Monday, August 25, 2014

WCC's Montero A Marked Man During Summer Sweepstakes

When Dominican wunderkind Luis Montero arrived at Westchester Community College during the second semester, head coach Tyrone Mushatt gave the 6-foot-9, 190-pound guard/wing as colossal a green light as any player he's had.

Employing an offense akin to Tex Winter's fabled Triangle, Mushatt threw in a wrinkle enabling his top three players to operate on one side of the rim.

This entailed Quinnipiac-bound Gio McLean to subscribe to more of a facilitator's role, locating Montero off the ball and engendering a high-low game as he fed 6-foot-8 St. John's-commit Keith Thomas inside.

The offensive shift helped catapult McLean to the upper percentile of the nation's assists and assist-to-turnover leaders. It also helped Montero roam freely off the ball, dicing defenders off the bounce and pulling up from NBA 3-point territory.

Montero, who has high expectations and hype mirroring Felipe Lopez and Luis Flores during their heyday in the Dominican Republic, lived up to his lofty billing.

He erupted for 31 points during a thorough 113-86 thrashing of Rockland Community College back on Feb. 11.

He piled up 58 points during the final three games of the season, helping lift the Vikes to a 28-4 record and a berth in the JUCO national tournament for the first time since 1996.

Montero dropped 19 points during Westchester's soul-sucking and exasperating OT loss to Wallace State in the national tournament. While the loss made for a brutal trip home from Hutchinson, Kansas to Valhalla, N.Y., Montero's stock exploded.

He earned an uptick in interest from the army of high-major coaches in the building, several of whom were doubling and tripling up on their interest with Thomas and McLean.

"He (Montero) changed us completely when he arrived this season," Mushatt explained. "We were good. He made us great. Everyone wants a guy similar to Luis' style because he can play like a guard. He's a better defender than people think."

Now he's a more heavily hounded recruit than most people thought and envisioned.

Alabama has been there from the very start and is on the prowl.

West Virginia has been calling Westchester's coaching staff at a frantic and furious pace. Mountaineers assistant coach Larry Harrison is busting out every recruiting tool in the shed.

St. John's, which recently penned Thomas, is also going guns-a-blazing to draw the rising sophomore.

SMU and well-traveled former NBA coach Larry Brown have now jumped in the mix, providing a late sales pitch.

Montero is wide open. Schools in most aggressive pursuit of Montero, including Southern Mississippi and Mississippi State and South Florida, are eager to get him on campus.

There is no clear favorite in sight yet.

South Florida head coach Orlando Antigua, who supplanted Stan Heath following the Steve Masiello firestorm, was a finalist for the 23-year-old Thomas.

Antigua has been a close friend of Mushatt's since they were 13 years old. Both coaches played at Bronx power St. Raymond's, under then-coach Gary DeCesare.

Thomas, who averaged a 15.3 points, a JUCO-best 15.7 rebounds, and shot a blistering 65.4 percent from the field, chose SJU for its proximity and the opportunity for an instant impact in the front court, a jarringly urgent gap for the Johnnies following the 2013-14 campaign.

The triumvirate of Thomas, McLean, and Montero helped put Westchester Community back into the realm of JUCO relevance.

The Vikes hadn't had this level of national visibility and mega-interest since 2008-09, when heavily-courted 6-foot-11 Center Jarrid Famous chose South Florida over Seton Hall, PITT, Arizona, and countless others.

"I think learning how to play with each other was key," said McLean, who averaged 16.8 points, 7.3 assists (third in NJCAA) and five boards, including a 34-point game on 13-of-20 FG during the aforementioned Wallace State loss.

"Sometimes you are going to have arguments and bumps and bruises down the road. We kept that to a minimum. The chemistry allowed us to play the way we did."

Ferocious and acrobatic finishing, an adroit left hand, prodigious handle (especially at 6-foot-9), as well as shot creation and an innate scoring engine promises to make Montero the focal point of scouting reports in 2014-15.

Mushatt said he's toyed with the idea of having Montero run the point.

Ultimately, he doesn't want to sap any life out of his scoring.

That's the issue Montero will create during his final season at Westchester; he can wear multiple jerseys without getting too enamored with one area.

A late growth spurt helped spur Montero's ascension of the national recruiting food chain. He went from 6-foot-7 to 6-9, without shredding a trace of his flashy guard instincts.

"He thinks he's 6-feet," Mushatt deadpanned.