Tuesday, November 12, 2013

White Plains' Mike DeMello Is Basketball Old Soul

 The people who shaped White Plains point guard Mike DeMello all grew up in the same basketball-crazed, pool-dotted Westchester County home.

There’s a gym rat older brother, Lou DeMello Jr., who won a Sectional championship during a four-year soccer career at Lakeland.  

There’s an older sister, former field hockey player Jenna DeMello-Arbab, who won often under legendary New York State coach Sharon Sarsen at Lakeland, prolonging her career at Bryant College.

All three of Joy and Lou DeMello’s children have grasped the essential attributes and immeasurable intangibles for a winning formula.

It’s not as if they had much of a choice.

 All three were under the relentless guidance of an ultra-intense and high-horsepower coach, their father.

Lou DeMello's insatiable thirst for competition was ingrained in them since they were old enough to walk.

While other youngsters were nestled in sandboxes, Mike DeMello was dribbling through cones and practicing his defensive stance.

What began as a hobby for Lou DeMello has developed into a livelihood.

Now the Athletic Director of the sprawling House of Sports complex in Ardsley, Lou DeMello can recall riding his thin-tired Huffy bicycle from Mount Vernon’s North Side all the way to hard-edged 4th Street Park.

Playing pickup alongside his tight friends Scooter and Rodney McCray, both Mount Vernon legends who authored NBA careers, DeMello fed his competitive hoops jones while subsequently augmenting his toughness.

Soccer was his initial love. Lou DeMello Sr. was an integral piece of the last Mount Vernon soccer team to win a Section I championship.

Fast forward a few years.

DeMello coached now-defunct Rice High School to a New York State and Federation basketball championship.

At Rice, DeMello groomed players such as Felipe Lopez, an All-American and an all-purpose reminder of when hotly pursued homegrown recruits actually stayed in the city.

 Lopez thrived at St. John’s, but spiraled into obscurity during a city-to-city NBA journey ride.

 “My Dad was an all or nothing kind of coach,” says Mike DeMello, fresh from his daily regimen of 1,000 shots at the House Of Sports.

“If you do something, you are doing it at 200 percent. If you’re not all in, you are wasting your own and everyone else’s time. That was his mentality.”

When his children were growing up, Lou DeMello set specific guidelines for play dates.

“If my brother or sister wanted to have friends over, my Dad would only let them have the play date if the friends would do basketball drills with him first,” Mike DeMello recalls.

“Then, they would have to do their wind sprints and jump ropes. Looking back on it now, it’s pretty funny stuff.”

DeMello may chuckle about it, but the cerebral 5-foot-10 guard possesses a game that is no laughing matter.

DeMello is the kid who scored 26 points on 13 shots during a recent Section I All-Star game in Bronxville.

He’s the kid who announced his presence on the first play, splashing a 26-foot straight-away 3-pointer.

 He’s the kid who scored 24 points and pulled down eight rebounds against Woodlands.

 On the defensive end, his hands seemed quick enough to snatch a glass falling from a bar room ceiling.

He’s the kid who was constantly fracturing ball movement, swiping at an unprotected Spalding and applying searing pressure alongside Hudson Valley teammates Rickey McGill and Jack Daly during the BCANY tournament.

During the AAU season, McGill and DeMello were nearly clones of each other.

Instigating turnovers and quickly converting them into transition leak-outs, they are an inseperable tandem constantly feeding off of each other.

The result? Easy buckets.  

Rewind the clock to August 2013.

At Johnson City High School near Binghamton, Hudson Valley is recovering from an early funk against Adirondack in the championship.

Loaded with mid major Division-I talent, Adirondack’s tiniest player is 6-foot-1.

Hudson Valley has coasted through the tournament up until this point, nursing sizable leads.  Now entrenched in the role of underdog, Hudson Valley is chopping away at the deficit.  Hudson Valley coach Bill Thom calls for a set play.

DeMello suddenly pops out to the corner and snipes a 3-pointer. That early 15-point hole has whittled down to one, 61-60.

Moments later, McGill turns in a traditional 3-point play.

On the ensuing possession, DeMello blurs past a wrong-footed defender with his left hand, seizing a seam.

He permeates an astonishingly open lane, depositing a layup. Hudson Valley seizes its first lead, 65-64, with 3:37 remaining.

 Hudson Valley lost in a pulsating overtime thriller.  

“Defense is where all our success came from during AAU,” DeMello said.

“During the BCANY, that’s all we did was play defense. It’s not like we were super-talented, but we were in all of those games because we wanted to get after it, defensively. That’s the most fun part of basketball, defense.”

Imagine that?

In a current universe where thunderous dunks and street-ball flair win over fans from Rucker Park to Venice Beach, DeMello takes most pleasure in playing defense.

Under White Plains coach Spencer Mayfield, who preaches defense with an iron fist, DeMello’s passion for ball disruption has blossomed.

“(DeMello) will be the spirit of our defense this season,” explained Mayfield.

Defense was originally DeMello’s glaring weakness.

 Countless hours working with Mayfield and his father, however, helped rectify the issue and transfer it into a strength.

DeMello grew up traipsing the sidelines at White Plains High, watching Sean Kilpatrick score in clusters and Ra’shad James flush home emphatic dunks.

Watching those star-spangled teams play, witnessing them nearly upset then-nationally ranked Mater Dei in 2006, DeMello knew he wanted to pursue a basketball life.

When former Tigers such as Kilpatrick (now an NBA prospect, in his senior year at Cincinatti), James, Dave Boykin, Jamell Cromartie, Devon Austin, and countless others return to town for open gym, DeMello is hyped as ever.

“He relishes those opportunities,” Mayfield said.

 “He can’t wait to get into the gym with those guys. He expects to beat them, it’s hilarious. He doesn’t back down. He’s like a sponge when those guys are around.”


The House Of Sports is a jumbo, Olympic-sized sports facility in Ardsley, N.Y.

It is a basketball sanctuary.
There are courts and courts and courts.

 There is a “shooting lab,” where youngsters work with highly-decorated coaches on sharpening their mid-range game and extending it beyond the confines of the arc.

Every aspect of one’s shot is dissected and analyzed and perfected, from elbow positioning to release time.

In the office on the second floor, Lou DeMello’s phone is ringing at a frantic, never-ending pace.
Tournaments are being scheduled, on the CYO, AAU, JV, Varsity, and Men’s league level.

On some nights, middle-aged Albanian men compete in 5-on-5 league games. They play with ferocity, as if a national championship is at stake.

Every shot is contested, every loose ball is chased thoroughly.

The facility is to basketball junkies what a Cathedral is to devout church attendees.
The phone keeps ringing, but Lou DeMello is zoned in on a recent stat sheet.

“He missed two shots,” DeMello said, proud as a peacock. “The kid scored 26 points and missed only two shots!”
DeMello is poring over the numbers from the aforementioned All-Star game, when Mike DeMello shot the ball at a scalding 11-for-13 clip. Coaches from Pace University enveloped Lou and Joy from halftime on.

Pace University, Southern Connecticut, and most recently St. Rose of Albany are all in pursuit of the senior. He currently holds seven Division-II offers.

"I hope he decides sometime before thanksgiving," said DeMello.

Meanwhile, in the shooting lab, Mike DeMello is launching away.

“The place is a basketball heaven,” the wide-eyed youngster says.

It is a typical Tuesday for DeMello. Lou has kick-started his engine with a 1,000-jumper drill, before retreating to his nearby office.

DeMello lets fly a barrage of stepbacks, a fusillade of 3-pointers,  and off-the-dribble shots. He incorporates some catch-and-shoot sessions with staff members.

When he’s done, he pads up the flight of steps and enters the weight room. As beads of sweat cascade down his face profusely, DeMello is immersed in sets of curls and pull-ups.

“What’s really helped my leaping ability is jump rope,” DeMello explained.

“At White Plains, we do a lot of core and leg work. Of course, upper body too. I kill my shoulders. I do jump rope between every set. I think that’s why I’ve been catching a few dunks lately.”

DeMello has developed a rapport with not only the aforementioned McGill, a Manhattan-commit, but Spring Valley’s Kai Mitchell. Mitchell, a 6-foot-5 man-child, solidified the frontline.

They are "boys" until the finish, this tight-knit trio.

“We’re a program that plays AAU, but we’re not an AAU program,” said HOS coach Andy Borman, who played soccer and basketball at Duke and is the nephew of famed Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski.

“We run our practices as if they are small college practices. We go over team concepts. Our team as a whole, really bought in.”

DeMello’s most memorable moment was beating vaunted New Heights.

He found a key source of motivation when Borman flashed the team his NCAA championship ring. Borman captured that glistening piece of jewelry alongside Shane Battier, Jay Williams, Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer, his close friend Chris Duhon and several others at Duke in 2001.

Borman played sparingly as a walk-on, adding that the Blue Devils needed a "practice crash dummy."

Borman has seen DeMello more and more at the gym this fall, simply because “Mike lives here,” as Borman puts it.

Borman has DeMello pegged as a “safe bet.”

“I say that, because he’s attractive to college coaches for reasons beyond basketball,” Borman explained.

“Basketball-wise, he’s a gym rat and he’s going to get better. He’s already good enough to play college ball, but his best basketball is in front of him. The reason he’s a safe bet is because so many of these kids get to college and you don’t know what direction they are going to go.”

Borman continued, “So many kids go to college and they discover partying, they discover freedom. Mike’s a safe bet because all of those things are going to exist, but the most important thing to him is going to be the game of basketball.”



Family Matters

Mike DeMello has reaped the rewards of constant guidance from not only his father, but his older brother Lou.

Lou DeMello Jr. was a lockdown defender for coach Henry Weltman at Lakeland, but soccer was his true labor of love.

“Your typical coach’s son, who was as competitive as they came,” as Lakeland soccer coach Tim Hourahan describes him.

“He was a four-year player who won a sectional title as a freshman and lost in the sectional finals as a junior and senior," Hourahan said.

"Louie played for me in the sectional finals in 2007 with a broken big toe. Played all 80 minutes. Tough kid."

DeMello Sr. describes Lou as the most competitive of the two.

“Lou is twice as competitive as Mike," he said.

"They get pretty intense playing one-on-one. Sometimes I have to jump out there and break it up, if you know what I mean.”

While young Mike had a fight on his hands against his older brother, he had an equal challenge playing against DeMello’s son-in-law, former Lakeland guard Nick Arbab.

Arbab was an All-Section player and 20+ points-per-game scorer for the Hornets.

“He used to beat the hell out of Mike in the yard as well,” Lou DeMello Sr. said.

It’s nothing new for Mike.

“I don’t think he has all that many friends his own age and that’s because he was always playing against the older, tougher guys,” Lou DeMello Sr. said.

“Until this year, he never played age-appropriate. Even when he was in third grade. Even while he was with the Mount Vernon Junior Knights. He always played bigger and stronger and older kids.”

Mike’s mother, Joy DeMello, is at the helm of Mike's support system. She rarely ever misses a game, even if a year-round basketball schedule can get a bit consuming.

Earnin' In Mount Vernon

The Mount Vernon/White Plains rivalry always has some extra juice to it. It’s a historic, traditional blood feud between two of the County’s most prominent programs and perennial NCAA springboards.

For DeMello, it’s additionally a chance to ply his trade against countless familiar faces.

DeMello got his basketball teeth cut at the grass-roots level, playing with the Mount Vernon Junior Knights. Assimilating to the souped-up, go-go brand of basketball, DeMello quickly learned that respect had to be earned.

He became more physical, more aggressive, and added new facets to his all-around game. He reaped the rewards of learning to play with contact. He remembers going full throttle every day, despite taking more hits than a pinball.

“Playing for the Mount Vernon Junior Knights growing up helped change my whole toughness,” DeMello said.
 “That’s who Mount Vernon is. Watching White Plains play them, people would think we really hated each other’s guts. Those are really all my boys, off the court of course. We beat the snot out of each other growing up."
Over the summer, DeMello worked out with Jabarie Hinds, the former Mount Vernon Mr. Basketball  selection currently at UMass (via West Virginia).
“Every single one of the kids on Mount Vernon is tough. It was a lot of fun playing with them. Now it’s even more fun playing against them. They are my boys, just not from November until late March. My only friends have 'White Plains' across their jerseys during the season."
DeMello said he’s seen the basketball culture around him change, with more players from rival teams buddying-up.
Similar to the 1980s Hastings teams, which vowed to freeze a teammate out if he dared engage in friendly conversation with an opponent, he’s not a huge fan of it.
“Nowadays everybody wants to be friends,” said DeMello, rehydrating the old-school mentality.
He’s certainly not scouting new friends during the season. What he is seeking, is a sparkling, shiny souvenir.
“You know, Mike’s the only one in my household without serious hardware,” said Lou DeMello Sr.
“My daughter’s got a state championship in field hockey. Louie’s got a Sectional championship in soccer. I’ve got a sectional championship as a player in soccer, a state and federation championship as a basketball coach at Rice, Sectional championship as an assistant coach at Mount Vernon in 1987. Don’t think I don’t remind (Mike) of that, at least every day.”

While Mount Vernon is again the hunted in Section I, White Plains has the essential pieces to emerge into a contender.
The addition of Jordan Tucker, a 6-foot-7 guard and Division-I prospect, should pay immediate dividends.

DeMello charged the field when White Plains’ football team took home a Section I championship.
An avid supporter of the program, DeMello has helped sell his close friend and Tigers quarterback Cameron Crabbe on basketball.
“I’m making (Crabbe) play this season,” DeMello explained.

Dad Knows Best

Lou DeMello is an accurate depiction of a basketball lifer.  

A walking New York City basketball almanac, DeMello’s facts and knowledge of the city game mirror the accuracy of legendary prep scout Tom Konchalski.

Ask Lou DeMello if he’d like to talk hoops… be prepared for a four-hour conversation.

When Lou DeMello coached Rice, the home games doubled as Harlem community engagement events.
Operators of in-house drug emporiums made the trek past the Apollo Theater to see this perennially potent program play.

The crime stopped. Hordes of fans flooded the gym.

 Felipe Lopez had his own cheering section, as the Felipe faithful flaunted a Dominican Republic flag following every one of his big plays.

 Fabled New York gangster Nicky Barnes, who the rapper Camron often references in his rhymes, sat behind the bench during every home game.

"I had no idea who he was at the time," said Lou DeMello.

In a crime-laden neighborhood, where a barrage of bullets frequently jolted residents out of sleep, the head coaching position earned DeMello respect.

“Harlem was a war zone in the 1980s,” said DeMello.

 “It has changed so much. I never had to worry. I had my own parking spot. I think out of all the teachers at the time, I was the only one driving in. I’d drive in from Yorktown and the neighborhood drug dealer would be on one corner.  The neighborhood corner bookie would be right next to him. When we were winning, the meter maid never gave me a ticket. It was like I owned the block. Mount Vernon and Poughkeepsie is the country compared to there."

There is one quote DeMello etched in his youngest son’s head time and time again: “Success is the sweetest revenge.”

Prior to the Senior All-Star game at Bronxville, Lou DeMello was overly critical of Mike’s performance in a fall league game.

DeMello knows it is for all his own benefit, albeit he needed some time to escape.

When the game arrived, DeMello hadn’t spoken to his father in two days.

After draining his first five shots, he looked up in the stands. Immediately, he spotted his old man--sporting a smile wider than the Hudson River.

Then, after pouring in a game-best 26 points, Mike witnessed a number of college coaches exchange pleasantries with his father.

There you have it.

Success is the sweetest revenge.