Saturday, November 15, 2014

Deceptively Athletic Jurzynski Ready For New Challenge

On the first night of tryouts at Croton Harmon High for the 2014 Hudson Valley BCANY team, several had already etched a name and niche for themselves. This year's team possessed the most pure talent, evoking comparisons to legendary Empire State Games teams of the early 2000s. Scholarship players were spread across the roster.

There was Rickey McGill, an electrifying 6-foot-1 guard known for quick surges to the rim, a beyond-the-arc game and a propensity for fracturing ball movement and relentlessly swiping at an unprotected Spalding.

There was Salim Green, the high-rising RCDS guard.

An Ivy League target, the elevation on Green's jumper has rendered him hard-to-guard.

There was Jamil Gambari, a long and athletic 6-foot-3 guard who bagged First Team All-State honors in 2013-14. Gambari guided Woodlands deep into the state tournament following a frenetic-paced Sectional Championship defeat of Putnam Valley, the upset underscored by a hailstorm of 3-pointers and a wild 22-1 run.

There was Tom Capuano, a well-built defensive pest with a full arsenal of offensive tools and varsity experience stemming back to his 8th grade year at Hastings. Capuano, a high-Division II and Division-I prospect with interest from Harvard and Bucknell, deposited six 3-pointers in Hudson Valley's 103-63 dismantling of Central in the Gold Medal championship game.

With a gaggle of area talent competing for just 12 roster spots, the "who's who" factor was evident.

The less heralded in the sea of ballers was Mike Jurzynski.

Sporting farm boy strength and a less-than-intimidating look, the floppy-haired 6-foot-5, 220-pound forward registered his imprint during that first tryout. While running through plays and simulating game situations, the Masters guard/forward drilled his first five threes. His high-arching set shot meshed with the angle-to-angle ball movement, picks, and perimeter hand-offs Bill Thom's offense was predicated on.

And though Jurzynski's dependable outside shot catapulted him to a roster spot on a team that won by an average of 33 points, his deceptive athleticism has re-planted the basketball seed at the prestigious Masters School in Dobbs Ferry.

Rewind the clock to August of 2014.

Hudson Valley is devouring the BCANY tourney competition in Johnson City in shark-sized bites, dumping off one foe after another by double-digits. The team seizes a 15-point lead against familiar foe Adirondack, the reigning national champion and HV's fiercest summer rival. Trash-talk is sprinkled all over the court.

It starts when D'Yaire Holt and Hudson Valley's Matt Ryan engage in verbal warfare. It intensifies when a cheap shot is thrown at Connor McGuiness following some chippy moments. You could feel the tension--rising, rising, rising.

 As Juryznski darts down court and hauls in a baseball pass from McGill, traces of anticipation emanate from Hudson Valley's bench.

Jurzynski elevates, climbs the ladder and crunches an extravagant two-handed dunk. Rife with hang time and a rim-choking finish, the flush has sent the gym into a frenzy.

Jurzynski defies all basketball stereotypes. While his appearance is a bit more Bill Gates than Bill Cartwright, he ensures that you don't need a pair of Jordans and an And1 cut-off shirt to get recognition. Though Jurzynski's game is free of playground flash, his knack for permeating the driving lanes and throwing it down has become theatrical.

"My athleticism came from me always wanting to jump higher and higher as a kid," said Jurzynski, a Pearl River native who was enamored with the dunking of Jason Richardson, Lebron James and Michael Jordan as a child.

"I loved the feeling of gliding through the air while my hips were at the defenders eye level. My toughness came from me being trained as a post player in my younger years. Then eventually, I was the center for my high school team because I was the tallest kid."

Now he can play multiple positions. Vowing to shed any limitations, Jurzynski knows his dribble-drive game must expand for the next level. He made strides this summer, shedding 20 pounds and gaining basketball shape.

Playing against the likes of C.J. Miles (Indiana Pacers) and Scott Machado (IONA/Houston Rockets/Overseas) and former WCC and South Florida star Jarrid Famous at House of Sports' open runs helped his confidence grow.

At the same time, his work ethic spiked. Working off the shooting gun and firing 1,000+ jumpers a week at House of Sports, which doubles as his living room, Jurzynski knows how necessary the uptick in labor is.

As the program's leading scorer as a sophomore and a junior, he'll assume some ownership of this year's team.

Not bad for a guy who looks like he should be studying marine biology and not orange spheres.

"The issue for Mike is people want to stereotype him and try to fit him into a specific position," said AAU coach Andy Borman, now with the NY Rens.

"Look, he's just a good basketball player. Does he look it? He can score inside, he can finish above the rim, and he can shoot
the hell out of the ball. For the next level, he'll have to work on his dribble-drive game."

Borman continued, "The question for Mike isn't what level he'll play at, the question is what is a coach looking for in him? If a coach is just looking for someone who is going to make your team better and do whatever it takes to win, then Mike Jurzynski is going to be a perfect fit for that program."

Division-I programs such as Marist and Tulsa have expressed interest. He has interest all across the boards, with Division-III programs such as Dickinson College, Hamilton, Scranton, Hartwick, Carnegie Mellon, and Randolph Macon (Va.) are in heavy pursuit.

While every kid at this level longs to play Division-I ball, Jurzysnki has done due diligence on local products such as Nick Nedwick (Irvington/Western Connecticut State) and Adam Honig (Horace Greeley/Dickinson), both overseas professionals who became Division-III All-Americans.

Buoyed by a 30-point outburst from Jurzynski, Masters disposed of the two-man foundation of (since-graduated) 1,000-point scorer Tyler Fernandez and the aforementioned Green, en route to a 64-48 FAA semifinal win last season.

The shooting onslaught against RCDS was rejuvenating. All season, Jurzynski's coaches implored him to relish a killer instinct.

Suddenly playing with the mentality that he can take a game over and pick apart a defense is a necessity at this level. Taking advantage of several mismatches catered to Jurzynski, allowing him to roam freely beyond the arc and let it fly.

"If they left me open at the three, I pulled it," Jurzynski said.

"If they came out at me, I went by them. If they wanted to bump me, I would put them in the post and just float over them for an easy jumper. I tried to clean up every loose ball possible."

Jurzynski's inner circle hopes he sustains this new, cocksure mentality through the long grind of winter.

 Masters hopes to repeat as FAA champions. With the addition of 6-foot-7 Australian import Matt Grossman, who will flank Jurzynski in the post, he'll have the freedom to pop out on the perimeter.

"My goals for this season is to be the first team in school history to have a record with over twenty wins, win the FAA championship again, and also compete in the NEPSAC tournament," Jurzynski said.

"The roughest part about last season was the perception we weren't going to play well after one of our starting forwards (Tim Reitzenstein) broke a bone in his wrist and was out for the season. We had to pick up the pieces and focus on rebounding since that was a major contribution of his game."

Is Jurzynski ready to become one of Section 1's elite scorers and bring the ruckus on a nightly basis?

Flash back to a month ago.  In a Stepinac/Masters game underscored by the Jordan Tucker v.s. Jurzynski factor, the level of competition was amplified. Every shot was contested. Every loose ball was chased with a full head of stream. If Tucker pulled up and buried a three, as the Indiana and UConn target is known to do, Jurzynski would match it.

 Every rebound was fought for, as HOS morphed into a County Center-like proving ground. The fall foliage outside didn't dissipate, albeit the feeling of early March resonated around the arena. Jurzynski shocked Stepinac with deceptive hops and four dunks.

Draining five 3-pointers during a 15-point fall league victory over Nyack, opening eyes across the gym, Jurzynski caught the hot hand.

The basket suddenly looked as large as the one at St. Aeden's church and Pearl River Middle School, where Jurzynski and childhood friend Kevin Degnan (MSG Varsity Player of the Year in 2013-14, now at Fairfield) would battle for sweat-drenched hours.

Drake's "No New Friends" anthem and adage has become a staple for Jurzynski. Though he bolted Pearl River for St. Joe's 9 (N.J.) and then Masters, his tight bonds with childhood friends such as Degnan, Tim Fusco, Brian Chiarello, and Mike Imbarrato are well intact.

Jurzynski's nickname "The Scientist,"  dual meaning.

 Not only does he sport the scholar-like look of a scientist, Jurzynksi is always in the lab. Playing every day that ends in Y at gyms all over, Jurzynski always culminates his workouts with a few tomahawks and windmills and ferocious two-handed sledgehammers.

Like Tom Chambers and Kurt Rambis, both of an Office Clerk look and NBA lore, Jurzynski is defined by an old axiom:

Looks can be deceiving.