Wednesday, December 10, 2014

White Plains' Cartagena Quickly Adapting To 1

When Luis Cartagena transferred from Yorktown to White Plains, a move that had been anticipated since last year, the 5-foot-10 junior knew a sudden basketball metamorphosis would be necessary.

Cartagena's propensity for the one-on-one game, a knack for a three-dribble, go-to-the-rim counter move and elbow jumpers made him a perilous off the ball scoring guard during a seesaw sophomore season at Yorktown.

At White Plains, the lefty was better suited for the point guard position.

So he spent the entire summer locked in a gym, working to develop a yo-yo handle and increasing his shooting range via the shooting gun.

 Now, his transformation is in full effect. The explosive guard is still known for those mad dashes to the rim.

He's still got the spurt-ability, getting off points in clusters and engineering personal runs. That trait of Cartagena's game surfaced during a late-season tear at Yorktown.

 That green light still flashes right before his eyes during crunch time, when the team is thirsting for a big bucket.

In the Tigers' season-opening 86-63 drubbing of Suffern, Cartagena poured in a game-best 22 points.

With the Tigers' roster thoroughly cleansed from last season and Cartagena displaying a newfound knack for whipping the ball around, he's ready to assume game-management responsibilities.

"Just understanding the whole position was the biggest key to the transition," said Cartagena, who devoured highlight reels of Steve Nash, Kenny Anderson, and Chris Paul into the wee hours of the morning this summer.

"Coach (Spencer) Mayfield is doing a tremendous job helping me increase my basketball IQ and really being more aware of everything around me. The key (to Tuesday's win) was coming out with great energy from the start until the end of the game. We just wanted to play a fast-speed game tonight, getting the ball up and down the court and utilizing the speed we have."

That much was evident early on, as the Tigers put the Mounties in a gaping ditch.

 Cartagena had help from C.J. Layne, who scored 21 points and was a key catalyst during the Tigers' first quarter buckets binge.

Leaving Yorktown for good ultimately created confusion.

The general consensus was Cartagena was  White Plains-bound solely to stabilize the backcourt alongside 6-foot-7 outside shooter Jordan Tucker, a high-profile Division-I recruit who has interest from UCONN, Indiana, and Syracuse.

The plot changed when Tucker bolted for Stepinac at the 12th hour, Batman suddenly leaving his prospective Robin hanging, as it was perceived.

And while Cartagena called bidding adieu to Yorktown "hard," his game continues to grow in this next chapter.

"It was very tough leaving Yorktown because I grew up there and became close with a lot of people, especially all of my teammates," said Cartagena, who was in attendance for the Huskers' season-opening win over Walter Panas.

"There are things in life you have to do to move forward. You can't look back or say, 'what if I had stuck around?' It doesn't really work that way."

Becoming more of a student of the game and learning his teammates' tendencies has acclimatized Cartagena to the lead guard role.

Mayfield, a known defensive tactician, has helped him understand the right spacing and timing on the defensive end, an area of the game where Cartagena vows to improve.

"Coach Mayfield took my game to the next level," Cartagena said.

"He's showing me little tricks that will help me lock somebody up. He's an amazing basketball coach and I can't wait to learn more and more about the game."

The Bronx-born Cartagena caught flames at the opportune time last season.

 A 29-point eruption at Hastings, in which he knocked down 15-footer after 15-footer en route to snapping an agonizing 10-game losing streak, kick-started the streak.

A 26-point showing against Lakeland followed, as he shredded through the Hornets.

 Cartagena's flashes of athleticism were evident in that performance, as he snared man-sized rebounds.

 In school that next day, several Husker football players came at Cartagena with a recruiting sales pitch.

Then, with Yorktown holding onto paper-slim playoff hopes, Cartagena lit up Peekskill for 31 points and 10 rebounds, getting to the rim all night in a memorable win.

With the hype at its crescendo, Cartagena scored 11 of Yorktown's first 13 points against Panas, a tight loss that featured a unique Cartagena v.s. Tim McCauley theme in the first half.

Both players went at each other in one-on-one fashion, an electrifying duel that paced two ultra-rowdy and ardent fan bases.

 In the end, McCauley scored 26 points and Cartagena tailed off in the second half, evoking double teams.

Moments like that, Cartagena said, have created lingering motivation.

"I worked all summer for this," Cartagena said.

 "The coaching staff is very well experienced and we've got some talent that people really don't know about."

Saturday would be an opportune time to show them.

White Plains will face reigning Class B champion Woodlands, at the annual Harry Jefferson Showcase I White Plains.

The Falcons feature First Team All State guard/forward in Jamil Gambari and an experienced core.