Sunday, November 13, 2016

Nathaneal Jacks Up Calusa In ACD Victory, Brown Says His Troubles Are Over

Calusa Prep's Nathanael Jack has a tremendous green light with head coach Derrick De La Grana. During Saturday's thorough 72-45 thrashing of Arlington Country Day at The Rock, it didn't take a Rhodes Scholar to see why.

Jack's deadeye shooting was the engine that propelled Calusa's wild 16-0 first half surge. Jack, a Canada native who grew up watching shooters such as Brady Heslip, ignited the spurt with a nifty up-and-under move in traffic.

He absorbed the contact for the foul, and completed the traditional 3-point play. On the ensuing possession, Jack drained a deep 3-pointer.

 Just like that, Calusa Prep fended off all first game jitters. With Calusa holding a significant second half edge, Jack buried a face-guarded three-pointer, took a hit, and completed a four-point play.

He wound up with a game-best 20 points, energizing Calusa during the most crucial of bucket-demanding moments.

"Nate shoots like that all the time in practice," said teammate Nathan Mpendy, who has a wealth of Division-I interest and recently visited West Virginia.

"Our team has a lot of trust and we know that someone gets the hot hand, we're going to keep feeding him the ball."

ACD, which is currently in rebuilding mode, struggled following an impressive early start.

The team had its entire roster thoroughly cleansed from last season, as former coach Shaun Wiseman elected to take his basketball program to The Conrad Academy.

 The growing pains surfaced, particularly after the fresh-faced squad buckled and crumbled under the early surge.

They certainly have the balance and international flavor, but ACD might take some time to find its identity. First-year coach Charles Cunningham, he of the well-traveled and impressive Division-I coaching resume, will look to revitalize a once powerhouse under the late Rex Morgan.

"We've got some guys who come in from different parts of the world and international teams," he said.

"We've got some guys who have talent but talent doesn't necessarily translate into production...I'd be better able to assess us after about 6-7 games."

Jack's early fireworks were a necessity.

Both this potent run, both teams looked lackadaisical. There was a sudden gap in their interior, as 7-foot-1 Center Zach Brown caught an inadvertent shot to the eye. This relegating him to the bench, where he was patched up by a trainer before returning.

"We start off featuring Zach and we try to get him the ball early," said De La Grana, once the gritty little guard who starred at Florida Christian High in Miami and later played professionally and Santiago, Chile.

"The rest of the guys have to be ready to play. He's going to attract a lot of double teams, triple teams. Everybody's going to have to be ready on the catch-and shoot or to be ready to make a play and that's what we did today and it helped us out a lot."

The mercurial Brown, who is committed to St. John's, did not re-enter the game until the second half. When he returned, his presence and feathery left-handed hand garnered notice.

Brown, who has been working to establish his right hand more, has also been working on keeping a straight, distraction-free path in front of him.

The oft-troubled recruit was arrested on robbery charges in May.

 A Miami Beach native, Brown recently transferred from Elevation (Sarasota, FL) Prep so he could complete his probation sentence.

On Saturday, Brown's performance was free of any fits of anger or anti-referee outbursts.

"You are looking at a new Zach Brown," he said with a smile.

"I know I needed to make adjustments and make changes in my life. I'm a changed man. It's a new team and I'm with new people and I could start a whole new life here (at Calusa)."

In Brown's previous life, which took place on the rough-and-tumble, crime-laced sections of Liberty City, adversity surfaced.

One of the reasons Brown chose St. John's is because he established a deep connection with head coach Chris Mullin. Mullin is a classic example of someone who has emerged from adversity unscathed, having overcome alcoholism during his lengthy NBA career.

"I've been to jail, I've been on drugs, alcohol and everything like that so basically we had a sit down for the first time and we talked about bouncing back from that lifestyle and leaving it for good," Brown said.

"He opened up to me and I opened up to him. knows what I've been through. I can't just go with anyone who can say, 'Ok you've been through this, you've been through that.' He talked to me about what his situation was and I felt it was similar to me. Ever since we've had a great relationship."
Brown cited SJU assistant Matt Abdelmassih as another major figure in his support system. Both he and De La Grana have been instrumental in helping him keep his focus and continue on as the reformed Zach Brown.

The senior has made conditioning a major focus.

"On both sides of the floor he attracts a lot of attention," De La Grana explained. "We're trying to teach him the game a little more, get his IQ up so he knows what plays to make. We've got to make sure everyone around him is ready and get him better everyday. He's been doing that so far, he's been great for us."