Wednesday, July 30, 2014

New-Look BCANY Team Has Depth, Layers

 If you are a betting man, odds are you have Hudson Valley winning the 2014 BCANY championship.

Hudson Valley will feature arguably the highest profile recruit in the tournament in blossoming 6-foot-9 Center Jonathon Nwankwo.

 A baseline-to-baseline game, authoritative athleticism, and a feathery jump hook from both hands has rendered the incoming senior hard-to-guard.

As a menacing shot blocker at Monsignor Scanlan last season, Nwankwo became appealing to plenty of mid-major suitors.

Playing for House of Sports on the AAU circuit, where Nwankwo stabilized a rugged frontline with versatile workman Kai Mitchell, Nwankwo's stock has mounted.

His performance during the NBA Top 100 Camp in Virginia, where he unveiled a refined back-to-the-bucket game, hiked Nwankwo up to blue chip status.

And so considerable interest from Monmouth and Manhattan has rapidly evolved into heavy hounding from Minnesota, Vanderbilt, Boston College, Stanford, VCU, Tennessee, Georgetown, Marquette, and myriad others.

Eager to shed a punctured image as a watered-down showcase overglorifying Division-III players, BCANY implemented a new rule enabling Catholic and Private school players to compete.

Bill Thom and Hudson Valley reaped the immediate awards of it, netting a collaged core of local elite.

Last season, the team's most glaring deficiency was on the blocks.

The roster possessed just one true big in 6-foot-5 Ryan Simone (Mahopac), relying heavily on guard play and a swarming, in-your-jersey press.

Nwankwo is flanked by 6-foot-7 Andrew Groll of Byram Hills, a scoring big who has assimilated to Thom's traditional speedball, run-and-gun attack.

"They give us a big advantage," said Hudson Valley point guard Rickey McGill of the new men in the middle.

"They can score. They can rebound. They can overall help out the team and make us more fierce."

McGill, who averaged 19.1 points and 3.0 assists at Spring Valley this past year, will assume a leadership role. The backcourt is layered, with new sources such as sharpshooting guard Tom Capuano (Iona Prep) and Ivy League recruit Salim Green (RCDS).

Green, known for a high release point and carving defenders through traffic, has been a beneficiary of McGill on the AAU circuit.

 Iona Prep's Ty Jerome, he of the high basketball IQ and prodigious handle, is a tournament time decision.

Notre Dame-commit Matt Ryan (Iona Prep), nearing full strength and now practicing with the squad, could stage an early return.

Ryan suffered a torn labrum and bone impingement in each hip, shutting it down in late-December. Though he hasn't seen live action since, Ryan has piled up shots on the gun and played steady pickup.

Even if Jerome and Ryan do not end up playing, Hudson Valley has plenty of options.

Expect a meaningful role from lead guard Conor McGuinness, who plays with a veteran savvy Thom likens to "a little Irish boxer."

Hudson Valley added length and athleticism with First Team All-State guard/forward Jamil Gambari (Woodlands) and another shooter in Mike Jurzynski (Masters), an 18-year-old incoming senior with deceptive athleticism.

Hudson Valley has another backcourt layer in 5-foot-10 Jordan Ruillano, who offered immediate contributions after transferring from Victory Prep to Scanlan this past season.

Gambari is tailor-cut for the breakneck, rim-to-rim style Hudson Valley tends to employ.

Thom said he'll likely rotate 12 guys comfortably throughout the tourney.  

McGuinness will patrol the point, allowing McGill and Green to roam freely and create shots off the bounce.

 Last season, it was Fairfield-bound Kevin Degnan inundated with a stockpile of scholarship offers.

The Pearl River sniper had 14 Division-I offers on the table at the time, heating up during that vital stretch.

Now McGill enters the tournament a marked man.

Northeastern, Quinnipiac, Drexel, Hofstra, Miami-Ohio, and Kent State are all in persistent pursuit of the high-engine 6-foot-1 guard, who de-committed from Manhattan in the spring.

McGill's killer instinct and improvement at scoring from all three levels--at the rim, behind the arc, from the 18-foot mark--has inherited him the leadership mantle alongside sinewy, multidimensional 6-foot-6 forward Luke McLoughlin (Tappan Zee).

"Rickey is a great leader by example, we're trying to get him a little more vocal," said assistant coach Billy Thom Jr.

"Luke McLoughlin, he's been through it. He knows what to expect. He had a great tournament for us last year. Those are going to be two key guys for us this year, but I think we have so much talent that anybody can be a leader." 

While several players are sporting a basketball hangover from AAU tournaments in Las Vegas, there is a sense of pride to regain the Gold medal Adirondack snatched from them in 2013.

"The ability to shoot the ball is a great strength for us," said Thom Jr.

"Just talent-wise, I think a lot of teams are going to want to play zone against us because of the way we shoot. Knock on wood. I hope I don't shoot myself in the foot saying that. The focus right now is just on getting guys comfortable with each other and building chemistry. The early rounds and in pool play, you can win a game or two on talent alone. We've got to build off the foundation of talent and that's chemistry."

On paper, Hudson Valley is a "who's who" of the area's top seniors. The roster contains several ball-dominating weapons.

Don't expect to see the 1992 Dream Team wiping the floor with Cuba.

If this team can find the right combinations, commit to kicking in the extra pass, surrendering individual stats for team prosperity, and provide the same hounding and harassing pressure that Jack Daly and Mike DeMello did last summer, this piecemeal should forge into a functional unit.

Thom Sr., the target of disgruntled parents and nameless venom-spewing blog posters angered by his tryouts and cuts, maintains that he's done due diligence.

Dissecting film and thumbing through scouting reports, Thom has added wrinkles to the playbook while devising methods to cater to this team's strength.

After attending Elite Camp at Albright College (Redding, Pa.) with his Croton High team, Bill Thom Sr. returned home to a number of voicemails from college coaches across the land.

"They're letting me know they got the roster," Thom Sr. said. "Even though this isn't a (NCAA) live time, it's additional exposure these guys are going to get (at BCANY). And the guys that are diamonds in the rough? Their stock is going to go up."

The advantage of this senior-laden Hudson Valley team is they have strength in all compartments.

They can shoot your face off on the half-court set or kick the ball inside to the towering Nwankwo, who should create matchup difficulties across the tournament.

 They can just as effectively swarm and provide the blanketing pressure that instigates turnovers and kick-starts the transition game.

Thom has said time and time again this team has the most talent. If that power in numbers solves the chemistry experiment, all signs point to a return to Gold.