Saturday, April 30, 2011

From Bench Mate To All-State

Dobbs Ferry's Thomas Fleming entered the 2010-2011 basketball season without lofty expectations.

Fleming wasn't mentioned in season previews alongside key impact players on the Eagles' roster. Prior to the season, Fleming's name did not appear on any reports targeting "who's who" in Class B.

A last-minute transfer via Fordham Prep (he played J.V. with the Eagles as a sophomore), Fleming was very much an unknown, simply another spare part on a well-oiled offensive machine powered by a deep junior class.

So we thought.

Fleming logged zero minutes in the season-opener, a dramatic overtime win over cross-town foe Irvington. Then, an injury opened the door for him in the tournament title game against Ardsley.

Embracing the opportunity, Fleming provided instant offense with his forays to the basket. Suddenly, Fleming averaged 10 points over the ensuing couple of games.

Overlooked no more, Fleming served as an immediate plug off the pine.

Fleming's presence as a needed fire plug off the pine allowed coach Scott Patrillo to tweak his rotation.

The wiry guard/forward was rapidly launched into the starting lineup, surfacing as a wing who could thrive off the dribble, knock down jumpers, and slash into the towering trees on the frontline and finish.

Fleming's ability to net timely shots, trigger game-altering spurts, and seize momentum upped his stock. Fleming's Fonzi-cool composure in the clutch, heart, and high-motor are all intangibles that made him a formidable figure that nobody saw coming.

Ultimately, these aspects helped propel Fleming, who averaged 11 points, to an All-State selection.

The junior was named 10th Team All-State in Class B, according to the New York State Sportswriters Association. Six players from Section I garnered All-State accolades, with Salesian's 6-foot-3 senior Kevin Punter (28.2 PPG) emerging as the headliner.

Punter was named New York State Player of The Year in Class B.

Jabarie Hinds, Mount Vernon's West Virginia-bound guard, earned State Player of the Year in Class AA.

Hinds, a springy southpaw with a patented stepback jumper, helped catapult the vaunted Knights to Class AA state and federation championships.

Irvington's Chris Brennan, a versatile point forward, earned NYS fifth team honors. Albertus Magnus' Pat McGuiness and Tyler Sayre were named to the third and fifth team, respectively.

Propelling Fleming's ascension from "also ran" to "the man" was prominent performances in high-stakes affairs.

During a marquee league matchup with Irvington in early January, Fleming ignited the Eagles following a brick-littered, turnover-laden first half.

During a game that seemed as ugly as watching Rosie O'Donnell perform a lap dance on Seth Rogan, Fleming engineered a mammoth 8-0 sequence as Dobbs (buried under a barrage of bricks in the game's first 16 minutes) flipped a second half switch.

He drilled a three-pointer to kick-start the run (chopping the deficit to 1) and unveiled a nifty up-and-under layup to cap it off. Fleming finished with 14 points. Depositing shots at crucial junctures, the Eagles gutted out a 51-44 triumph.

The stage got bigger and bigger, Fleming's level of play spiked. He dropped 17 in a league win over Ardsley and poured in 16 during a 74-55 defeat of Dover in the quarterfinal.

During a win against Croton in the Mayclim Memorial tournament, Fleming scored 12 of his 16 points in the second quarter, as the Eagles clawed their way back from a putrid 18-2 deficit. Fleming dropped 21 in the Eagles' 53-46 Section I championship loss to sweet-stroking Albertus Magnus.

In the Section I semifinal against blood rival Hastings, Fleming embraced the big stage at the famed Westchester County Center. The Eagles hadn't been to the Barn That Ben Built since 2001, when man-child Kyl Jones of Pleasantville sabotaged them for 25 points.

This time, the Eagles trounced longtime blood rival Hastings (where much of Fleming's family authored athletic careers) by a 57-41 count, closing the latest chapter of one of the most epic Section I rivalries on this side of Mount Vernon/New Rochelle and Rye/Harrison.

Fleming helped pilot the Eagles to a berth in the Section I title game for the first time since 1967, keying a 13-0 tear that proved to be Hastings' breaking point.

Fleming reeled off a personal 8-0 run to highlight the surge, bagging two treys and scoring an acrobatic layup in traffic.

From fighting his way into the rotation to depositing loud three-pointers at the County Center, Fleming's ride from bench mate to All-State is storybook.