Thursday, February 19, 2015

Uno En Uno With: Luke McLaughlin, Tappan Zee Basketball

ZS: A lot of emotion heading into this County Center Sectional semifinal. First and foremost, you want the W and to erase any lingering memories of last year's loss (to Walter Panas). Also a battle for Rockland Royalty between familiar faces, Rickey McGill and Kai Mitchell, who you've played with and against countless times tracing back to youth league days. How do you describe this opportunity?

LM: It's a very exciting time. I'm very fortunate to have another shot to play in the Final Four at the County Center and hopefully this time we can past the semis. I've played against Rick/Kai since I was little so to be able to play against them on this big stage is incredible. They're excellent players and it's going to be a war to try and beat them.

ZS: What will be key to gutting out a win? How do you contain a team that's on this type of surge?

LM: I think in order to beat Spring Valley, we just have to play together as a team. Our coaching staff is amazing and I have full faith that they will prepare us so well to succeed. At the end of the day, it's up to us to execute. During playoffs, it's not as much Xs and Os--it's really who wants it more. It's easier said than done but hopefully we can do it.

ZS: How has Rob McWilliams' play sparked the team and simultaneously given you freedom to hunt for your shot less and get better looks?

LM: Rob has been unbelievable this year. I mean just to start his varsity career here at TZ with 34 points against one of the best AA teams (Clarkstown South) is unheard of. It has only been uphill from there since that performance.

He's lived next to me all my life and I'm extremely proud of the growth he's had this year as a player and a leader. He's additionally taken a lot of pressure off my shoulders to score on the offensive end. His skill set makes it very difficult for teams to focus on me and vice versa. So, we work well together.

His performance in the fourth quarter against Harrison was just a reflection of all the hard work he's put in and his growth throughout the season. He took over the game and it was nice to just give him the ball and watch him succeed. Without Rob, we would not be in this position.

ZS: Against Harrison, which scratched and clawed valiantly until the end, did it ever occur that this could be it? How did you channel that aggression into your play down the stretch?

LM: During the Harrison game, I felt very confident that our team would fight through all the adversity we faced and end up on top. I try not to think too much about the game potentially being my last and just live in the moment.

I think we felt pretty comfortable, despite the run they made in the second half. All the challenges we faced throughout this season played into that. During the season, we had our fair share of heartbreakers and hard lessons, but we learned and grew from those situations. 

I think as a young team, getting all those mistakes out during the regular season really helped us out in the long run.

ZS: Scoring 33 points, 16 of which came during those final eight minutes of the Pearl River game, you played possessed. Which crucial factors helped you go into kill mode?

LM: I just knew, as a senior leader on this team, I had to step it up and get us through the game. 

It was really a tough environment and I wanted to take as much pressure off our young team as possible. I just didn't want the season to end. 

There was a lot of people in our community pulling for us to win and I didn't want to let them down.

ZS: How did Mickey Reeves' death affect the team and the team's play?

LM: Mickey's death really impacted our team, our school, our community. It's been a very emotional past couple of weeks. 

Mickey's courage and strength has inspired our team and we try to honor his bravery by playing for him. The girls team, now making a 'Cinderella' like run, are also playing inspired basketball for Mickey. 

We all know he is watching over us. Hopefully, both our teams can get that Gold Ball for Mickey.

ZS: Any lingering motivation from last year's County Center loss?

LM: The game against Panas will always bother me. They were I greet team but I constantly look back at it and think what I could have done better. 

Thankfully, I get a second crack at it and hope to not have the same regrets as I had following last year's loss.

ZS: This is going to be one of the biggest stages of your career, on the Section's unrivaled proving ground. 

Again, in storybook fashion, it is against the same kids who you played alongside at Memorial Park during those hot summer days. How can you put this into words?

LM: I think its just an honor to play against such great players. I'm excited but noting to not make this game too big. I just want to take it all in, the atmosphere, and all that stuff and enjoy it all. 

Last year, playing in the County Center was pretty nerve racking for me. I think this year, I can just soak everything up and have fun. It's going to be a great game and I'm looking forward to it.

ZS: Any pre-game rituals?

LM: I always pray before every game and think of a person who I can play the game for. 

I never try to hype myself up too much. I try to stay calm. We perform best when we're calm and focused.