Friday, October 9, 2015

Gymrat DeGennaro Wants Career To Culminate With County Center Berth

The hyped crowd arrived in droves, eagerly anticipating a new coaching regime and very much a new era in Yorktown basketball.

It was December 5, the Huskers' home-opener before a jam-packed and bi-partisan crowd.

 Teen spirit was everywhere, with provocative statements etched across student-made posters and vibrant energy circulating the gym.

More importantly, this was Yorktown vs. border-town rival Walter Panas. Pride and bragging rights and a rivalry between two of the Section's most heavily-amusing and infallible fan bases is at stake here. 

 Never has there been a lovefest between the two teams. 

In fact, during their last super-heated matchup, a war of fighting words broke out amongst fan bases. 

One crowd had to be separated from the other en route to the parking lot.

Though you can never tell by his emotions-free exterior, nobody had anticipated this moment more than Yorktown point guard Nick DeGennaro.

Then a junior, the little guard's entire summer revolved around altering the perception of an ailing Yorktown basketball program.

 The goal was to re-plant the basketball seed in Section 1's unrivaled lacrosse hotbed. 

Launching shots from beyond-the-arc and simulating quick catch-and-stick game situations, the young gun would sweat profusely well into the scintillating nights.

During the House of Sports summer league, DeGennaro unveiled his new touch during a 26-point outburst against Albany Academy.

Reeling off an individual 7-0 spurt during the waning moments of the first half, DeGennaro seized the hot hand and never relinquished it.

 Yorktown head coach Kevin Downes, then  fresh from four consecutive County Center berths at Mahopac, envisioned it as a portent of things to come.

Once possessing the rail-thin body of gumby, DeGennaro has shot up to 5-foot-11. He's gained muscle and a sense of urgency.


Back to the task at hand.

As Yorktown's loyal and ebullient student body opines, DeGennaro's no-mention on MSG Varsity's pre-season Players To Watch was a slight.

MSGV's poster boy Kevin Devaney Jr., the longtime Section 1 hoops guru, has forever canvassed "who's who" across the area. The increasingly rowdy CROP student section is not shy in letting Devaney Jr. (who is in attendance) know their feelings on DeGennaro's  "snubbing." Devaney's decision to disclude DeGennaro from elite 914 area company did not sit well. 

For DeGennaro, the sheer sight of Devaney Jr. providing on-air and social media is akin to tossing a lit match into a bucket of gasoline.

Motivation gained.

DeGennaro drops game-high 18 points. He buckets a pair of deep 3-pointers during a devilish second half run that drained all remaining ounces of fight from Panas' heart.

 He pilots the Huskers' new-look offense, whipping needle-threading passes to Yorktown's bigs and engineering the suddenly-hastened transition game. 

Statement delivered.

DeGennaro's NCAA profile will always be second to higher-tier local guards such as Ty Jerome (Virginia), Elijah Hughes (East Carolina) and company. 

Yet his NCAA stock is complete with an immeasurable intangible: heart.

"He's extremely competitive," Downes said.

"He always seems to rise to the challenge and never seems to back down from anyone. What makes Nick special is how hard he competes and his basketball IQ. He is very smart on the court, understands the situation of the moment and makes great decisions. I can really trust him with the ball and that is a great thing. He's a very coachable kid and would be a huge asset at the collegiate level."

During DeGennaro's first two years, Yorktown combined for a putrid nine wins.

 Now, as a seasoned senior, DeGennaro and the Huskes are leaning on Gold Ball aspirations.

"Finishing the season a round short of the County Center hurt because that was our goal last year," said DeGennaro, whose team collected 13 wins in 2014-15.

"So, because of this, anything short of the County Center is unsuccessful in my eyes. To win games, I don't care if I'm the one scoring more one night or assisting more one night. That's not important to me. As long as we're winning, all is good."

Immediately following the era of high-scoring 6-foot-8 forward Keith Thomas and high-rising guard Jordan Moody, the suddenly left - for - dead hoops program teetered on the fringe of irrelevence. 

When Downes arrived at the doorstep with a long resume that included various Coach of the Year awards, the mindset changed.

Even though lacrosse and football were the way of the world in Yorktown, the kid they call "Dege" valued hoops over everything.

"My Dad was a coach, he gave me the ball at a young age. I was lucky enough to have great coaches at a young age like Lou DeMello," said DeGennaro.

DeMello, who coached Rice High when they were no.1 in the country, boasting talent such as Felipe Lopez (St.John's/NBA) and Gary Saunders (Georgia Tech), has seen DeGennaro play since he was eight.

"Nicky's a player who comes from a coaching family, he's got a good understanding of the game," said Lou DeMello, once the Westchester Hawks head honcho and still a local area grass-roots pioneer.

"In between his ears, he's very bright and his basketball IQ is high. Everyone around him, when he plays, they all get better. He can get a guy the ball in the right spots. He's very good at distributing the ball at the right time and right place."

In a current day environment where the one-sport athlete is a rarity, basketball consumes DeGennaro.

"Nick is similar to a small-school guard that scores down around you, but he plays in a big-school league up north so he really plays his role," said Jamie Procino, the all-time leading scorer at Yorktown.

Procino led the Section in scoring as a junior, when high-caliber recruits such as Keith Benjamin (Mount Vernon/PITT), Dexter Gray (Mt. Vernon/SJU, Iona), Jason Holmes (Mamaroneck/Lemoyne), Taj Finger (Fox Lane/Stanford), Quentin Martin (White Plains/St. Peter's), Devon Austin (White Plains/Manhattan), Mike Kach (Carmel/UPenn), George Skrelja (Hastings/Eastern Kentucky, C.W. Post) Adrian Carvalho (Fox Lane/Southern Conn.) and Jamal Webb (Tuckahoe/Wagner) were spread across the County.

The level of talent has dropped off, significantly since then. While Section1 has produced its fair share of gamers in these times, the district-to-district public school talent level pales in comparison to Procino's Class of '04 heyday. More than ever, there are kids transferring and jumping ship to greener prep school pastures.

Partly at his gym rat mentality, partly at his willingness to play on any court, DeGennaro reminds Procino of former Mahopac standout Matt Hickey.

"Like Hickey, Nick is a scoring guard who can change a game in multiple ways," said Procino.

DeGennaro's transformation occurred during the summer of his junior season. 

With 2014 graduation claiming a slew of shooters, the Huskers bid adieu to a hardened interior presence in Ricky Corrado. The off-season blows intensified, high-scoring Luis Cartagena (then a sophomore) transferred to White Plains.

Cartagena, who led the Huskers in scoring as a sophomore, bolted for White Plains.

Turning the rudder over hard from facilitator to game manager and key scorer, DeGennaro created a formidable inside-outside punch with 6-foot-7 center Mason Dyslin.

As he started to blossom as a reliable 3-point threat on an inexperienced core, Downes gave the gymrat some ownership of the team.

It has been a wild four-year ride for DeGennaro, who has watched three different coaches utilize his game. 

One coach gave him the keys to the offense as a sophomore, but their relationship festered over an ever-changing lineup and substitution patterns.
Another coach loved his competitive drive, but understood he was just passing through (figuratively and literally) on the J.V. level.
 And the last coach? He now wishes he had another year with him.

"I think Nick is one of the top point guard's in the Section and he's hungry to prove that this season," Downes said.

"He is a true point guard that looks to get his teammates involved first. Guys know if they get open, Nick will get them the ball."

That much was evident against Iona Prep this summer.

With Yorktown thirsting for offense, DeGennaro looked to iniate offense by whipping the ball around. Yet with Yorktown coming up empty, DeGennaro opted for Plan B. Calling his own number and burying treys and pull-ups, he ended up scoring 28 of his team's 35 points.

 None were more important than his game-winning free throws, as Yorktown shut the door on a reputable program that was without the aforementioned Jerome. 

DeGennaro is anticipated to drain his 100th career 3-pointer at the start of the 2015-16 campaign.

"He'd be a steal at the D-III level because he has excellent, excellent court sense," said Aldo Redendo, who coached DeGennaro with the NY Pride on the AAU circuit.

"He makes everyone around him better. Basketball-wise, his best days are still very much ahead of him. Schools that haven't offered really need to hurry it up, he's as competitive a kid as I've coached. He gets guys the ball in the right spot. He has a unique ability in that he can take a dud and turn him into a stud."