Saturday, September 28, 2013

Yorktown's DeGennaro Sustains True PG Mentality


Point guards see everything.

It’s oddly true.

They possess a unique and uncanny sense of locating cutters, visualizing a play before it unfolds, and drawing in the defense—only to rifle a pass into an astonishingly wide open teammate.

For Yorktown’s Nick DeGennaro, a sophomore who spent the summer collecting hardware on basketball proving grounds from Five Star to Hoop Group to fabled Gun Hill Road in the Bronx, the lead guard position always had natural appeal.

DeGennaro has been around the game since he was thumping around a pacifier.

He’s been immersed in tapes of Steve Nash knifing through defenses, piling up 18+ assist performances. A basketball old soul, the 15-year-old has witnessed electric displays of passing by legends such as Magic Johnson and Pistol Pete.

Once a young pup-amongst-men, the experience gained from guarding older players helped advance DeGennaro’s early skill-set.

Nick’s father, Joe DeGennaro, got his coaching teeth cut during a veritable period of prosperity for New York City basketball. He coached former NBA forward Jamal Mashburn at Cardinal Hayes High.

This was in 1990. Before New York City guards were all severely overhyped, before the day of the growing basketball blogosphere, websites, oft-flawed ranking systems, and social media.

 DeGennaro guided Hastings, his alma mater, to its last-ever Section I championship in 1999. That memorable Class C team did more than etch its legacy in Rivertowns hoops lure; it set a precedent few teams have been able to follow.

 A small village buoyed by grass-roots CYO/Rec league systems, Hastings has authored anemic displays in the County Center since that elusive title.

Two state-ranked teams in 2002 and 2003 entered the Sectional playoffs with lofty aspirations, only to suffer back-to-back semifinal flameouts.

DeGennaro’s ’99 title squad was lethal for its depth. Backboned by a tight-knit, experienced senior class, DeGennaro played 11 guys comfortably.

Nick DeGennaro was once a fixture on the sidelines. He’s seen his father coach in the hostile environments, where crowds rapidly become standing room-only and an airball will surely gain a player game-long taunts.

It was DeGennaro who implored his son to play instinctively.

"He always told me, I'm not going to be the most athletic or the tallest player out there, but I can certainly be the most cerebral," Nick DeGennaro said.

"He emphasized being a smarter player, working on the parts I can control. I know I'm not going to beat anyone going 100 miles per hour, so the focus is on slowing it down, changing gears, and seeing the court."

If there is a list of requirements that meet the “coach’s son” stereotype, well…DeGennaro’s style of play certainly stabilizes that stereotype.

 He’s a gym rat, a ball control guard who prides himself on keeping turnovers to a minimum.

Personifying a coach’s son, DeGennaro shoots free throws at towering 90 percent clip. He shoulders a defense-first outlook, always aiming to keep teams below their scoring average.

The apple doesn’t far fall from the tree.

Individual statistics, hype, and hearsay are meaningless to Nick  DeGennaro.

As long as he operates offense, opens up seams and creates shots for his teammates, everything else will come into place. That’s the mentality ingrained in him. When called upon, DeGennaro will let fly a feathery mid-range jumper.

 A new facet of his game, a step-back 3-pointer, emerged last season. DeGennaro’s pattern is to quarterback the offense first, albeit he’ll take scoring matters into his own hands with his shooting.

He’s been entrenched in countless playground battles and played against nationally acclaimed teams on the AAU level.

What exactly separates DeGennaro from other young players of his fabric?

His purity of vision.

DeGennaro subscribes to the original tenets of the true point guard: Create first, ask questions later. Take the worst player on the team, make him good.

Through his play, it’s evident DeGennaro takes some pleasure in making those around him better.

In our current day and age, high-scorers are the glorified Gods of the game.

Inflated statistics and whopping scoring numbers draw major attention. Forget being like Mike. Everyone, these days, wants to be the kid who scored 138 points in a college game. Everyone wants to be Kobe, on yet another a 50-point eruption.

 DeGennaro remains true to his identity.

He’d rather lure the defense in with his handle and dish off the assist than settle for the pull-up jumper.

In Westchester County, a freshman playing meaningful minutes is suddenly a rarity. Unless the kid is a 6-foot-6 playmaker or a monstrous man-child, chances are freshman year will be spent on the J.V. tier.

Even Fordham-commit Eric Paschall, the 2013 Westchester Mr. Basketball selection, caught bench splinters his freshman year at Dobbs Ferry.

DeGennaro was called up to varsity at the end of his freshman campaign, during a game against neighboring foe Peekskill.

The immediate transition was as blink-quick as it was seamless.

DeGennaro received a crash course on the Huskers’ playbook, got a feel for his new teammates in practice, and instilled the brand of play he’s known since he was a three-year-old playing on Fischer Price rims.

 As Yorktown coach Chris Caputi shouted his number, the freshman was ready.

In his first-ever varsity minutes, DeGennaro drilled a trio of three-pointers. Each trey came during a monstrous 21-point swing, as the Huskers whittled a 25-point deficit down to four.

It was a coming out party neither he nor Yorktown’s fervent and ferocious student fan base has forgotten.

Bordered by a veteran core of multi-layered athletes led by bullish senior Ricky Corrado and Luke Palmadesso, DeGennaro and the Huskers hope to right the ship following a meager four-win season in 2012-2013.  

Caputi has spent his first two seasons pushing a seismic shift in the program’s culture. He’s transformed Yorktown into a year-round basketball program, with summer and fall league play and a steady diet of off-season workouts.

Helping push DeGennaro's ascension has been Mike DeMello, a senior guard at White Plains.

DeMello spent the summer hanging with top-tier AAU programs with the House of Sports program. They two train together during the off-season.

DeMello, whose high-pressure trapping and shooting paced team Hudson Valley in the BCANY tournament this summer, took on a bulk of the scoring for Spencer Mayfield's Tigers this past season.

The seasoned guard will have immediate help from Jordan Tucker, a Class of 2017 forward who's already receiving interest from Oklahoma, Fordham, and Providence.

"DeMello is one of the smartest guys I've ever played with," said DeGennaro.

 "He knows the game so, so well."

With a summer schedule revolving around hoops, DeGennaro had the opportunity to expand his offensive repertoire.

He's become more adept at taking the ball to the rim.

 A tournament at Gun Hill Road in the Bronx, where a souped-up, run-and-drive brand of play is executed, helped accelerate the change.

 The sophomore entered the tournament on a patchwork team, assembled at the 11th hour, with minimal expectations. He exited having earned a measure of street credit in a hostile hood setting.

"It is definitely a different environment," DeGennaro said.

 "The basket is double rimmed and extremely bent, so basically the whole game is guys taking the ball to the rim, driving. Nobody is settling for the jumper, everyone is attacking the basket."

As a sophomore, DeGennaro will have the opportunity to operate a balanced offense.

Similar to most point guards, DeGennaro will see things others fail to recognize.