Tuesday, November 4, 2014

LaBarbera Orchestrates Tempo For Top-Tier HOS

It seems simple, executing as Avery LaBarbera does.

The Harrison native penetrates, pockets pull-up jumpers and deposits 3-pointers with textbook form, her elbow lined up to the bucket.

She orchestrates offense in the half-court set and on the run, commandeering the game flow while simultaneously bettering her teammates.

 This past summer, while catalyzing House Of Sports 14U AAU team en route to a 44-6 campaign, LaBarbera seized the game management reins.

The handle, that innate ability to locate seams and whiz passes to astonishingly open teammates keeps her ever-evolving game growing.

As House of Sports criss-crossed the country on an onerous summer schedule, facing elite-level teams such as Kentucky’s Shooting Stars Youth Basketball, her role increased in prominence.

Returning a significant percentage of last year’s squad, which picked up steam during a run to Nationals, certainly helped.

The meshing and 365-day focus installed by program director/head coach Nick Volchok  helped churn out an undefeated fall.

 They ripped off 30 straight wins, kicking off the spring/summer AAU season with a reverberating thud.

Incorporating 25 offensive sets and featuring man and zone defense, the workload sparked the program’s rapid evolution as an area breeding ground.

“What separates Avery from other players I’ve seen is the way she prepares,” said Volchok.

“She’s a total gym rat. She shows up an hour before practice, just to get working on her shots. She knows all of the offensive sets—not only where she’s supposed to be, but where everyone else is supposed to be. That always helps her with her decision making.”

Every player at this level longs to play alongside a point guard of LaBarbera’s IQ—a point guard whose eyes are perpetually up, locating scorers at their hot spots in timely fashion.

 All of these factors—the spacing, the backdoor cuts, the accurate timing--helped HOS attain national visibility.

“She’s one of those kids that can just pick apart a defense,” Volchok said. “She knows when it’s time push it and when it’s time to slow it down.”

 Analytical during practice time, where she's often weighing her teammates strengths and weaknesses via mental notes, LaBarbera was able to envision plays before they unfolded.

“During team drills, I like to see who can do what,” LaBarbera explained.

“Knowing what they’re capable of, I put that into consideration during games. I try to draw the defense in and kick it to the right person.”

Yet her basketball identity and flair for the game developed way before this past summer.

Traipsing the sidelines of Iona games, LaBarbera became enamored with the play of bolt-quick point guard Scott Machado.

 As Machado, the one-time NBA draft hopeful, announced his presence by averaging 19.8 points, 12.0 assists, and three steals in a four-game span, LaBarbera took notice.

With the fervor and focus of a determined med student, LaBarbera finds herself thumbing through a highlight reels and clips of Machado and WNBA star Skylar Diggins, patterning an advanced early skill-set around their moves and tendencies.

The results have been promising.

One year after forging a piecemeal first-year program into a unit, HOS girls basketball director and head coach Volchok gave his lead guard some ownership of a multi-layered, one rife with down screens and fluid angle-to-angle ball movement.

She’s so young, it’s almost natural to sidestep overwhelming comparisons or enmesh LaBarbera with any hyperbolic statements.


While she's plied her trade with the Lady Knicks, Rye YMCA, and Superstars, it was House of Sports’ sprawling complex and Volchok’s Open Door Policy with his players lured her in.

You’d be hard-pressed to find the slighest tinge of BS in Volchok, the former Gorton sharpshooter who played professionally in Italy.

 The coach-to-player bond helped accelerate the girls program.

When tasked with starting an around-the-clock grass-roots program from the ground up, Volchok had no illusions about the structure and devotion it would require.

 He implemented a system that mirrors a Princeton Offense, with back cuts and constant disciplined motion.

With a vast array of his eighth graders now scattered on Varsity programs throughout the County, the seeds Volchok planted for an elite program are now taking root.

“We were able to really make that transition fast, from being a beginning program, to now taking over in the area,” Volchok said.

“There’s a lot of programs that have been around for a while, we just kind of jumped in and said 'hey, we’re here.' We have the best players. We want a great system. We work our butts off. We’re not going anywhere.”

The mentality Volchok ingrained has resonated: “If you want to go somewhere, you’ve got to beat us to get there.”

With even more devotion to defensive concepts, the team as a whole has bought in.

Back-to-back 22-point performances during HOS' ascent to the national tournament, coupled with methodical quarterbacking, helped bolster the game of LaBarbera.

 Volchok pushed and pushed and pushed his point guard, imploring her to become more vocal and facilitate the offense fresh off the defensive rebound.

Demanding and often pigeonholed as “too intense,” Volchok’s principle understandings are simple.

 He’s going to take the training wheels off, knowing that learning the intricacies now will only benefit each player at the ensuing levels.

He wants to groom high-level talent, even if that means long road trips against Division-I factories.

At first he wasn’t sure about the deep travel schedule.

 Understanding the talent at his disposal this year, he green-lighted a summer schedule that featured stops from Rhode Island to Vegas.

An infusion of confidence surfaced when the team sledgehammered vaunted Riverside by 40 points.

With LaBarbera, the messages Volchok illustrated haven’t fallen on deaf ears.

On a regimen that eclipses 400 shots per day, includes extensive dribble-drive work and finishing with contact, LaBarbera is eager to get better.

Volchok tests each player with heightened in-house competition, often putting LaBarbera against teammate and defensive stopper Danielle Scaperrotta.

Scapperotta, who played varsity at Ardsley as an eighth grader, applies the hounding defense that helps LaBarbera fight for every bucket.

In-practice battles of this ilk have helped the program shed any habits of settling.


Watching the aforementioned Machado, the venerable 6-foot guard known for his fleet-of-foot, all-around game, and proclivity for lobbing up alley oops, LaBarbera’s feel for the game blossomed.

She watched with hawk-like gaze as that revitalized 2012 team attained an NCAA tournament berth.

Watching Machado engineer the offense and 6-foot-6 senior strongman Mike Glover put up First Team All-MAAC numbers, watching Momo Jones score in clusters and witnessing high-flying cameos from White Plains native Ra’Shad “Birdman” James, LaBarbera knew basketball would be her path of pursuit.

She’s equally as immersed in the star-spangled program at Ossining, keeping tabs on Dan Ricci’s loaded team as they pursue another title this winter.

She hopes her sterling summer portends an eventual starting role this year at Harrison, where she made varsity as a freshman.

“Out of 50 games we played, I want to say in half of those she was close to double digits with assists and points,” said Volchok.

As fall bleeds into winter, LaBarbera knows she must translate the work to the varsity level. She knows she’ll be hearing from Volchok before and after most games.

Even though he can’t coach her throughout the long winter grind, he’ll be evaluating on the sidelines.

His main goal for the HOS program is to continue to get the girls maximum exposure and help them to high-level schools.

Running hand-in-hand with this growth chart is the desire to keep the competition ramped up, both in practice and against top-echelon programs across the nation.