Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Miles From Ordinary Late Night Runs At House Of Sports

CJ Miles scanned the net for a split second and dropped a long straight-away 3-pointer.

The newly-minted Indiana Pacer's oil-smooth left-handed slingshot form induced widened jaws.

A sea of young onlookers enveloped the 94x50 hardwood real estate at House of Sports in Ardsley, N.Y.

Moments later, Miles dropped off an aesthetic backdoor pass for Jarrid Famous.

 Famous, the one-time JUCO Player of the Year at Westchester Community College and former South Florida star, levitated well above the rim, his 6-foot-11 frame all alone as he crammed a violent two-handed dunk.

 SUNY Purchase Center Joel Neri, at a towering 7-foot-3, is the biggest man in the joint and the biggest example of late-blossoming potential.

A forgotten-about recruit, Neri panned out at the NCAA level despite a quiet, obscure-as-ever high school career and the mountainous odds which followed.

With his Pterodactyl-long arms,  Neri elevates above a swarm of contesting hands as he effortlessly kisses a layup off the backboard and absorbs contact.

A "who's who" of NCAA and incoming NCAA players and professionals, headlined by the lone NBAer Miles, these high-profile open runs have become a proving ground for top-stratum local talent.

This was a typical Monday night pickup run, a unique late-summer's meshing of advanced skill-set and hunger, unheard of and underrated staring down at established and elite in a referee-free basketball sanctuary.

Tacky fouls are never called.

Self-announced fouls are frowned upon, as they halt the game's routine up-and-down cadence. Nearly every time Miles or Adam Honig or Sean Armand  (Iona) or Sandro Carissimo (Vermont) drills a 3-pointer, they acknowledge the assist man with a simple index finger in their direction.

This is purely pickup, with some excessive dribbling and streetball-flair to spruce it up a notch or two.

Miles, who recently penned a four-year, $18-million contact with the Indiana Pacers, has been a constant presence at the House of Sports.

The 10-year NBA veteran, who spends his summers in Manhattan and trains religiously with Westchester Community College coach Ty Mushatt, has developed a Westchester area fan base this summer.

These twice-a-week, intensified pickup runs, orchestrated by House of Sports Athletic Director (and the head coach of now-defunct Rice High during their reign of national prosperity) Lou DeMello, are now a barometer-like gauging pad.

Miles, on the bounce back from an ankle injury he sustained with the Cleveland Cavs this past spring, has played his first few games at full health at the House of Sports.

"It gives you an idea, as a basketball player, where you should be at," said Mushatt of the workouts.

"You saw last night with Sean Armand. He switched off so he could check CJ. He knows this is what he's going to be up against. He's thinking, 'this is going to be my competition.' It was a mutual respect thing. Sean's saying 'I want to be in your position.'"

Armand, a lethal 3-point shooter at Iona, is currently weighing his professional stock. He had tryouts with the Utah Jazz and the Phoenix Suns. He has the opportunity to make a considerable chunk of change plying his trade professionally in Europe.

The competition has helped bolster the competitive juices of several incoming NCAA players and guys plying their trade over the waters.

"For the younger guys, it's perfect," Mushatt said.

"It forces you to play harder when you're playing against a professional player. Guys who are going overseas. Guys who just wrapped up a good college career. If you can hang with pros, Division-I shouldn't be that much of a challenge. You've still got to work, but you know what your up against. The benefits of these games are great."

Miles and Honig, both quintessential workout fiends, have been fixtures in the House's "shooting lab." The shooting lab, a where every shot is dissected and analyzed and rectified, from release point to elbow positioning to backspin, has become an off-season home for both Miles and Honig.

Burying a fusillade of shots on the shooting gun before embarking on a night's worth of constant pickup runs, winner stays-on rules applying at all times, they've developed a feel for each other's game.

It's two different-sized yet similar players, in vastly different circumstances professionally, feeding off each other's sniping.

Miles was the highly-decorated McDonald's All-American, who sidestepped a full scholarship to Texas in following the long green paper trail to the NBA, becoming the Utah Jazz' youngest-ever player at age 18. He's a nine-year NBA veteran, hell-bent on shedding the role player image of the past and becoming a Pacers' poster boy.

Honig, on the other hand, was an unsung and under-recruited 3-point shooter out of Horace Greeley High. The 6-foot-1 guard punctuated a memorable senior-year alongside Matt Townsend with a 37-point eruption in a shootout against Peekskill.

After a long and arduous recruiting process, Honig ended up at Division-III Dickinson (PA), where he became an All-American and is now entertaining pro options.

It starts with an hour of shooting in the mornings. Honig launches threes with the international ball, a portent of his future. Miles will shoot with the standard, NBA-sized ball.

"The open gym runs have been beneficial to whoever plays," said Honig. "You get to see different types of talent on many different levels, but it definitely allows you to match up with guys trying to get to the next level in basketball. Some are ahead of others, so it alows you to assess where your game is at and what you need to work on."

"They both can flat out shoot it," Mushatt said.

"CJ embraces it. To the point where they go to Pilates together, they are doing strength and conditioning together.CJ likes to have somebody who can shoot it,  he likes to have somebody who could push him," said Mushatt.

That's what made Miles a suitable matchup for 6-foot-9 Dominican wunderkind Luis Montero. Montero, now at WCC and receiving surging interest from Alabama, West Virginia, Southern California, Ole Miss, St. John's, and myriad others, has gone up against Miles five times recently.

Miles, who Mushatt described as a "young 27-year-old" because he doesn't drink, doesn't smoke and has saved a considerable amount of the NBA money, has the opportunity to play a meaningful role on Indiana, especially following Brooklyn-bred Lance Stephenson's recent departure.

"The biggest thing (Miles) has done for me is shown me how to act and play like a pro," said Honig.

"There's a certain way you need to treat the game. It's a job where you take care of your body and work on your craft everyday. CJ is extremely down to earth, which allows us to push each other through multiple sessions a day. He's definitely gotten me better."

Don't think the two gunslingers aren't constantly trying to one up each other.

"It's always a competition with them," Mushatt said.