Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Mid-range Minded Felder To Lead Saunders


If a picture is worth 1,000 words, video is worth perhaps 10,000 jump shots.

At least that's how Saunders High senior Derrick Felder could see it.

Felder, one of Section 1 and New York State's top-tier guards, enters his final varsity campaign 52 points shy of the 1,000-point milestone.

 He's established himself as a candidate for Westchester County's Mr. Basketball.

Developing a consistent mid-range game and increasing his range beyond the arc has been instrumental in accelerating Felder's scoring.

"I watched a lot of our videos and noticed that as the competition rises, the defenders are getting bigger," said Felder.

"You have to be able to shoot over defenders, you have to get the shot off quicker. Watching this, it motivated me to get into the gym and put in the extra hours. Mid-range is my bread and butter right now."

Playing against former Yonkers studs such as Isaiah Ward (Palisade Prep) and Chris Ranglin (Gorton) this summer reminded Felder of just how important an 18-footer and beyond is at the next level.

Saunders, which lacks a J.V. program, now contains a wealth of sophomores.

They'll sustain the uptempo attack, albeit they must master the youth movement.

The team will feature supplemental pieces for the hard-driving, seasoned Felder in Anthony Miller and Nick Nolan.

Last year, Miller proved himself as an all-conference performer and key piece in Saunders' hallmark transition game.

 A gritty defender, Miller is capable of shouldering the offensive weight should Felder catch a double team or box-and-one.

Nolan is also one of the team's better athletes and pest defensively. He had his hands full in several games last season, guarding Rickey McGill of Spring Valley (now at Iona) and Mount Vernon's Marco Morency.

With deft long range shooting and the skill-set of a guard, senior forward Vaughndrus Lenon could present matchup issues.

"We're pretty young this year, we've got a lot of sophomores," said Felder.

"A lot of sophomores are going to have to play like seniors."

Felder has inherited some ownership of this year's team.

A better way of saying it, is that he's earned it.

He's the kid who scored 27 points and tore down 19 boards against Cardinal Spellman as a sophomore.

He's the kid who lit up Carmel for 37.

Felder scored 18 of his 22 points after a foul-plagued first half in Saunders' season-ending loss to Mount Vernon, in the 2015 Section 1 semifinal at the County Center.

It's fair to say he has a price on his head throughout Section 1.

"It's definitely going to be different in April, when I walk into that gym and realize for the first time in four years, Derrick Felder won't be here," said Saunders head coach Anthony Nicodemo, who along with a young staff has helped alter the perception of the once-laughingstock Yonkers program.

"He's not the easiest kid to say goodbye to. D.J. has led our team in points, assists, rebounds, and steals in three years. You just don't see that very often."

Previously, you didn't see Yonkers teams thrive very often.

Nicodemo, like many who have entered Yonkers before him, had a handful of people persuading him not to take the job.

The words of warning were constant.

Conventional wisdom would indicate that with the rate of transfers, lack of facilities, budget issues, and lack of feeder programs, Yonkers wasn't exactly the easiest city in the world to play.

Or the easiest city in which to win or win consistently.

You see, Yonkers was once a place where young talent went to all but sign their own basketball death warrant.

The city has had its fair share of memorable players.

 Guys like Bernard Toone, Joe Willis, Michael Linden, and Devon "Kobe" Baker are wistful reminders of what could have been.

Along with Saunders' revival, other schools have added credibility to the once over-congested, under-talented city.

 Former Ardsley forward and 1,000-point scorer Sean Stahn has quickly built up the program at Palisade Prep.

Stahn captured a Section 1 championship in his first year with the program.

And so the city again carries a torch proudly for hoops.

"I think if anything we've had to do things a little bit differently," said Nicodemo, who orchestrates a 12-month program which includes summer leagues and consistent weight room work.

"Sean is the best example of coaching against change, getting the kids to buy in early and really changing the culture, basketball-wise."

Coaching has played a significant role in the shift.

"Dedicated, intelligent coaching is the most important factor, along with parent support, leading to any success in scholastic sports," said longtime reporter/editor (The Journal News, Daily Voice) Danny Lopriore, a Gorton graduate himself.

"Yonkers sports teams enjoyed success in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s as coaches like the DeMatteo brothers, John Volpe and others led programs for more than 20 years. The other factor that leads to long-term sports success is the continuity of local youth sports feeder programs and the connection to high schools, evident in Mount Vernon, Ossining, Irvington boys and girls basketball, Yorktown lacrosse, Rye football. Yonkers suffers from that right now, as local programs lack funding and support."

Saunders hopes other schools follow suit.

 Like any other program, they are cognizant you can't change the world by the weekend.

How's this for progression?

 In 2003, Mount Vernon dumped off Saunders in a wall-to-wall 115-25 pummeling.

It was the blowout heard around the Section.

After coming within 10 points of the reigning Section 1 champs and perennially potent Knights last season, Nicodemo's strength of schedule is all in preparation for Mount Vernon.

"Everyone knows how much Bobby (Cimino) has done with that program," said Nicodemo.

"It took basically an NFL pro and a three-quarter court shot to beat them (in 2013). Everything we do all year is in preparation for what we hope is a game on Feb. 28th at noon in the County Center."

Nicodemo and his assistants can recall the natural slashing ability and fearless attacking in Felder when he was a stringbean-slim freshman. This was before he could even shoot a lick.

 Now he's one of the Section's most prized guards, a game-changer who you can't leave open from 20-feet or beyond the confines of the arc.

"He takes a loss about as tough as any kid I've ever coached," said Nicodemo.

And though Saunders' staff and teammates consoled Felder following the Mount Vernon loss, they've reminded him the road ahead doesn't get much easier.

As the reigning undefeated league and city champs, Saunders will open up against New York power Long Island Lutheran on Dec. 6.