-somethings. The energy and the high-scoring motor, which enabled him to eclipse the 1,000-point milestone at Hastings High is still there, Lefkowitz said.

"Right now I'm just trying to get an agent and go overseas," said Lefkowitz, a 1987 Hastings graduate who averaged 23 points and shot a scalding 96 percent from the free throw line his senior season.

"I train three hours a day and I take everyday like it's my last day on this planet. I didn't hire one of these certified trainers to work me out because most of those guys suck. Most of them never played in high school or if they did play in high school, they made a minimal impact. Until this day, no high school team on the planet can stop me when they full court press me."

Lefkowitz starred at Elizabeth City State University, a Division-II program in North Carolina. At ECSU, Lefkowitz scored 1,143 points and shot 58.7 percent from the field.

"At the time, we were a Division-II team with a lot of Division-I opponents," said Lefkowitz. "We went up against Virginia Union with (former NY Knicks bruiser) Charles Oakley. We played against Yale with (former NBA veteran) Chris Dudley."

Lefkowitz said if a professional career over the waters doesn't pan out, he plans on running full time basketball camps and clinics in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. area.

Known as "Lew Ice" in his hoops heyday, Lefkowitz' basketball journey is rather unheard of.

 He reclassified as a junior, spending the year in Florida rather than attending school.

 Remembered by former teammates as a maximum-level trash talker and relentless motor-mouth, few could ever match Lefkowitz' high-wired intensity.

"The level of basketball today is embarassing," said Lefkowitz.

 "Our team (under NYS Hall of Fame head coach John Costello) would trounce most of these Westchester teams by 50-60 points. The level of play is down throughout Westchester County. Anybody can make a team when your Daddy is the coach."

During his late-1980s era at Hastings, Lefkowitz always seemed more content to quarterback the offense.

 Lefkowitz possessed a flashy, flamboyant game, busting out behind-the-back passes and left handed shovel passes in traffic. With never ending trash talk and a willingness to get in anyone's face, Lefkowitz' cocksure attitude may have been his best attribute.

"Lew had the best handle of anyone I ever played with," explained former teammate Keith Fagan, a Hall of Fame receiver/quarterback at Division-III Western New England College (Mass.) during a 2013 interview.

"I literally don't remember him ever having a turnover. The only time he lost the ball was when a teammate couldn't handle his pass or never expected it because it seemed it would have been impossible for Lew to get him the ball, but he somehow did."

Fagan said Lefkowitz performed bigger in high-magnitude performances.

"We played Hamilton, which had three Division-I bound players at the time and Lew Ice killed them," Fagan said.

"Both games were in the 90s..the 90s! We lost both games, but Lew Ice had over 30 in each."

"People want to deter me because of my age, but they don't realize I played college ball at CCNY at age 28-29 and was just getting started," Lefkowitz said.

"I can still kill all of these guys and the competition is only getting worse. All these kids are so soft. (Manhattan College guard) Shane Richards and (Tampa Bay Bucs Guard and Hastings native) Ali Marpet are the exception."

If Lefkowitz was so gifted, why didn't he play at the Division-I level?

"I still have letters from Miami, Providence, Iona, and big schools," said Lefkowitz.

"My SATs were really bad, back then you needed at least an 800 I think. I scored less."

Lefkowitz said ECSU was a better choice than several Division-I suitors, given the strength of schedule and the conference.

"Marist and Wagner were horrible D-1 at the time," Lefkowitz said.

"CIAA had guys like Oakley, former Celtics star Sam Jones at N.C. Central, Cleo Hill at Winston-Salem State. Even back in the day, there were guys like Earl Lloyd out of West Virginia State. It was a no joke conference, equivalent to D-I."

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Books and Buckets With: Tanner Eubank

In high school, Tanner Eubank was relied upon to shoulder a bulk of the offense. The onus was on him to create and score the rock in beast mode fashion.

Possessing an innate feel for the game, a sweet stroke from beyond the arc, Eubank averaged 20 PPG as a junior. As a senior, he shifted from the two-guard to the point on the fly, thrust into the role of facilitator. Operating offense and leading by action, Eubank averaged 18.6 points and 6.2 dimes, emerging into Paw Paw (Mich.) High's all-time leader in numerous statistical categories.

Eubank was a high efficiency threat, not requiring a ton of shots to rack up the offensive numbers he did (169 career treys 90+ percent FT shooter).

Now at Elev8 Prep, Eubank is bordered by high-caliber NCAA talent. He'll again embrace the game management chores, while relishing the challenge of producing against top-flight competition. A basketball old-soul built on discipline and a tireless work ethic (on the court and in the classroom), Eubank boasts a 3.8 GPA. With multiple workouts consuming his time, Eubank has also stocked up on highly competitive college courses.

In sun-baked Delray Beach, Fla., there are several seductive recruiting tools for pretty much any teenage male on the planet. Elev8 is only a mile from the beach, two miles from oft-popping Atlantic Ave., a 15-minute ride from a Florida Atlantic University campus laced with hotter-than-El Aziza young females.

Though those options will always be there, the most important aspect of Eubank's stay at Elev8 will be his academics and the game of basketball...It's fair to say he's your quintessential low-risk recruit.

Eubank on Transitioning to Elev8

It's obviously much closer to the college basketball experience than anything. Everyone is starting to mesh together and get a feel for each other's style of play, despite most of us having never played together before. It's going to be a great year. I feel like I'll be a lot more prepared going into college now.

I'm just maturing as a player as a person everyday. Being around each other so much as teammates, we're all getting to know each other off the court and on it. We're really building chemistry. Of course, we're still learning each other's games and style on the court. We'll be fine.

On His Academics

My parents always instilled a work ethic in me, schooling me on the importance of education. They've made academics a top priority for me since third grade. I've just always been focused on grades and time management. Right now two of my favorite classes are sports management and economics. Eventually, I'd like to get into the business field. I just don't know exactly what yet.

On His Workout Regimen

Ganon Baker's workouts are obviously top-notch, as he's one of the best trainers in the world. It definitely gives you some major advantages. He helps us on making reads, cutting without the ball. He's just helped me to become more aggressive and he emphasizes being aggressive with the ball. He helps a lot with the mental components, helping guys play through mistakes. He's still got the handle.

I like workouts with Tony (Falce) because it builds mental and physical strength. The beach workouts definitely give you a mental edge, because you have to labor through the heat and the sun hitting you. I just feel a lot stronger and cut up as a result. I was never injury prone, but I feel Tony's workouts help reduce your chance of injury.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Devoe Earning A Variety Of Interest

Ask any kid who has ever laced up a pair of kicks and picked up a Spalding about his early basketball influences, he's likely to mention Lebron James somewhere along the way.

Perhaps the most transcendent player of our current era, James has survived the test of time as an iconic, game-changing talent.

Built like a brick junkhouse, James' multi-faceted arsenal enables him to crack open a game at any given moment.

He can spearhead the offense as a lethal, big-bodied guard and also provide interior manpower, snatching boards over 7-footers.

With wild and authoritative finishes, deft dishing from both hands, deadeye shooting from beyond the arc, James has long been considered a basketball deity.

He's a wunderkind, with kids across the planet emulating him.

For Michael Devoe, now a sophomore at Oak Ridge in Orlando, James Harden had a bit more appeal to him than Lebron.

"I liked watching guys like James Harden play, because he's a lefty and that's someone who I wanted to pattern my game around," Devoe said, following a recent fall league game against West Oaks.

"I tried to pick up on other lefties, like myself, and really focus on what they do. I just always values guys who could really score with the left hand."

As a sophomore, Devoe will assume some of the leadership mantle at Oak Ridge.

With natural playmaking instincts and a beyond-his-years handle, Devoe has been instrumental in orchestrating offense.

This season, he'll be entrusted to score at the rim, from mid-range, and beyond the arc.

 Programs across the country are beginning to take notice. The 6-foot-3 guard currently has budding interest from Miami, Xavier, Baylor, FIU, and UAB.

The true draw of Devoe is his ability to pick apart a defense. He possesses a sneaky basketball IQ, whipping up no-look passes, hitting cutters on the run and around traffic.

 Most recently, Devoe has displayed a mid-range game.

Extending his shot beyond the confines of the arc will help the crafty, hard-slashing guard evolve into a prolific scorer.

With coaches around the country tuning in, Devoe will look to take leadership matters into his own hands while also his scholarship-hungry competitive juices intact. Accepting the spotlight, the cerebral sophomore vows not to alter his unselfish ways.

While Harden and a bevy of gifted lefties have inspired Devoe, former Oak Ridge guard Antonio Blakenley has been instrumental in nurturing his development.

Blakenley, a high-volume scorer and explosive athlete at 6-foot-4, helped mold then-freshmen Devoe's mindset during his senior year.

 Now at LSU, Blakenley will look to make an instant impact as a high-adrenaline scoring guard.

At the same pace, Devoe will look to eclipse his former teammate's legacy at Oak Ridge.

Pitino, Louisville Interested In Elev8's Christiansen

Kasper Christiansen wouldn't say he was star-struck. He didn't fend off any wild jitters when he saw Rick Pitino sitting courtside at Grandview Prep in Boca Raton, Fla. last night.

 Well-versed on Pitino and Louisville, Christiansen said the idea of playing at such a high-caliber program gives him monstrous motivation.

Christiansen, a 6-foot-10 Class of 2017 forward at Elev8 Prep, is  now being recruited by Louisville, Maryland, and Florida.

Valpo and Baylor have also shown considerable interest in the Denmark-bred big. 

 "If Louisville ends up offering me, I'd be honored," said Christiansen, who expects to become more adept around the rim while packing muscle onto his spindly 190-pound frame.

"That would be special. Rick Pitino, he's just a basketball legend. The whole history of Louisville is great. The University of Maryland is a great option for me to. They told me to get bigger. They want me stronger and now that's what I have to work on so I can play at that level."

Christiansen visited the University of Florida unofficially at the beginning of the month, impressed with the campus, the Gainesville area and the Gators' new coaching staff. While there is no current timetable, Christiansen indicated he'd like to decide on a school after the 2015-16 campaign or next fall.

Acclimatizing to a true big man role at Elev8, Christiansen is leaning less on his outside shot and focusing more on explosive, authoritative finishes.

"Coach Cody (Toppert) and coach Chad (Meyers) have told me to be aggressive and dunk everything I can. I promise in a month or so, I'll be dunking as much as I can. The coaches have helped me a lot with driving the ball. I wasn't able to drive to the basket that much when I first came here."

Regulating his diet, becoming stronger with the ball in the paint, and becoming quicker and more agile has helped raise Christiansen's Division-I stock.

While he's had a fight on his hands with Toppert and Meyers, Christiansen has an equal challenge with Florida-based master professional  trainer Tony Falce.

 Falce's unique and tactical training has enabled Miami Heat big man Chris "Birdman" Andersen to sustain top-shelf shape at age 37.

While developing a toolbox of refined big man moves and cultivating a post presence are his primary goals, Christiansen still values his feathery touch.

"Of course, I want to develop a perfect jump shot," Christiansen said. "I got a pretty good one right now. I really want my opponent to fear when I shoot."

Louisville, Florida, and Maryland seem to have the most appeal to Christiansen.

If Louisville were to offer him a scholarship tomorrow, would he commit?

"Not right away, I'd would have to sit down and discuss it with my coach back home in Denmark," Christiansen said. "I like to consider him my manager, as you would say."

Pitino and assistant coach Mike Balado, also in attendance last night, seem sold on the potential within Christiansen. Nowhere near a finished product, the next 12 months will be pivotal in determining Christiansen's high-major stock.

Wayback Wednesday: When Ray Gallagher Speaks, Putnam County Listens

When Ray Gallagher left the North County News in 2006, the revered and imitable columnist left a legacy felt throughout these perennial Northern Westchester proving grounds.

Gallagher’s array of punch lines lured me in when he once labeled the attack position “as critical to the sport of lacrosse as the bunghole is to the body.”

Perusing the columns, I saw Gallagher quote a Hen Hud player who explained his game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer “felt better than sex.”

I was intrigued at a unique read.

Like so many others in the Westchester/Putnam area, I kept reading.

I followed the unfiltered, no-limitations, say-it-as-it-is columnist for 10+ years. I continue to read his work at a religious pace.


The entertainment value of Direct Rays is unrivaled. The unique style keeps us hungry for more.

Keep ‘em coming.

Maybe it’s because Gallagher will always call out the self-proclaimed gurus. Maybe it’s because Gallagher is sure to take a good healthy snipe at the lawn chair quarterback superintendents. Pencil Pushers, as he typically has them pegged as.

For 25 years, Gallagher has had a green light to call out anyone who stands in his way. He is naturally reluctant to mince his words.

He has always been forthcoming about any issue or any story leak that needed to be addressed. Even the unruly group of Mom-zillas and Demanding Dads were not free of Ray's verbal slayings. He won't let off-the-wall antics slip. 

Above and beyond the hard-hitting columns, Gallagher has constantly highlighted kids’ achievements.

I’ve recently thumbed through a bevy of articles from top national sources, the kind you see displayed at book stores and supermarkets and city newsstands.

Witnessing prominent writers and columnists berate 16-year-old kids several times, it’s allowed me to value Gallagher’s weekly writing in the Examiner News. He spreads the props around in article after article, giving readers a bird’s eye view of the local scene without the melodrama.

Rarely does today’s sports writer or columnist or local guru provide an accurate account of the athlete, an inside look that displays the individual’s intangibles, strengths, tendencies, stats.

That’s what separates Ray from others of his focus and skill-set.

The veteran gives you a verbal description and takes you right to the field. Gallagher describes the scene a flair, incorporating a wealth of knowledge along the way. He’ll soak up every little detail to help paint the picture.

Typically, Putnam Valley slang is tossed in there.

Gallagher is capable of jump-starting the hype machine.

If writers are guilty of feeding the beast, Ray is hurling cake and coffee down the beast’s throat after a fattening Thanksgiving dinner.

Does Gallagher thirst for controversy? Perhaps more than any reporter in this region.

Did he deliver controversy and take hard digs? Early, often, and with efficiency. For student-athletes, however, he’s been more than just “the writer guy.”

Sure, the man was guaranteed to heap terse words on any superintendent who happened to grind his gears.

Sure, he warred with me over several issues while I worked under him.

Sure, he wanted to kick my teeth in for the fits I gave him. The feeling was certainly mutual, as word of our beef spread through the news office like wildfire.

The smoke cleared, however, when I learned to value the commitment while simultaneously appreciating the work ethic Gallagher has instilled in so many.

He’s not one to fake it, either.

Each and every game I covered under Ray’s guidance, I was interrupted by a steady barrage of text messages.


“What quarter?”

“Who’s got the ball right now, how much time is left?”

“You alive?”

“Remember to quote both coaches and file the article to me tonight, so we can kill it in this week’s section.”

This was prior to the emergence of Twitter, when the updates weren’t so much necessary.

Gallagher was actually that immersed in every angle of the game. Like a devout fan constantly checking ESPN Gametracker, Gallagher values the high school sports scene.

Yes, his fervor for the competition is real.

Keeping It Real

OK, Ray fired me three times altogether. Pink slip number four was surely waiting in the wings, during a few tense moments.

Each time, however, he opened the door for a return. Each time, after a few jabs were exchanged, we agreed to get to work and serve the community.

In Ray’s mind, the idea is not to meet expectations but to slay them.

That’s where the standard is held. A quarter century in a highly-pressurized environment, swamped with deadlines and a hungry fan base stretching from Hastings to Langrangeville has the potential to mold you a certain way.

The bar isn’t just set high, it is lifted to moon-scraping heights.

Shit, that bar is set higher than Snoop Dogg on a music tour in Amsterdam on April 20. Like a veteran coach with an established program, Ray’s year round commitment to success (and professionalism) is of highest order.

For 25 years, Gallagher has had an eye for talent, catching the story behind the highlight reel play.

For 25 years, he’s been delivering the facts beyond the head-spinning run. He’s highlighted the factors beyond the individual totals/stats. 

He prides himself on having an eye for that talent.

Gallagher possesses pages of Wikipedia-like knowledge of Section I in his Almanac memory, staying true to the local scene in which he got his scribe teeth cut.

More by-the-book scribes could peg Gallagher’s work as over the top. You can’t argue, it makes for an above average and more entertaining read.

Nicknames have been heaped on local products at a never-dwindling pace.

Memorable ones include “Sully Webber,” “Beast amongst Boys,” "King Mullet, "Big Bo" “Uncle Eddie,” “Gangster Lean,” “Big Bo,” “Moose,” “Sheriff Mabus,” “Three Card Monty,” and countless others.

Gallagher’s columns have been the go-to read in Westchester/Putnam since Gallagher sported a mullet, John Stockton shorts, Nike Swoosh shirts, and an old-school NY Giants skull hat.
A Mike Lupica of his heyday, Gallagher once slammed anyone who interfered with his beloved sports scene.

Father time and a workaday commitment to more jobs than a Bronx-bred Jamaican has kept his brutal blasts of superintendents and self-proclaimed power brokers to a minimum.

Piss him off, do a disservice to his beloved high school sports community, expect this to take a turn for the worse. Ray will unleash the mad writer within him, going on a verbal onslaught to however needs a good pelting. 

It’s always spruced up with laugh-inducing sentences. There is always overboard creativity that the mainstream stiffs and socially inept stat dorks lack. While more and more elitists become too enamored with statistics and commitments, Gallagher has always found the story behind the daily happenings. 

Gallagher would rather write his own piece about a kid overcoming adversity, breaking a story to his own local crowd than cover a story that 40 angry journalists have their fingerprints all over.
Sports Editor is usually a position where once-prosperous writing careers go to die.
Amid the mountain of industry change and an uptick in photos and editing, Gallagher’s writing style has remained the same.

A Day In The Ray
It seems simple, carrying out as Ray Gallagher does.

Sports consume him.

The 5-foot-9 Gallagher is dressed like Billy Hoyle in “White Men Can’t Jump,” sporting the backwards hat and surfer shorts on the sidelines as he snaps a library of photos at a high school lacrosse game.

He refs three consecutive basketball games, coaches a Little League team, then writes a pair of columns complete with Section I rankings and player quotes.

Laced with analogies and metaphors, Gallagher provides an accurate assessment of each league’s landscape.

Then, Gallagher vividly recalls a story about his own day.

The lead guard and captain of a Lakeland High basketball team, the Hornets were then recognized more for their raging parties than their a souped-up fast break and suspect defense.

A guy who can retell everyone else’s story with accuracy can surely remember his own, even if his team engaged in many memory-altering activities.

The ensuing day, Gallagher is lodged inside a local town meeting and managing the fields for an upcoming event.

After working like a one-man construction crew in scalding heat, Ray is finally home. He spends time with his wife, Nikki, and his two children.

In Gallagher’s five-year-old son Tyler and his eight-year-old daughter (nine in July) Meagen, Dad’s love for sports is evident.

Father-and-kids activities include hitting balls off the tee, scooping up ground balls with their lacrosse sticks, and long games of “dribble chase” in the driveway. 

During these intense games, Tyler and Meagen’s ball-handling savvy is tested. They also make sure their father is protecting the ball himself, as brother and sister swarm him and swipe at the Spalding.
Would you expect anything else?

Gallagher and his wife run a photography company, Picture That, which shoots everything from corporate events to weddings to Sweet 16s.

His wife is just as handy with the device that sparked her husband’s career 25 years ago.
And so after an exhausting day, Gallagher watches his beloved Mets on TV. They lose, but Gallagher doesn’t lose his never-dwindling Mets pride.

As much as they suck, he will always be encased in his Mike Piazza jersey and passionately supporting the organization.

When the game is over, he retires to the computer room to write another banger.

President of Putnam

The commitment to writing captivating columns and shooting photos of each and every team in NCN and now the Examiner News coverage area (NCN’s brother from another mother, same staff different editors and ownership) never tailed off.

Many industry heads could have cited his position as director of athletics for the town of Putnam Valley as a conflict of interest

Think again.

In a humor-sprinkled 2010 column, Gallagher ripped the Putnam Valley basketball squad into shreds
Shit, it was for their own good. The same kids he grew up coaching needed a good verbal slaying to wake up and smell the Folgers emanating from the kitchen.

During one eyes-burning sentence, Gallagher made it clear this team needed to “stop getting high off games of NBA2K or whatever it is” and get in the gym.

During the coaching vacancy, he pushed for potential candidates to jump at the open position.
Gallagher reminded each would-be warrior capable of reviving the program that the coach gets the keys to the gym.

Anytime he witnessed a kid put on a shooting barrage in his open gym program, he steered that kid to practice without fail. Everytime he saw a young gun emulate White Chocolate with dazzling passes or enforce a 1990’s basketbrawl New York Knicks style of defense, he gave that young gun the Varsity basketball paper work.

His presence has always been felt beyond his local coverage and columns.

Direct Rays kept it real with the Putnam Valley kids, acknowledging that they ooze of potential and teams could potentially hear the footsteps.

In that take-no-prisoners column, Gallagher illustrated that an unwavering commitment was the only way they would even sniff a playoff berth.

In that very column assessing the PV hoops program, Gallagher didn’t pull any haymakers.
Like an angry village parent telling the troubled youth “y’all are capable of so much more,” Gallagher walloped them with words.

Not digging into them like the recruiting pimp writers do, but keeping it real.
One coach asked him, “Do they let you walk in Putnam Valley?”

Others chimed in, wondering if Gallagher’s tires were intact following that admittedly funny-as-spit column.

Some wondered if copies of Gallagher’s Putnam Valley-torching columns had been used as urine mops and kick-starters for bonfires by the Putnam Valley youth.

While some overprotective, truth-fearing, and perhaps overbearing parents may have turned their nose at the piece, many got a good kick out of it.

Ray was cognizant that this team had talent, but clearly needed a better work ethic.

A few years later, PV attained the success Gallagher envisioned.  After he essentially called them out for being lazy potheads (potheads with potential that is), they ascended into Section I’s upper-crust.

During the team’s resurgence, Gallagher provided a surplus of positive coverage.

Putnam Valley head coach Ed Wallach was fired inexplicably, after leading the Tigers to a berth in the Section I semifinals.

Surprise, Surprise– Gallagher put his foot down
He verbally cooked those who instigated the problem leading to Wallach’s untimely dismissal, standing up for what is right.

During a rapidly-evolving internet-dependent era, the old-school Gallagher earned a social media presence.

Standing by his beliefs, defending the man who got the raw deal, Gallagher sparked an online fire. He got everyone from a diddle eyed Joe to a damned-if-I-know to comment.

It’s not as if Gallagher was out there advocating for Wallach during the 25 years he spent covering him.

In fact, the two once came astonishingly close to blows.

Both men were in each other’s grills ferociously a few years back, when Wallach took a snipe at Gallagher-hired refs during a youth game.

The bald guy with a penchant for nicknames would have every bit of none of it.

The scene escalated. Eventually, threats to call the police immediately quelled the flaring tempers.
The personal rift ended abruptly.

When the Wallach helped resuscitate a once pulse-lacking girls program at PV, Gallagher was the first columnist to give him the necessary ink.

One minute he’s in the guy’s mug, teeth clenched and eyes burning, ready to throw down.
Next minute? He’s commending him for a job well done. Give criticism and respect where the criticism and respect are due.


With Ray, there always seemed to be a story behind the story.

Oddly enough, there’s a story to his first-ever writing gig.

During his first interview with the now defunct North County News 25 years ago, one of the key questions hurled on Gallagher was “can you shoot?”

Gallagher responded with an immediate and cocksure, “Of course I can shoot… I’m from Putnam Valley!”

An avid hunter during his heyday, Gallagher thought his superiors were asking him if he could shoot a gun.

They tossed him a camera and film and a legend was born.

When a coach got fired, when turmoil shrouded a program, when anything of note happened, Ray put it all out for all of  us to see.

The beat goes on. He is that guy with his ear to the ground, the guy who revs up the talking heads.

The endless supply of nicknames, the metaphors, the colorful analogies, they kept us reading.

This is a cat who could chuck tomatoes at Peekskill with a few short, powerful sentences.

 Gallagher once slayed an entire fan base with the effortless pounding of the keys. Like a revved-up New York tabloid writer ready to barbeque someone for front page fodder, Gallagher ripped them.

He crushed Peekskill’s fan base for losing their shit following a loss. His column the ensuing day painted Peekskill as a real cesspool, a school rife with hood rats who over step their boundaries after the game.

Years later, Gallagher lauded the program’s pride and tradition as a keynote speaker during a state title run. 

This was back when five-year varsity forward Mookie Jones (a highly-touted prospect who never panned out at Syracuse) was dunking on foes all across the state.

Gallagher has written on teams working the clock “like a meth-head works the dealer.”

He’s gone on long-winded rants about first-class scholar athletes whom he’d welcome to his home without even checking to see if his guns have been loaded.

He’s given words of warning and called out teams for having cupcake schedules and wins that were weaker than Chinese tea on a real scale. He’s given Player of The Year and All-Decade Team awards.

With 25 years of writing hard-hitting and unique stories and columns, we give it up for a man who has truly stood the test of time.

It can be an arduous task, appeasing parents and giving everyone equal coverage. It can be draining, meeting maddening deadlines while dealing with the greenhorns and interns.

For 25 years, Gallagher has handled it with professionalism and punch-lines that jolt folks out of their seats.

One of Gallagher’s more moving columns was one he penned on the late and legendary Tyrell Thompson, a smooth swingman and indispensable leader who starred at Kennedy Catholic.
The column gave everyone an inside look at what a truly excellent guy Thompson, who played at West Point and served in the military, was.

There will never be another Tyrell Thompson. Just a few days following Thompson’s tragic death, Gallagher’s column illustrated that fact.

Way down the line, former athletes will crack out the scrap book to relive the glory days. They will show their articles and accomplishments to children and grandchildren proudly. They will re-read the article and the photo that captures the moment.

Then, they will look at the byline.

Most of them will remember the guy who bears a striking resemblance to Mr. Clean being at the gym more than the janitor, on the field more than the waterboy and the physical trainers.

They’ll remember the guy who they developed a season-long rapport with, the guy who peppered them with questions and kept the questions and columns coming. They guy who never wanted the clock to stop.

I don’t know if Ray will ever retire.

The idea of extended father time, hunting, fishing and watching his putrid Mets play might seem appealing…can you ever imagine, however, a season of without this guy perched on the sidelines, snapping shots and taking spoken notes into his recorder?

I understand some industry skeptics might wisecrack me for writing this, wondering if I am aching to get hired (and fired) again.

Wondering if killing Ray with kindness is my way of mooching a slew of photos.

This was written as a tribute, but I hope it serves as so much more.

My hope is that a young person who wishes to pursue true passion and dreams will read this.
My goal is that somewhere, someone reading this will be sold on honing their craft. Sold on living a life ultimately bigger than their own, touching others.

Twenty-five years at the helm, Ray Gallagher hasn’t lost an iota of his luster.
Twenty-five years and he’s still writing classics like Tim O’Brien writes epic war stories.
Twenty-five years, and his passion for sports hasn’t waned a bit.

Thank you Ray. Thanks brother.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Dwidar To Sustain Championship Aspirations At Haldane

These past few years have gone been in blink-quick fashion for Ahmed Dwidar, Haldane's young head soccer coach.

He stumbled upon quick-hit success his debut season, despite minimal expectations.

When he arrived at the doorstep in the fall of 2009, the team sorely lacked experience and veteran leadership and structure.

The then 23-year-old coach overcame a jarringly thin bench, an even thinner budget, and a schedule that included schools twice Haldane's size and with three times the talent pool.

Spearheaded by striker Chris Marchese and Sean Daly, a formidable tandem, Haldane captured the Section 1/Class C championship. Few saw it coming.

Since then, Dwidar has moved at a furious pace to establish a soccer culture at Haldane. He's ramped up with the unrequired work, entering the team in leagues and tournaments throughout the winter and spring.

The Blue Devils will miss senior netminder Peter Hoffman, who was claimed by 2015 graduation.

 They return enough talent to sustain recent success. If the key pieces can seize tbe veteran leadership reigns, as Dwidar envisions,  he's got lofty aspirations to again compete for a Sectional championship.

The team will lean on a veteran presence in Danny Heitman.

"Plain and simple, Danny is just a special player," said Dwidar.

"There are no buttons you need to press to motivate a kid like Danny. He wants it as bad as he wants to breathe. He wants success. He wants to leave his mark here and go out with a bang. He's going to have to lead the team, just like the Marcheses, the Drapers, and the Hoffmans before him."

Dwidar is particular impressed with Heitmann's hustle and cerebral awareness on the pitch. His potency is also in his free kicks, which tend to "break the net" as Dwidar deadpanned.

For the first time since his rookie season, Dwidar will work more on potential than proven athletes.

The team has been negated by a spate of injuries, which has allowed this year's team to progress a bit slower.

"The focus is to get healthy, to get our guys to bounce back from injury, and to work cohesively and get better on a day-to-day basis," Dwidar said.

"It is not easy losing a kid like Peter (Hoffman). He was a leader, he performed everyday. He went above and beyond everything we asked of him. That being said, we have returning talent in Seth Warren and Andrew Platt."

Though several players are seeing their first varsity minutes, Dwidar said the meshing experiment has gone as planned.

Mirroring the growth of the Haldane soccer culture has been the Dwidar bloodline. In Egypt, where soccer is akin to bloodsport, Dwidar's younger brother Odo Dwidar is starring professionally as a striker.

Dwidar's father also coaches on the professional level.

Ahmed Dwidar said soccer has become a way of life for his family. He feels no pressure, only a desire to value the game as much as his father and brother do.

Witnessing their success over the waters has hastened Dwidar's desire to catapult Haldane back into Section I's high-rent district. The goal is to leave his own legacy here in the states, in the tiny and antique store-laced town of Cold Spring.

"There's no question, we've had kids that can play walk through these doors," Dwidar say.

"That's necessary in any soccer program that becomes perennially tough. You want the younger kids to look up to the older guys before them, and pattern their career around them. These kids saw teams that tasted success here. They want to experience it themselves. If we stay focused and continue to get better, we'll have a chance to do that."

Memorable Monday: Whitehead and Desi Shut Down TYCC

Less than a minute had ticked off after Desi Rodriguez checked into Thursday night's Frankie Williams Charity Classic, but the eye contact from teammate Isaiah Whitehead had been established.

Consider it an aerial alert.

Whitehead located Rodriguez, the Pippen to his Jordan at Lincoln High in Coney Island this past winter, drifting around the key. Whitehead reacted instantly, floating a lob pass near the basket.

His future Seton Hall teammate levitated above two defenders, plucked it and punched in a ferocious double-fisted dunk. The wowing play, routine for this tandem, drew an assortment of excitement throughout Theodore Young Community Center in Greenburgh.

Whitehead and Rodriguez' Team Desire lost to Team Inspire, in a 123-121 thriller, underscored by highlight reel theatrics and streetball-esque flash anticipated for this annual All-Star game.

Desire chopped down a 12-point third quarter deficit, only to crumble on a final possession.

Whitehead scored 35 points, on the full arsenal of deep 3-pointers, drives, pull-ups and violent transition dunks.

Like a quarterback routinely pegging darts to his no.1 receiver, Whitehead knows where to feed Rodriguez on the court at all times. He's well-schooled on the range of spots to whizz the pass. Because of the bouncy athleticism of Rodriguez, Whitehead knows he can hoist up a few risky ones here and there.

There were several 11th hour roster adjustments and replacements, albeit the Division-I starpower shined throughout.

Syracuse-bound Chris McCullough (26 points), a versatile 6-foot-10 forward and Adonis De La Rosa (12 points), a 6-foot-11 behemoth expected to provide a low-post presence at St. John's, were featured.

Christ The King Sophomore Rawle Alkins, who looks more and more like Lance Stephenson with a more fluid jumper, bagged MVP honors, turning in 34 points.

A 6-foot-6 southpaw who thrives around and above the rim, Rodriguez has been the beneficiary of Whitehead's routine surgical lobs since transferring to Lincoln from Frederick Douglas Academy in the Bronx following his sophomore year.

Even if he doesn't finish with an emphatic flush, as he's known to do, Rodriguez extends that left hand and lays it in. His experience in converting those lobs into buckets, even those hard-to-reach lobs sailing wide of the rim, renders him such a high-percentage threat.

Expect much of the same at Seton Hall, where the Pirates look to renew the winning ways set by the exiled Bobby Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, the coach of Team Inspire on Thursday, wasn't always the calmest dog in the kennel.

Still, Gonzalez' hyper-energetic style and tireless recruiting helped Seton Hall land recruits such as Jeremy "The Cab Driver" Hazell (2,000+ scorer with NBA 3-point territory range and beyond, 41-point game at WVU, 30 or more five times) and Eugene Harvey.

Both did not have the national ranking, hype and heavy expectations, but made good on Gonzo and Derm Player's offers. They capitalized on the instant impact opportunity that every recruit longs for.

Of course, the Big East was arguably the nation's best conference during that regime, with a rapid merry-go-round of NBA emergent in each program.

Names such as AJ Price (UCONN), Hasheem Thabeet (UConn), DeJuan Blair (PITT), Da'Sean Butler (West Virginia), Luke Harangody (Notre Dame), Kyle McAlarney (Notre Dame) Wesley Matthews (Marquette), Greg Monroe (Georgetown) Dominique Jones (South Florida), Yancy Gates (Cincy) and Lance Stephenson (Cincy) were the quintessential physical, battle-tested weapons and poster boys of the conference during that epoch.

The Big East has since been watered down, significantly.

Whitehead, a prolific scoring guard, and Rodriguez will prolong their careers under Kevin Willard.

A Rick Pitino disciple, Willard has pieced just one winning season in four years.

The Pirates went 21-13, advancing to the second round of the NIT in 2011-2012.

They lose highly-decorated senior Fuquan Edwin, a noted defensive pest with a funky slingshot cock-back jumper.

Edwin, a marginal draft prospect, had a 22-point performance (9-for-16 FG) during the Portsmith Invitational Tournament.

NBA-bound or not, Edwin has significant opportunity to earn decent wages playing professionally.

Edwin's departure opens the seams for the two-man foundation of Whitehead and Rodriguez. They are lethal for their chemistry.

"We clicked after my first week (at Lincoln)," said Rodriguez.

"We started to know how we play really after the first week. Our balling off the court in the off-season helped us on the court. It's a bond both on and off the court. Isaiah is a very unselfish guard, so whenever I call for the ball or I'm open I know he's going to find me."

When Whitehead leaks out in transition and spots Rodriguez either ahead of him or trailing, there's no question where the rock is going.

"That's the only play we look to," explained Rodriguez.

"Whenever we're on the break, I know he's going to throw it up. I'm always ready to jump. It's natural."

This past season, Rodriguez worked at creating his shot off the dribble. He's adapting to a new role as a better ball handler. He said he's becoming more comfortable with his mid-range jumper.

In a one-year span, Rodriguez' stock as an all-around threat multiplied. Lincoln assistant coach Kenny Pretlow, who like Tiny is a staunch advocate of developing secondary players while opposing over-reliance on star power, worked with Desi on creating his shot and integral catch-and-stick tactics.

Whitehead wowed Thursday's crowd. He never stopped whipping it up court in transition or finding Rodriguez through traffic.

This connection helped solidify Rodriguez' decision to attend Seton Hall, where he will wear his no.20 for the Pirates next season.

"I wanted to go to a college where I can play with a guard who knows how I play and can set me up," Rodriguez explained.

"Just making that decision, I mean it was one of the toughest decisions I've ever made. I'm happy about it."

Rodriguez began carving his niche as a veritable double-double machine at FDA. As a sophomore, he feasted on cupcake caliber competition, averaging 28 points and 17 boards.

Rarely was he challenged. At his desire to flee the baller-barren Bronx and rapidly adapt to the wing, Rodriguez transferred to Lincoln.

He was well-versed on the potent tradition of the program that's produced Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair, and Lance Stephenson.

It only took one week to establish, but this basketball brotherhood has Seton Hall looking like a consistent contender for the long haul.