Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Basketball A Family Affair For TZ's Luke McLaughlin

Growing up with current and former teammates Rob and Ryan McWilliams across the street from his built-in, glass-backboard driveway hoop in Blauvelt, Luke McLaughlin never had to travel far to experience high-level competition.

Lifelong friends and foes Rickey McGill and Kai Mitchell were 15 minutes away in Spring Valley.

 McLaughlin, McGill, Mitchell, and Conor McGuinness were typically the youngest kids in long summer runs at Spring Valley's Memorial Park.

 McGuinness, Clarkstown South's gritty little guard and McLaughlin's CYO teammate up until eighth grade, frequently played on McLaughlin's driveway hoop as well.

So did former Pearl River sharpshooter Luke Houston, now a senior guard at Southern Connecticut.

McLaughlin's cousin, Bryant College point guard Shane McLaughlin, was three miles up the road.

His other cousin, Drew University guard Brian McLaughlin, was equally entrenched in these day-long pickup battles.

Yet through all the rugged, black-and-blue marked games gauging his grit, McLaughlin cites one particular player as the true source pushing his development...

His sister.

Kristen McLaughlin authored an illustrious career at Tappan Zee High, scoring 1,137 career points.

The school's second all-time leading scorer, Kristen McLaughlin culminated her senior season by taking home NY State/Class A Player of the Year honors.

 Averaging 23 points, nine boards, five assists, and three steals, Kristen McLaughlin earned a full scholarship from Fairfield after garnering Ivy and Patriot League interest throughout her senior year.

Yet for all her scoring exploits, the attribute which still wows her younger brother is confidence.

Buoyed by an innate ability to shoot out of funks and sidestep the droughts known to derail streaky shooters, older sister gave little brother fits growing up.

There's a brutal hill surrounding the McLaughlins' home rim at Hobbs Drive.

An ill-advised shot or a brick will surely have you chasing the ball all the way down the hill, directly into the neighbors' garden.

This vital factor helped shaped both players' shot selection.

"When people ask me, 'who's better?' I always tell them straight up 'she's a better shooter,' said McLaughlin," now a versatile 6-foot-6 senior guard/forward.

"That's one part of her game that's really special. Her shooting mechanics stand out. She has great confidence. She never changes her form. Every shot she takes, I feel like it's going in."

Growing into his 195-pound frame and packing muscle onto arms once as skinny as stickball bats, McLaughlin now has the physical advantages to finally beat his sister one-on-one.

Kristen still has the upper hand when it comes to H-O-R-S-E and shootouts from the top of the key, but it's closer than ever right now.

There were times, as Luke recalls, when just taming her deep 3-point daggers was a daunting chore.

"She doesn't like to go inside as much," Luke said.

"She's shooting a three. She has developed her pull-up game throughout the years, but her three-point game is definitely the biggest weapon in her scoring ability. When we first started playing in the backyard, I would go in thinking I was a great player and she would give me the business."

If the hyper-competitive juices have done anything, it's made the brother-sister tandem closer.

As he coached their youth teams, Michael McLaughlin recalls his kids showing up to eachother's games faithfully.

Decked in face paint and bringing pom poms, the  support factor was evident.

"She's been a great support system for me," Luke says.

"She texts me before every game. She texts me after every game. I try to watch as many games as possible online. I actually haven't been able to get to a game yet. I've got to try and get there during this Christmas break, hopefully."

Has Luke entertained thoughts of eclipsing or potentially shattering his sister's scoring record?

"I actually haven't really thought about it all," he explained.

"She doesn't rub her accomplishments in my face and I don't rub my accomplishments in her face. We're just a basketball family. We all support each other no matter what. We're one team, one family. That's what it's always been like."

Their attitude and gym rat mentality is one teammates tend to eat off of.

"From my perspective, Luke and Kristen are the ultimate teammates on the court and off the court," said Michael McLaughlin, who played two-guard at Dominican College.

"They have each other's back, they build up one another as well as their friends and teammates. I can honestly say, I have never experienced negative feedback from an opponent after a heated contest or seen anything on social media. That is unheard of these days."

Family Affair

McLaughlin's grandfather, Walter McLaughlin, played football at Fordham under the iconic Vince Lombardi.

 His uncle, Jim McLaughlin, played basketball at Utica back when they were a Division-I program under Larry Costello.

An NBA All-Star, Costello won an NBA championship as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks in the early 1970s.

McLaughlin's other uncle, Phil McLaughlin, played at Mansfield State in Pennsylvania.

Walter McLaughlin wanted his kids playing basketball and that's how the bloodline truly began.

Luke's great uncle, Jack McLaughlin, played at St. Louis.

His other great uncle, Frank McLaughlin, starred at Fordham and was drafted by the New York Knicks. He went on to coach alongside Digger Phelps at Fordham.

Following a coaching career that included stays at Notre Dame and Harvard, Frank McLaughlin was inducted into the Fordham Athletic Hall of Fame.

He is currently one of the members to be honored at the Irish Sports 50 awards.

McLaughlin's other great uncle, Tom McLaughlin, played at Tennessee and transferred to UMASS during the Julius "Dr. J" Erving heyday.

And while the McLaughlins are deeply rooted in Irish sports history, they've always taken pride in playing against anyone on any court.

A staunch adversary of racism and refusing to engage in the rising racial tension infecting that era, Walter McLaughlin implored all of his kids to play against top-flight competition at Rucker Park in Harlem.

Family activities included tournaments at Rucker and Dyckman Park, where they played against the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Streetball was less explosive and more mainstream during those days.

Rucker Park legends of that heyday included Earl "The Goat" Manigault, Wilt Chamberlain, and Nate "Tiny" Archibald.

The Rucker's hyper-competitive summer leagues had as much clout as the NBA back then.

"They've got so many stories," Luke McLaughlin says. "We still haven't heard them all."

Michael McLaughlin carried on the tradition, taking McLaughlin and his tight friend McGuiness to Spring Valley's Memorial Park on Saturdays.

"Some of my favorite memories are playing at Memorial Park," Luke said.

 "That's where I met Rickey, Kai, Dre, Jordan. It was really a great learning experience to play against such great talent."

Like his father before him, Luke McLaughlin learned that getting better would entail being pushed out of his comfort zone.

"It was a whole new spectrum from suburbia," McLaughlin said.

 "You've got deejays spinning. You've got boomboxes blasting. It's awesome. Not even just playing, but watching some of the guys play at that park made me love the game even more. You really see how big of a deal those games are. It was a great experience. It was a lot different of an atmosphere from Blauvelt and it's only 15 minutes away."

At Dominican, Michael McLaughlin was a two-year captain and a jack-of-all-trades type contributor.

He wasn't nearly the shooter that Kristen and Luke are, albeit the cerebral 6-foot-2 guard possessed an unmatched work ethic.

"He wasn't a 20 points per game scorer but he did all of the little things," said Luke, who has thumbed through his father's scrapbook and watched the grainy footage of his VHS taped games.

Walter McLaughlin has been a fixture at every game of Luke and Kristen's.

Since he was a football player first, Walter is typically telling his grandson to be more aggressive and use his body to box out and snare rebounds.

Micheal McLaughlin's crazed work ethic has reared its head many times.

Taking days off has never been a viable option.

Though Kristen and Luke have been a steady two-on-two team during family vacations, even playing through scalding 102-degree weather, one distinct memory trumps the others.

"We were on vacation in Turks and Caicos. We were basically in Paradise and my Dad just grabs a ball and says, 'let's go.' We weren't too happy about it, but we followed him," Luke said.

Driving past the scenic beaches, Chlorophyll-green mountains and cliff-side coasts, Micheal McLaughlin trekked for an hour until finally stumbling upon an indoor court.

"It was an international court, it was completely different from the courts we're used to playing on," as Luke recalls.

Their father remembers the event cloudlessly, as well.

"We gave the locals a $20 dollar bill and they let me use the courts with the kids," said Michael McLaughlin.

Senior Standout 

While he's noticed the adjustment in his sister's pull-up jump shot, McLaughlin has expanded his own game with a refined pull-up game.

Working furiously at getting quicker and becoming more adept at handling the ball, he's morphed into the bulwark and mainstay of George Gaine's offense.

With just three seniors on the roster, the onus is on McLaughlin to lead by example and vocally.

Leaning on a high-release jumper that gives him a bird's eye view of the rim at this level, McLaughlin went off for 31 points and 10 rebounds in the Dutchmen's 67-44 pelting of Briarcliff last week.

The rims in Section 1 are the same size as the one at his driveway on Hobbs Drive.

After starting the game 0-for-5, McLaughlin quickly caught fire.

 That art of getting off points in a hurry, which he mastered during those long and exasperating battles lost against his sister, helped mold him for games of this caliber.

Becoming a long and versatile threat, he's tasked to take the high-pressure shots and rally the team.

The arrival of the aforementioned McWilliams, a transfer via Bergen Catholic (N.J.), has lessened the pressure to score for McLaughlin.

"I give a lot of credit to Robert McWilliams," he said.

"He's been a blessing not only for me but for the team. Teams can't just focus on me or they can't just focus on him, they have to worry about both of us offensively. Now, you have the emergence of  Vic Clervil. He's been probably the X-factor offensively. He's averaging about 12 points per game right now."

McLaughlin continued, "Rob McWilliams coming in his first game and dropping 34, that was just unbelievable."

McLaughlin and McWilliams combined to score 47 points and grab 20 boards in the Dutchmen's thorough 61-34 throttling of Pelham back on Dec. 15.

The presence of his cousin, Brian McLaughlin, helped Luke adjust to meaningful minutes as a freshman on varsity.

Learning under Billy O'Shea, not only a mentor but a guy who was tough and confrontational on his understudy, helped McLoughlin take the training wheels off.

Guarding O'Shea in practice every day reminded McLaughlin that the respect had to be earned.

The two nearly came to blows on separate occasions.

 McClaughlin recalls cheering furiously for his teammate at the County Center that March, grateful for the toughness the then-senior ultimately instilled in him.

Losing to Walter Panas in last year's Section 1 semifinal, a game in which McLaughlin played all 32 minutes and bagged a vital 3-pointer in crunch time, was a humbling experience.

The one man machete that was Tournament MVP Tim McCauley knifed through double teams.

The way in which the crafty guard blew by defenders and attacked the rim made watching the game film via MSG Varsity that much more of an exasperating, agonizing experience for McLaughlin.

Watching Panas outduel Eastchester in the championship reminded McLaughlin of the end-goal and be-all of his varsity career.


Like his perpetual opponent Kai Mitchell, there are a vast array of names for McLaughlin.

Tall shooter. Big guard. Small forward. Passing big man. Versatile forward. Combination forward. All-around threat.

He knows that at the next level, he'll have to develop into more of a guard.

 This summer, when he played an integral role on Hudson Valley's BCANY team, the adjustments came into view.

 Hudson Valley annihilated tournament foes by a 33PPG margin of victory, en route to a 101-63 bludgeoning of Central in the championship.

More reliable creating his shot off the bounce and attacking with baseline drives, McLaughlin answered the call to become a leader.

Though Hudson Valley was never threatened and pressure moments were hard to find, head coach Bill Thom implored McLaughlin to take over.

This team had never before played together and several 20+ PPG scorers had to cede the spotlight to others, quickly acclimatizing to supplementary roles.

McLaughlin answered the call in the 97-73 semifinal game against Adirondack.

It was heated to say the least.

Verbal taunts were fired and stare downs were everywhere.

McGill relished the hothouse environment, bagging a long 3-pointer and staring down the bench.

Matt Ryan, the same kid who McLaughlin recalls melting his CYO team with a 3-point onslaught, was involved in a double-technical after an exchange of words with Adirondack's D'yaire Holt.

Adirondack had a little bit of Memorial Park in its game. The emotions spread to McLaughlin.

He seized an adrenaline rush when he exploded out on a fast break, drawing a foul as he levitated for a two-handed dunk.

He missed the dunk, but he made both free throws. He went on to shoot a tournament record 17-for-19 at the free throw line, driving and finding seams and drawing contact at the rim all afternoon.

"I don't know what got into me," he said.

Those competitive juices spiked when McLaughlin's House of Sports Elite AAU team pulled off an upset of a Texas-based Rashard Lewis-sponsored team in Las Vegas.

HOS was the less heralded team, one of the few squads in the tournament not sponsored by Nike or Under Armour.

Overhearing the opponent's coach lambaste them in the pre-game--drawing on about how all New York players are vastly overrated and have a sense of entitlement--provided some additional juice.

McLaughling, RCDS guard Salim Green, and Minnesota-bound Jonathon Nwankwo turned in one of their best performances of the year, scoring at will and crashing the backboards in monstrous fashion.

"I think that game gave Luke a point of reference for what we knew he could do and also what he knew he could do," said AAU coach Andy Borman.

"Sometimes you have to go out there and experience success in order to reset the bar. In that game he attacked the basket, drew contact and finished both at the basket and at the free throw line. In essence, he played like the 6-6 guard that he is."

McLaughlin averaged 20.5 points, eight boards and three assists at Tappan Zee his junior year, as the Dutchmen finished 18-4 and ranked 20th in Class A/NYS.

This season, with TZ off to a 6-0 start and cracking the state's top-15, he's averaging 22 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocks.

The Dutchmen have won an unprecedented three straight conference championships.

As the focal point of the offense, it's on McLaughlin to create and orchestrate the offensive flow even if he isn't shooting on every possession.

He's cognizant, however, that rebounding and defending will ultimately etch his name in program lore.

"He's improved tremendously at rebounding," said Frank Kelly, the Manhattanville assistant coach, former Kennedy Catholic head coach and McLaughlin's coach at House of Sports two seasons ago.

"He's rebounding and going after every single rebound is key. His want to attack the rim, these are things that he's been working on. He used to like to settle for the outside shot more often. Now he's going to the rim using his size. He's very strong, he doesn't look as strong as he is."

With championships and league aspirations circulating his mind, McLaughlin said he hasn't had time for nostalgia.

He occasionally harks back on all the day-long summer battles at his home rim and Memorial Park, recalling nights where he could barely feel his legs after countless games.

He's constantly keeping tabs on the evolution of McGuinness, Mitchell, McGill, and of course, his sister.

He got a kick out of watching Mitchell, an Iona-commit, explode for a quadruple double this season.

At the helm of the McLaughlin's support system is their mother, Lori McLaughlin. She didn't play basketball, instead learning a great deal on the fly.

"We used to kind of laugh it off any time she'd interpret the game and make suggestions," Luke recalls.

 "But she's definitely adapted. Without her, none of this is possible."

It certainly isn't hard to project the family's Christmas Day plans.

"We'll be watching the NBA games," McLaughlin said.

"Probably every one of them."