Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Esernio Ready For Challenge

As far as off-season blows go, few teams in Section 1 took one stronger than Mahopac.

June graduation claimed the vaunted inside-outside punch of combo guard RJ Martinez and forward/center Ryan Simone. This high-scoring tandem accounted for over 55 percent of the Indians' 2013-14 offensive output, forcing teams to apply a triangle-and-two defense. 

A cerebral guard, Martinez' lethal buckets-in-clusters scoring broke open games. His 23-point display fended off Carmel during a classic renewal of the storied rivalry.

He authored a 17-point scoring spree, all in the second half, during a tight loss to Mike DeMello and Jordan Tucker-led White Plains.

Martinez exploded for 33 points during a monumental win over Somers. With 17 points, nine boards, five assists, and four steals per game, Martinez had one of the most effective one-year stay's in program history. 

 Simone, a gargantuan 6-foot-5 forward, leaned on a short-range jumper.

Routinely pulling big rim protectors outside of the key, utilizing an adept post game and bulldozing his way to the rim, the senior averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds after playing a supplementary role to bigs such as 6-foot-4 forward Brendan Hynes and his older brother, Mike Simone, the previous year.

Both Simone and Martinez were All-Section players, steering a young and callow group into one of the best seasons in program history.

If you thought that pill was tough to digest, the Indians also lost head coach Kevin Downes.

 Downes, who bolted for border town rival Yorktown, pulled the program out of mediocrity with four straight league titles and four straight County Center berths.

The constant and hazardous defensive pressure, enforced by Downes, drove the football school out of the league's lower percentile, leaving gyms jam-packed with the MANIACS. A homegrown product, Downes piloted the Indians to a 17-4 season in 2014.

The tenets of Downes' system were indisputable: militaristic-level work ethic, harassing defensive pressure, physicality and relentlessness on the boards.

Mahopac played Section 1 champion Mount Vernon as tough as any Section 1 team, falling to the vaunted Knights in a 43-40 Section 1 semifinal at the County Center.  

Racially-charged statements dropped by Mahopac fans via Twitter left Downes incensed, helping hasten his departure.

And while the Indians are in dire need of filling the vacant head coaching position, they return a versatile 6-foot-5 forward in Chris Esernio.

The team's second leading rebounder behind Simone last season, Esernio possesses a feathery jumper which he's extended beyond three-point territory.

 Developing his handle and learning to create his shot off the dribble, Esernio is readying himself for a more prominent role his senior season.

The Indians lose its two certifiable studs in Martinez in Simone. They return a young core, which includes athletic defensive pest Aiden Hynes and incoming junior Dan Foley, a three-sport athlete with a pebble-smooth left-handed slingshot.

"I'm preparing myself as a leader by changing my mindset into becoming a scorer, rather than a role player," said Esernio, who grows from cast member to starring role during this rebuilding sequel.

"Playing in the (House of Sports) summer league so far has helped me improved my leadership qualities such as organizing my teammates and calling plays."

Esernio, who works with Lou DeMello, the former Rice High coach and House Of Sports Athletic Director, has tweaked his jumper and adjusted his form.

 DeMello has Esernio working off the shooting gun, launching a steady diet of corner jump shots, straight-away 3-pointers, and 15-18 footers.

"Chris has become a lot more comfortable with the ball in his hands," said DeMello, who groomed one of the nation's best all-time high school players in Dominican sky-riser Felipe Lopez at now defunct Rice High. 

"He relied a lot on somebody creating a shot off the dribble the last two years, now he's got a capability to catch on the bounce and get his own shot. We do 30 mins of ball-handling, 30-minutes of face-up shooting. He should be a productive three or four, utilizing the four-and-1 principles if that's what (whoever takes the coaching job) employs . He's a legit 6-5 scoring threat."

One who, like every other incoming senior forward in Section 1, needs to be coached.

 The Mahopac job is currently Section 1's lone vacant position.

With a lackluster group of under qualified applicants, several of whom would encounter difficulty earning JV jobs, the school is in dire need of a varsity boys basketball coach.

Resumes have piled up and piled up. There's a veritable search warrant out for a high-profile candidate.

While the mass exodus of Section 1 coaches created an off-season coaching carousal, Mahopac's least sought after position continues to wither.

While Martinez and Simone helped catapult Mahopac to unprecedented heights and ascend the food chain, point guard Glenn Janik's departure also leaves a void.

The since-graduated Janik buried that game-sealing 3-pointer during the Indians second victory over blood rival Carmel.

Janik was equally pivotal during the Sectional quarterfinal win over James Morales-led Fox Lane, a down-to-the-wire OT banger.

The 6-foot-1 guard knocked in four loud treys and drilled a step back jumper in crunch time, helping steer Mahopac to a program-record four straight league titles.

While bidding adieu to this triumvirate appears tough on paper, Esernio said plenty of weapons remain.

"Losing Glenn, R.J. and Ryan are obviously big losses, but like every other varsity team, there will be players to fill the gap," Esernio explained.

"Rising juniors Daniel Foley and Aidan Hynes are going to be players to watch out for next year. Daniel is a strong and aggressive scorer, who can pull kids down low and rebound. Aidan's athleticism brings a strong defensive presence that can turn steals into points. Rising seniors Brandon Davis, Mike Cosentino, Charles Heady, and Nick Simone will also play big roles on the team."

As effective as Esernio was crashing the boards at a frantic pace, extending those Pippen-long arms to manipulate and change the trajectory of shots inside the key, his long-range shooting is most vital for next year's Indians.

Esernio's steady stroke, a unique blend of height and range could open up the floor and create matchup equations. Esernio is cognizant that he'll take on some ownership of the team.

No coach? No problem. Under Richard Clinchy, who assisted Chuck Scozzafava with the girls team, the Indians have kept the workouts and summer league play intact.

 "Coach Clinchy has organized open gyms for the team and has coached us in the House of Sports summer league," Esernio explained.

"Playing together helps us tremendously. Along with the summer league and open gyms, we've made a conscious effort to play together as much as possible."