When Larry Moreno arrived at revitalized Brooklyn Law & Tech High School as a severely undersized freshman with a pure left-handed sling shot and a rare abundance of confidence, Mike Levy and Kenny Pretlow saw a tiny dose of promise.
They knew it would take some time for Moreno to fill out and find his niche as scorer and operator of offense. Time was certainly working on their side, as the ahead-of-his-class Moreno saw his first varsity minutes just a few months before his 14th birthday.
Then just 5-foot-6 and a generously listed 140 pounds, Moreno had a cartoonish look when paired up against bigger, veteran guards. Would immediate playing time be too much, too soon? Would his frail body get exposed at the varsity level?
The answer wasn't clear until the tail end of the season. Levy and Pretlow gambled with Moreno and got inconsistent results. Some nights, the hard-driving Dominican displayed comfort and maturity beyond his years--bagging 3-pointers in succession, shedding all fear of the trees in the post as he attacked the rim, soaring for rebounds, and sprawling on the floor for 50-50 balls.
Other nights, the gamble proved too risky. Moreno, who had bouts with inconsistency all season, had a couple of scoreless nights defined by ill-advised shots and well....callow freshman decision making.
There's no risk factor associated with Moreno right now.
The sophomore concluded the regular season averaging 20 points and six assists per game, emerging into one of the most prized guards in 'A.'
His 3-point shooting, shaky and inconsistent throughout his freshman year, took off in the playoffs.
He averaged 32 points, fully utilizing the scoring gifts Pretlow and Levy stumbled upon multiple years ago. He buried 16 3-pointers in three playoff games.
And a steady evolution remains.
"He's about 5-foot-10 right now and still growing," said Levy. "He'll be playing for Castle AAUY on the Adidas Circuit 16U. He's got that hunger to his game. We noticed changes in him as he started watching Kobe highlights to get hyped for games. He also loves (Russel) Westbrook. Those are his guys because like them he doesn't shy away from big moments."
Has the now battle-tested sophomore displayed a flair for the end game?
"He's had three game winners this season and elevated his game to the next level in the playoffs, leading us to the quarterfinals. Next season, we return 11 players. I'd like to think of us as a favorite to win it with Larry as the top player in A as a junior."
Longtime New York City coach Kenny Pretlow, who was railroaded at Lincoln prior to joining the staff at Thomas Jefferson, said an uptick in confidence and a natural scoring engine propelled Moreno in the post-season.
"He's improved at shooting the ball tremendously, not only threes but his mid-range game as well," Pretlow said. "He is going to go by the first defender. His innate ability to score grew throughout the season."
At only 15, Moreno is suddenly one of the more talked about guards in a city which has long carried a torch proudly for its tradition-rich high school basketball and surplus of (some overhyped) guards. While cognizant that the Felipe Lopez/Luis Flores comparisons are too much too soon, Pretlow says the end result could certainly be a Division-I recruit.
"I would say yes, he could play at the Division-I level," Pretlow said. "He should grow a little more. You need to remember, he's only 15."
A fast-growing 15, that is.
"I got a little taller and stronger and believed more in myself and the shots I could take," Moreno said.
"I always thought about something my uncle (Jonathon Delacruz) told me, which is I have to be more aggressive finding my shot and taking more shots and contributing to my team. He also told me I could never know what shots I was capable of hitting if I never took them."