Monday, February 9, 2015

Mid-Major, Local Interest For Tripp, Flores, And Youthful Lincoln

Tiny Morton won eight city championships during a storied stay at Lincoln High, known mostly for grooming elite-level scoring guards such as Sebastian Telfair, Lance Stephenson, and most recently Seton Hall's wowing freshman Isaiah Whitehead.

Yet it was Morton's consistent development of Lincoln's supplementary pieces, as current Lincoln coach Kenny Pretlow was quick to acknowledge, which truly allowed the traditionally potent program to thrive.

You can't argue with Pretlow or history.

During Telfair's senior year (2004), it was bulky guard Eugene Lawrence who won MVP at Madison Square Garden. During Stephenson's junior year in 2008, it was 6-foot-8 forward Justin Greene who turned in 24 points en route to MVP honors. During Whitehead's championship, it was high-flying 6-foot-6 lefty Desi Rodriguez (also at Seton Hall) who turned out to be MVP.

The theme of developing the entire team, rather than revolving solely on star power has re-emerged with Pretlow, a Tiny disciple who helped revitalize a once-ailing program at Brooklyn Law and Tech.

 Beyond Jahlil Tripp, an athletic all-around threat and 20PPG scorer with supreme finishing ability, Pretlow now features an aggressive, hard-driving guard in Donald Flores.

Only a sophomore, Flores has displayed beyond-his-years game management ability, averaging a PSAL-AA best eight assists en route to earning the interest of Seton Hall, Providence, and Hofstra.

Pretlow likens Flores' game to former Lincoln sharpshooter Darwin "Buddah" Ellis, a shooting guard during the Stephenson era. Yet with his knack for carving into the lane, Pretlow also compares Flores' game to that of Devon Peterson (Kansas State), who averaged 17-points five assists, and five boards his senior season with the Railsplitters.

Fearless freshmen Tyler Bourne (16 points) and Paul "PJ" Pearson catalyzed Lincoln offensively en route to a recent 82-77 win over Shamorie Ponds-led Jefferson.

 Bourne has budding interest from Miami and Hofstra. His deft shooting, court vision, and the blurring speed which paces Lincoln's transition attack has been promising.

Knockdown shooter Ezekiel Charles, a senior guard, has love from Maine and Fairfield.

Person's penetration and finishing acumen has already become appealing to a bevy of Division-I programs, including Seton Hall and Kansas State.

There are countless names for Tripp.

Big guard. Point forward. Rebounding guard. Junkyard dog. Banger. High-major scorer, mid-major point guard. Work-in-progress is another name, when you consider his outside shooting.

"His mid-range game is great, his outside shot is good but if it gets better it will result in higher Division-I recruitment as we go along."

Tripp's ability to score with consistency, crash the boards and grapple for 50-50 balls over big men solidifies his overall package.

"He can be an Atlantic-10, Big East caliber player depending on his summer," Pretlow said of the Brooklyn Collegiate transfer Tripp,  who was sidelined during AAU season due to a stray bullet which hampered his leg.

"Jahlil is Mr. Do-it-all for us. He's our leader."

Quinnipiac assistant Eric Eaton, who recruited prolific 28PPG scorer Matt Scott (now a freshman at Niagara) while Pretlow was at Law & Tech, has been in persistent pursuit of Tripp. Quinnipiac has had success tapping into the local NYC market with Cardinal Hayes' James Feldeine and Bishop Loughlin product James Johnson and currently Holy Cross alum Evan Conti flourishing at the program.

The Bobcats recently penned Bronx product Gio McLean, albeit the Westchester Community College transfer was embroiled in Westchester's transcript scandal and was forced to sit out this season.

Fairfield assistant and Associate Head Coach Tony Newsom have also been hounding the 6-foot-4, 205-pound combination guard, who is averaging 12 rebounds and five assists.

 Hofstra, Pretlow said, is also recruiting Tripp aggressively. Drexel, Minnesota, Providence, Rutgers, and Seton Hall and Fordham have also expressed interest.

The skeptics surfaced well prior to the 2014-15 campaign. Lincoln graduated a considerable percentage of their offense, starting with Whitehead and Rodriguez.

With Morton taking the Newark-Jersey City turnpike to Seton Hall alongside Whitehead and Rodriguez, a callow core remained. Few knew what to expect of an unproven team rife with underclassmen.

Pretlow, the son of a Jehova's Witness and one of the most demanding and high-motored sideline coaches in the city, believed. Now the Railsplitters are 21-2 overall, 13-1 in PSAL-AA action, with unwavering championship aspirations.

And those growing pains, the migraines which inevitably surface with inheriting a neophyte-laden core of freshman and sophomores? Pretlow said they've been minimal.

"It's been a fun year watching them grow," Pretlow said. "They love to compete."

Pretlow knows plenty about growing in a short period of time.

Molded by a schoolteacher mother, Pretlow knew how to read and write by the time he was three. He skipped eighth grade entirely, never again learning at an age-appropriate level.

He fathered a son prior to his graduation from high school.

Pretlow graduated from prestigious Brooklyn Tech, then one of the most academically-enriched NYC schools, at age 15 going on 16.

By the time he was 19, he got his first coaching gig.

This occurred merely by accident.

 Pretlow had assembled a group of local neighborhood guys to compete in a Big Red tournament. The team's coach, who Pretlow said he hasn't seen or heard from since, failed to show up.

"Finally, the guy running the tournament asks, 'who's the oldest' I said 'me.' He said, 'you coach.'

Pretlow walked away intrigued. He continued his young career with Riverside, then the city's top breeder of top-flight grass-roots talent.

"I went up to Riverside exclusively, I wasn't under anybody." Pretlow explained.

"I had the eighth grade team. I had a great team. Keydren Clark, Jason Wingate, Ricky Soliver, some of my favorite players. We won about 60 straight games before we lost. Then, the next year they promoted me to 16s. Riverside did the most for me. They gave me the best opportunity.

Opportunities at Bishop Loughlin, Law & Tech, and under Morton at Lincoln followed, leading into his first year in one of the city's historic basketball breeding grounds and regal Brooklyn recruiting real estate.