Friday, August 1, 2014

Deep Hudson Valley Gunning For Gold

The memories are still fresh in Rickey McGill's head.

Hudson Valley had erased a 15-point lead, with defensive stops and timely scoring. Back-to-back buckets by Luke McCloughlin and RJ Martinez capped a 10-2 spurt.

Mike DeMello popped out in the corner and drilled a 3-pointer. McGill turned in a traditional 3-point play and DeMello sidestepped traffic with a banker, giving Hudson Valley a 65-64 lead with 3:37 remaining.

The lead increased to three, but Adirondack's D'Yaire Holt canned a titanic 3-pointer with 3.6 seconds left, sending the game into overtime.

In OT, Holt deposited another long 3-pointer that helped seal a 77-75 win, sending Hudson Valley home with naked fingers.

"We want to come back and beat this team by a lot now," said McGill, a crafty 6-foot-1 guard with interest from Kent State, Quinnipiac, Northeastern, Drexel, Hofstra, and Miami of Ohio since de-committing to Manhattan College.

"The loss stuck with me because we were playing hard. He hit that three, and that just changed the whole game."

While he hasn't lost sleep over it, Thom has similar recollections of that maddening, stomach-churning loss.

"I don't know what the breakdown was, we were switching everything and (Holt) kind of got an open look," Thom said.

 "He made a big shot. They made a big play. Sometimes you make a play to win, sometimes you make a play and you lose. We have one more good possession, maybe we make a play to win. We just ran out of time."

The reigning silver-medalists entered the tournament without the lofty expectations and fanfare. The team prepared in slapdash fashion, with only two practices under their belt prior to pool play.

While losing that pulsating overtime thriller of a Gold Medal game was a tough blow to absorb, it has sparked a full year of motivation.

Thom has taken advantage of the new rule incorporating private and catholic school players. He revamped a thin frontline, adding 6-foot-9 Jonathon Nwankwo. Nwankwo is flanked by 6-foot-7 Andrew Groll (Byram Hills) and 6-foot-5 Peter Hoffman (Haldane).

Nwankwo, he of the feathery jump hook, has improved on a limited offensive skill-set. Possessing a Big East body and shooting a high percentage from the free throw line, AAU coach Andy Borman describes the towering high-major prospect as "low-maintenance, high-character, self-driven, high-character kid."

Incorporating a drop step and becoming more of a scoring threat bolstered his stock. .

Adirondack has grown at the same pace this past year. Holt, an incoming junior out of Troy, N.Y., has been a steady 20+ point scorer. He's become a mid-major prospect, getting to the rim with relative ease and expanding the range on his jumper.

Having played varsity as an eighth-grader, emerging into somewhat of a basketball video/Youtube sensation, the well-built guard plays with an instinctive maturity.

Notre Dame-commit Elijah Burns, a vital cog who torched Hudson Valley in the paint last season, will not return.

Before entertaining thoughts of exacting vengeance on Adirondack, however, Hudson Valley must devise a plan for stopping Jordan Roland. Roland, the NYS Class B Player of the Year, averaged 28 PPG during the state playoffs. The 6-foot-1 Westhill guard, a George Washington-commit, punctuated his performance with a 41-point explosion in the Class B State championship win over Olean.

They've added length with Woodlands Jamil Gambari, a First Team All-State selection. Tom Capuano (Iona Prep) will likely spearhead the lockdown operation. The Patriot League target is tasked with clamping down on several high-scoring weapons upstate.

On paper, this year's Hudson Valley would thrash last year's team by 25+ points. Thom has said it is the most talent he's ever had in the tournament and that piling up so many ball-dominant scorers on one squad shouldn't be an issue.

"We all get along, we're all familiar with each other and we've had great practices," said Matt Ryan, a 6-foot-7 sharpshooter who recently committed to Notre Dame.

"We know we are loaded and deep, so we're just going to play all out because we know we have subs."

Thom said he's going to play 12 guys comfortably, likely inserting each player during the first 10 minutes of each game. Thom is hoping the depth and run-and-gun style will make for a lungs-burning brand of basketball that wears foes down.