Friday, June 13, 2014

Hudson Valley Eager To Return To Gold

During the days leading up to the BCANY summer hoops festival, Hudson Valley was faced with more adversaries than advocates.

Hudson Valley was projected as a collaged bundle of Section 1's top-stratum talent. The causes for concern surfaced, however, when household 914 names such as Eric Paschall (then at Dobbs Ferry)  and Matt Ryan (Iona Prep) were nowhere to be found on the roster.

The lack of a post presence, it was perceived, and a frontline that thinned out quicker than a drug-addled Victoria Secret model, spelled trouble.

Few envisioned HV would overcome Suffolk, which one reputable news source had favored by 20-points, let alone pave its way back to the tournament championship game.

With a swarming press, a rim-to-rim speedball attack, and a connection established during the second practice (head coach Bill Thom called it "one and a half practices"), Hudson Valley managed to slay the meager expectations and earn a Silver Medal.

They went eyeball-to-eyeball with Adirondack, which featured 3-4 Division-I players and a high-major prospect in 6-foot-6 forward Elijah Burns.

Roaring back from a deficit that ballooned to 15 points in the first half, HV buckled and crumbled under clutch shots from guard D'yaire Holt, en route to a wild 77-75 OT loss in the title game.

Now, close to a year later, Hudson Valley has a deeper stable.

 The theme of taking back what was rightfully theirs in 2012 has already resonated with the coaching staff and returning veterans.

"I think the identity piece for us is we're going to have to have guys that play hard all the time," explained assistant coach Billy Thom Jr.

"We want to have kind of that boxing mentality. We're going to take punches, because there's other good guys in the state. Good guys upstate, good guys on Adirondack. What we have to do is we have to be able to take a punch. I think we really have the talent to throw haymakers after we take the punch. So, kind of that blue-collar boxing mentality."

The blue-collar game is expected to be vastly improved from last season, when Hudson Valley's frontline withered. Undermanned and shorthanded in the post, Hudson Valley will likely have increased length with 6-foot-6 Kai Mitchell (Spring Valley), 6-foot-9 high-major prospect Jonathon Nwankwo, and 6-foot-7 Andrew Groll out of Byram Hills High. All three will need to bring the work boots and lunch pail to the office in Johnson City, battling for supremacy on the boards.

 This trio has the potential to create a high-low game with McGill, an extraterrestrial guard known for leaving his fingerprints on all categories of the stat sheet.

A Look Back 

Thom conducted a two-day tryout, nabbing local area talent such as Fairfield-bound Kevin Degnan (Pearl River), All-State junior guard Rickey McGill, and another All-State selection in Pace-bound White Plains guard Mike DeMello. 

The guard-laden team also featured Eastchester's Jack Daly, a crafty lefty who helped make life in the passing lanes hazardous alongside McGill and DeMello.

Mahopac's RJ Martinez, a relatively unknown prior to tryouts, announced his presence with a 20-point showing during a thorough bludgeoning of lowly Rochester in the tournament-opening win.

Degnan, who had offers from 14 Division-I programs on the table at the time, assimilated to playing four different positions. The small lineup dictated a more active presence on the low blocks from Degnan.

Thom built up the veiled inside presence with Degnan and Mahopac senior strongman Ryan Simone, while using the length and pterodactyl wingspan of Harrison forward Coby Lefkowitz.

During the opening games of pool play, Hudson Valley cruised and crushed, developing an innate feel for each other's game despite the piecemeal lineup due to quick 11th hour adjustments.

 Degnan's consistent perimeter shooting and easy buckets in the lane and on transition run-outs paced a balanced offensive assault. The meager competition was overwhelmed.

As pool play intensified, after Hudson Valley gobbled up the cupcakes of the pre-medal games, Degnan found himself roaming the low blocks with Simone.

It was a coming of size/age like performance for the 6-foot-5, 225-pound behemoth Simone. He entered the tournament as entangled in obscurity, initially envisioned as Mitchell's unsung backup.

Simone averaged 10.0 PPG through the tournament, readying him for an All-Section senior season in which he averaged 18 points and 11 PPG for the 17-4 Indians.

His back-to-the-bucket game and short-range jumpers would bode well for the squad, which benefited from DeMello's 15 points and McGill's six assists during a 68-59 semifinal victory over Central.

Hudson Valley answered Central's spirited 20-9 second half surge, killing the run when Lefkowitz crashed in for a putback.

Degnan adapted well, using all of his 6-foot-8 frame to influence shots. He heeded the call for much-needed manpower on the glass.

In his best display of range and straightaway 3-point shooting,  Degnan erupted for 24 points (10-15 FG) propelling Hudson Valley to a win against Buffalo.

McGill scored 21 points and handed out seven assists. During sequences Thom embodied the 2006 Villanova team by engineering a four-guard set, giving Degnan the freedom to spot up and pull threes.

DeMello and Jack Daly combined four nine steals in the Buffalo win.

You ever see the film, "Honey I shrunk the kids?"

DeMello and Daly co-wrote, co-directed, and starred alongside each other in "Honey we shrunk the passing lanes."

The same frustration that Buffalo and Rochester experienced, when they wobbled under a torrent of turnovers, was shared by Central.

Vital Stops 

Against Suffolk, HV withstood another second half run. They were constantly one-on-oned to death by Shaundell Fishbourne, a flashy scorer who was authoring a one-man clinic to scratch and knife Suffolk's way out from the ditch.

Hudson Valley nearly frittered away a 17-point lead, but a loud and timely block from McGill recharged HV's fourth quarter pulse. With a search warrant out for the team's heart, McGill's defensive stop enthralled the bench while simultaneously sparking a needed fire under the sleepwalking team's ass.

 Snaking out to the perimeter, McGill extended his arm skyward and swatted a 3-point attempt from Fishbourne, plucking it as soon as it left his fingertips. He immediately whipped the rock up court to a streaking Jack Daly, who drew the foul on the fast break.

The threat ended there. Daly's free throws, a Degnan jumper, and five straight free throws from DeMello and Tappan Zee forward Luke McLoughlin allowed Hudson Valley to regain and pad the lead.

They stamped a 78-68 victory.

 "It was a matter of staying composed in those final minutes," said DeMello, who scored 18 points and doled out seven assists in 38 of the game's 40 minutes.

"It's a long game. They're going to make some runs. We are going to make some runs. It's really about who will fight harder, who will sustain it in the end."