JUNE 10, 2011 :
P.J. Torres is a basketball player from Westchester, albeit he doesn't fit the Westchester basketball stereotype.
If he's not playing on courts throughout Westchester County, he'll find considerable competition on some of the asphalt proving grounds just a short train ride away.
Torres said playing at Rucker Park, "The Cage" at West Fourth Street, and "Baby Rucker Park" at 145th street has helped add a layer of toughness to his game. Torres knows he has to prove himself when he enters these parks. A high-quality performance or scoring binge under pressure can earn you credibility rather rapidly.
Playground ball, as Torres cited, has helped him polish a patented behind-the-back transition move and a couple of flashy passes he managed to pull off in live action this winter.
Torres averaged 20.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 4.7 assists while guiding New Rochelle to a Class AA/Section 1 semifinal berth his senior year.
After a long and unpredictable recruiting process, Torres penned with Duquesne University. Sold on the authentic value of Ron Everhart's coaching style and the fact that nothing would be handed to him, Torres knew this was the right fit as soon as he returned from Pittsburgh last weekend.
"It felt I was already part of the team when I played in open gyms with the team," said Torres.
"With the way they were communicating with me, I felt like I was at home. We ran back and forth, scrimmaged, and played hard against each other. It was just pure basketball."
Very similar to the brand Torres plays in the off-season, when becomes a staple at some of the city's perennial basketball proving grounds.
Torres bolstered his stock against St. Raymond's this past season, erupting for 35 points, 14 rebounds, and six assists in a well-fought victory.
"They aren't guaranteeing anything (at Duquesne), they weren't saying I would get immediate time, which was cool," Torres explained.
"The players basically told me they don't do what a lot of these other schools do by telling you you're going to play right away to lure you in. For me, that's what caught my attention. That just shows me that when I get there, I'm going to have to fight for it and push. Nothing is going to be handed to me and I want it that way."
Torres, who plays for the Bronx-based Gauchos on the AAU circuit, earned Division-I attention following his performance at the Peach Jam tournament in South Carolina.
Busting out in transition and finishing above the rim, snaking into the teeth of the defense, and hitting the mid-range jumper with consistency, Torres' high-motor style stood out.
Hofstra, Canisius, and Rhode Island were also intrigued at Torres, who had his fair share of advocates and detractors along the way. Citing an attitude and a bit too much West Fourth Street in his game, Torres had more than his fair share of adversaries. Playing his best ball during high-pressure moments, Torres gained interest few could have envisioned at the start of the season.
"URI offered me in the summer, but they kind of faded away," explained Torres.
"I guess they had someone commit, or whatever the case may be."
Baylor expressed interest following the aforementioned 35-point explosion against St. Ray's, when Torres went at St. Raymond's Daniel Dingle with the same relentlessness he does foes at The Rucker.
In a tight battle with West Virginia-bound guard Jabarie Hinds of Mount Vernon, Torres scored 37 points. New Rochelle ultimately faltered under Mount Vernon's depth and strength on the boards.
In March, when most hotly-pursued seniors had their futures decided, Torres had his list whittled down to Duquesne and the College of Charleston. Torres flirted with the idea of prepping a year and drawing better interest.
When Torres thought about refining his pull-up game, working on foot speed and packing on muscle, taking the prep route kept sounding better and better.
Then, valuable advice from one former New Rochelle stud helped alter his decision.
Goeff McDermott, the current professional who played at Providence, advised Torres to jump at the scholarship. McDermott starred as a quarterback and a point forward alongside New Ro graduate Ray Rice during the 2004-05 season. The Huguenots would capture state championships in both sports.
"Geoff basically told me, 'if you find a school that you're comfortable with, you've got to make the move,'" Torres said.
"I realized, you can't hold back because a scholarship could always open up for another player. When I visited Duquesne I realized 'I belong here.' Geoff turned out to be right."