Thursday, June 12, 2014

Added Upfront Length To Benefit Hudson Valley

Last year, as Hudson Valley became a ferocious shark in pool play before falling two points shy of Gold, their one deficiency was so glaringly obvious it fell right off the page.



In a game that's been dominated by larger-than-life monsters,  Shaq and Chamberlain and Russel, as prime examples, size does matter.

Hudson Valley was steered by a multitude of guards and a 6-foot-8,  Fairfield-bound 3-point assailant in Kevin Degnan.

Degnan assimilated to four different positions on the floor, doing just about everything except sweep the floors and manage the clock. HV featured just one true big man in 6-foot-5 bruiser Ryan Simone (18 PPG, 11RPG during an All-Section senior year at Mahopac), who averaged 10.0 points as a fourth/fifth option offensively.

The dearth of bar room brawling bigs overwhelmed Hudson Valley in a 77-75 OT loss in the championship to Adirondack. Adirondack featured a 6-foot-6 interior presence in Elijah Burns out of Troy, N.Y.

 Burns, now receiving interest from Seton Hall, Georgetown, Notre Dame, and Rhode Island, to name a few, punished Hudson Valley on the low blocks. Adirondack built a 15-point first quarter lead, staking ownership of the glass early.

While Adirondack's focus faltered in the second half, while the two-man foundation of Mike DeMello and Rickey McGill tore into the driving lines and canned timely 3-pointers, Adirondack counterpunched with clutch shots during pressure-spiked fourth quarter and overtime moments.

HV cut the lead to one and eventually surged ahead in the second half, but key 3-pointers from D'yaire Holt propelled Adirondack to a pulsating 77-75 OT victory.

 Hudson Valley appears to be making up for lost time.

They could potentially boast a frontline featuring 6-foot-9, 250-pound Jon Nwankwo (Scanlan), 6-foot-7 Andrew Groll (Byram Hills), and 6-foot-6 Kai Mitchell (Spring Valley), a mammoth amongst minuscules in Section 1.

They hope the footsteps of these size 17+ shoe-wearing bigs will reverberate up the line to Adirondack, which is eager to deliver a statement with back-to-back tournament championships.

"The bigs that we look like we have this year, as long as it works out the way we're hoping it works out, are going to help us," explained Hudson Valley assistant coach Billy Thom Jr., following Day Two of Hudson Valley tryouts at Croton High School.

"When we hit Adirondack in the Gold Medal game, their length was a big key. We went on a run because of our guard play. They countered with a big (Burns) that could score, that could run a little bit. I think that Jonathon, Kai, even Andrew, are mobile bigs so they really fit into our system. At the same time, they gave us that length that we probably lacked a little bit last year."

Nwankwo, a Mount Vernon native, has evolved into a heavily courted recruit. Minnesota, Tennessee, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, Boston College, Northeastern, and countless others have been in active pursuit of the man-child.

 Nwankwo's academics have opened the door for Ivy League interest. Prestigious schools such as Stanford and Northwestern are now in the hunt as well.

 Nwankwo, who already possesses a Big East/ACC body, was hammering dunks at will during last night's tryout.

Nwankwo plays alongside Mitchell on the AAU circuit with House of Sports. Each player's presence has helped the other expand.

With Nwankwo manning the paint, Mitchell can lean on his 16-foot jumper more, draw defenders away from the rim, and feed the post.

"It's a good thing for me, I need someone else in the post to help me with the boards," said Nwankwo,
a key shot blocker and rebounder under Dwayne Smith in the CHSAA 'A' division this past season.

"We push each other all the time in practice, which is exactly what coach Andy (Borman) wants. To help the team."

Nwankwo's ability to change the trajectory of shots has the potency to stave off driving lanes. HV is burning for vengeance, eager to replace those silver medals with glistening gold.

Several of the team's returning players, such as Spring Valley's McGill and Tappan Zee shooter Luke McCloughlin, recall the agony of a second place finish.

Watching dejectedly, in a hothouse Johnson City High gym near Binghamton, as Adirondack was adorned with medals,  HV internalized the experience.

Thom Jr. said the 2014 focus features a three-fold of themes.

"The first would be that we were there, we were knocking on the doorstep," he said.

"From a talent and on-paper standpoint, we were the underdog, and we were still right there. That's the first message we've got to to send."

The second?

"We're not very liked, because we win usually. It's the same as the Yankees. We've got to come in with a little bit of a chip on the shoulder. The third piece is just getting the guys to buy in and play for each other. That's probably why we were so good last year, because we had Mikey DeMello, Ryan Simone, RJ Martinez, character guys who could kind of bring the team together."

There's a plethora of All-State and All-Section players, all competing for only a few open spots and likely 1-2 alternate spots, assuming there'll be 11th hour shake-ups. The roster will be maxed out at 12 men.

First Team All-State guard Jamil Gambari (Woodlands), Cameron Ciero (24 PPG at Horace Greeley HS), Beacon's electrifying 6-foot-4 sophomore Elijah Hughes, Clarkstown South gamer Conor McGuiness, Eastchester guard Benny DiMurco (floater is lethal), high-scoring Yorktown off-guard Luis Cartagena, 6-foot-5 and 225-pound inside-outside threat Mike Jurzyynski (Master's School), and a bevy of others are gunning to represent Hudson Valley.

Iona Prep guard Ty Jerome and Rye Country Day's Salim Green are also high-profile hopefuls for the tournament.

"We're excited, we're going to have some hard cuts to make," said Hudson Valley head coach and longtime Croton boss Bill Thom.