Saturday, November 30, 2013

Crossing Into Enemy Territory

Historically and annually, Mahopac and Carmel have been blood rivals in everything from hoops to football to soccer to track to golf to water polo.

Every time the intense cross-town blood feud is renewed ..the ceaseless trash talk, animal spirit, jam-packed crowds, and brash pre-game bravado is expected.

For an eternity, Mahopac and Carmel have been heated rivals. There are several other traditional Section I rivalries of this ilk.

There’s “The Game,” an annual battle between arch rivals Rye and Harrison.

There’s Mount Vernon/New Rochelle, when extra-curricular activity between fans always adds a thrill factor.

There’s Hastings v.s. Dobbs Ferry, which epitomizes the unwavering pride between small-town schools separated by 2.3 miles.

While numerous rivalries have remained relevant over the years, few are capable of jolting you out of your seat like Mahopac/Carmel.

It’s always a high-pressure environment. There’s always extra juice.
There’s always excessive stare-downs, friendly and not-so friendly banter emanating from the crowd, and a great deal at stake regardless of each team’s record.

Colorful language, a steady chorus of unique chants from the CROP and the MANIACS is expected. A bevy of four-letter words can be heard from varying distances.

RJ Martinez, a combination guard and small forward, has crossed into enemy territory this winter.

The senior from Carmel is now at Mahopac, flushed into a prominent role. In Division-I hoops, a transfer usually has to sit out one year before contributing.

The oft-criticized, tainted, and flawed NCAA rulebook has several guidelines about player's transferring schools in the same conference. In this case, Martinez jumped from one rival school to another without even looking in the rearview.

Sure, he bid adieu to his childhood buddies, albeit Martinez has always had a rapport with Carmel's blood rival. As a kid, he played endless games of pickup with Mahopac's Mike and Ryan Simone in the backyard. His decision to transfer intensifies the rivalry to a degree.

Martinez earned his chops this summer, playing a multi-faceted role for Hudson Valley in the BCANY tournament.

Rewind the clock back to the summer of 2013....

 The sprawling, sun-sprayed Binghamton area is flooded with out of town guests.

The temperature is cranked up to the high-80s. The local Westchester folk who made the travel hope Hudson Valley can match this relentless heat, catching fire inside the confines of Johnson City's quartet of gyms.

Johnson City High is packed to the gills with cars, out-of-towners, coaches, and anxious scouts.

The 2013 BCANY hoops festival kicks off, though it lacks the wild fanfare and buzz of an early March game at the Westchester County Center. Then again, champions are made when nobody (or in this case, few) is watching.

HUDSON VALLEY’s patchwork squad only has a few practices under its belt, “one and a half” according to veteran coach Bill Thom of Croton. 

The man known as “Till” is cognizant that early favorite Adirondack is loaded up with mid-major Division-I talent.

Till has groomed his fair share of quality players during his time at Croton, from Nick DiMaggio to Derrick Sindorf to the box out cyborg that Adam Birbrower once was. Baseball is Thom’s true labor of love, though his basketball jones is year-round as well.

He knows Suffolk can be a handful. When the ball is being whizzed around and the isolation game is eliminated, Suffolk’s gritty, guileful and athletic guards are capable of thriving.

When Suffolk gets into their one-on-one/West Fourth St. pickup game style and the crisp ball movement falters, however, this team can surely “be had.”

And so, that’s how you beat them folks. Bait them into playing an isolation game, make them embody J.R. Smith or Carmelo Anthony during these current turbulent times in Knicks Knation.

 Till knows how to eliminate Suffolk's strengths. Apply pressure but sag off, letting them get crafty.

Letting them over-dribble their way into trouble. Letting them get too zoned into their personal game, forgetting the we-before-me concept like a stoned, amnesia-plagued pathological liar who forgets key parts of his story.

Thom and his team didn’t have much time to prepare. Till says “media day” yesterday eliminated half of the most recent practice. Damn reporters with their controversy starved brains, recorders, pens, and notebooks.

With half court 4-on-4s, a number of designed plays in the half-court set, Thom has a good read on most of his players.

Ian Thom, Croton’s former sniper and the program’s all-time leading scorer, is keeping every statistical category imaginable on some high-tech device.

It’s too technologically complicated for anyone born before 1994, though it computes every stat necessary to assess the performance while subsequently appeasing the media.

Billy Thom Jr., a young coach getting the most out of HV’s big men, is also an assistant. 

 Thom Jr. was a graduate assistant at Davidson during Stephen Curry’s heyday, when the undersized guard shot the program into national visibility during a wild and pulsating 2008 NCAA tournament.

Thom Jr., like his old man, has plenty of stories.

 Billy Jr. can detail you on the day Dell Curry, Steph’s father and arguably one of the best quick release shooters to ever walk the planet, arrived at practice with nothing short of a ratchet.

Dell drilled straight-away 3-pointer after straightaway 3-pointer from 3-point NBA territory and beyond, a portent of what it took to produce Steph and Seth Curry.

Dell was simply proving he's still got it to the horde of onlookers, barely grazing rim.

It is a family event, but the Thom boys are surely not here on vacation. They’ve been scouting everyone in sight, from lowly Rochester to Syracuse to the man-children on Adirondack. There are few breaks in between pool play, for all teams involved.

One player who slipped below the radar is  Martinez.

Martinez did plenty of damage to Mahopac during the annual blood feud in 2012-13, but that wasn’t the Carmel with Jason Lynch, Mike Kach, or Carlos Pellot.


Nevertheless, Martinez’ cerebral play and hustle earned him a spot on a roster.

Pearl River’s 6-foot-8 Kevin Degnan, who recently committed to Fairfield, was perhaps the most pursued prospect of he bunch.

He was entertaining 14 full scholarship offers at the time, generating plenty of buzz from those who did not make the 3-hour trek.


Degnan is a pure shooter, capable of stretching out defenses with his perimeter game. He’s becoming more adept at attacking the basket and pulling up a refined mid-range jumper.


With the lack of bigs on HV’s roster and some unexpected absenses, Degnan is forced to assume the role of a big man. With Mahopac’s Ryan Simone solidifying the frontline, Degnan is adapting to a more versatile role defensively.

Since he dipped his size 14 sneakers on Binghamton soil, Degnan worked religiously at contesting shooters. He'd been tasked with defending mid-range shooters and forcing guards to take it to the rack. The onus is on Degnan to drape scorers in the back court, on the wing, and in the trenches.

With House of Sports coach Lou DeMello demonstrating on Degnan, steadily imploring Degnan to “Make Me A Slasher!” the youngster is preparing for his enhanced role on this team.


Much of the emphasis is on the play of guards Mike DeMello (White Plains), Ricky McGill (Spring Valley), and Eastchester’s Jack Daly, who are employing a pest-like trapping and pressing game geared to swallow passing lanes.

The lone unknown of the group is Martinez.

The morning prior to the opening game of the tournament, MSG Varsity’s Kevin Devaney Jr. agrees that Martinez is the least acclaimed player of the group, but perhaps the biggest underdog. KDV has him pegged as a “sleeper.”

In this version of Fallback Friday’s, we take an interior look at how Martinez etched a name for himself during this past summer’s games.

Heading into the BCANY Summer Hoops Festival, few knew much about Mahopac’s high-energy guard RJ Martinez.

The recent Carmel transfer was a rugged scorer for the Rams last season. He has a nose for the ball and loves to score in the driving lanes or drop a shallow slingshot jumper, which he can extend beyond the arc.

Martinez wasn’t equated with the same high profile status of several teammates on Hudson Valley. He was very much an unknown.

They know about him now.

You know about him now.

Hudson Valley coach Bill Thom, who didn’t get a real read on Martinez until mid-way through tryouts, knows about him now.
Martinez was the engine, propelling high-flying Hudson Valley to an end-to-end 97-43 bludgeoning of Rochester in the opening game of the 2013 BCANY Summer Hoops Festival on Friday.

The incoming Mahopac senior poured in a game-best 20 points, pick-pocketed six steals, dished out four assists, and snatched five boards at Johnson City High School near Binghamton.

If you looked hard enough, you may have even spotted him selling pretzels and water to a pin drop-quiet crowd at halftime.
He had a hand in every aspect of the game.

The kid who seemed like he was the 13th man hell-bent on making a 12-man roster refused to tone it down, even while Hudson Valley knocked the wind off Rochester’s sails and refused to let them back on the boat.

Even as Hudson Valley nursed a 40-point bulge, Martinez remained engaged.

He hit the deck and squirmed for loose balls. He applied chest-to-chest defense. The swingman, who will play off the ball this year at Mahopac, even operated offense at the point.

“I honestly didn’t know much about R.J., but in practice he was very heady,” said Hudson Valley coach Bill Thom, the longtime Croton-Harmon head coach.

“I was very pleasantly surprised by his performance. He just brings a lot of energy, hustle and heart. The kids seemed like they had gelled yesterday when we worked out. So, the chemistry wasn’t an issue.”

Paced by a quartet of guards who love to trigger the transition game, Thom hopes to incorporate a speedball attack.

“We definitely want to play up-tempo,” Thom explained. “We have the pieces to make a run-and-gun style game possible.”

Hudson Valley, without arguably the best player in Section I in Fordham-commit Eric Paschall (Dobbs Ferry) is the reigning BCANY champion. Hudson Valley is the hunted, the men with a price on their heads.

“We think we’re probably the best team in the pool,” explained Thom.

“Suffolk will be a big game tomorrow (at 10:30 a.m.). But we’ve got two very good teams on the other side of the bracket. There are no easy outs here. Anybody can beat anybody.”

Martinez, who loves to penetrate the driving lanes, has leaned more on a mid-range game.

Against Rochester, Martinez took what the defense provided.

“R.J. has been able to spot up more,” said Mahopac and Hudson Valley senior strongman Ryan Simone, who had 10 points in the tourney-opening drubbing.

“On this team, he’s definitely more of a shooter. He just has a natural nose for the ball. He’s always around the ball. He always finds ways to score.”

Of course, it’s not every day that a Carmel High kid crosses the threshold to traditional blood rival Mahopac.

When Martinez opted to transfer from Carmel to Mahopac, few were more hyped about the move than Simone.

“I think we were able to gel rather quickly,” Simone said.
“From the first day of tryouts, everyone sort of came together and recognized each other’s strengths. It’s come together nicely. The goal is the same for everyone. We want to repeat and be as good as last year’s team was.”

Martinez registered his presence with an immediate burst of energy. He scored nine first-half points, as Hudson Valley built a commanding 52-23 halftime lead.

At times, it felt like the ’92 dream team against listless Cuba in late June.

Simone, a Division-I football prospect at tight end/defensive end, will take on a bigger role. That’s because Spring Valley’s Kai Mitchell, is out on a bereavement leave.

Heading into the tournament, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Simone envisioned simple chores: Gobble up rebounds, fire outlet passes to more highly-decorated teammates, and provide clean up buckets in between.

At Spring Valley, inside-outside tandem of Mitchell and Ricky McGill has drawn the interest of numerous Division-I programs, including Manhattan and Iona. McGill had nine points to pace Hudson Valley in the opener.

Hudson Valley was bolstered by balance in the scorebook. Beyond Martinez, Luke McLoughlin of Tappan Zee had 13, Mike DeMello of White Plains had 11, Simone and Kevin Degnan added 10 apiece.