Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Windback Wednesday: To See One KP coached game is to have seen them all

October 2014:

To see one Kenny Pretlow-coached game is to have seen them all.

He saunters into the gym with a hat matching his shirt, a prideful portent of his Brooklyn-bred flair.

When game time arrives, Pretlow morphs into a methodical madman.

 Arguably the most entertaining, furiously relentless sideline coach in New York City, Pretlow simply can't help himself.

"When you step on the court for Coach, you have to play and have the mindset that you're the best player out there," said Matt Scott, the dynamic 6-foot-3 guard who averaged 28.4 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 6.3 assists under Pretlow at Brooklyn Law and Tech in 2013-14.

Even fall league games have become akin to bloodsport for the demonstrative and hyperactive Pretlow.

He frees no ref of the traditional earful. He grants no player a free pass. Pretlow stops at nothing to glue home a point. Even if it means gym-stopping jawing and high-pitched mini-rants, Pretlow's disciplinarian-esque tactics are ready to erupt at any millisecond.

"His halftime speeches are all high-energy, all motivational, all deep," said Juan Ramos, a high-scoring off guard at Law & Tech last season.

"When he's pissed, you'll know it. That's when he closes the door and he's on you to box out. He's on you to play better defense. It's all just to get you better. Coach Pretlow, he wants to see you working and improving. Constantly."

Pretlow stands pigeon-toed, leaning to his left, laser-focused on every facet of the game.

 Having aggressively stalked the sidelines the last 20 years, a gym-to-gym journey-ride that's rendered him a household Brooklyn name, city game knowledge cascades from Pretlow's lips at a Tom Konchalski-like rate.

"He sees everything, I mean everything," Scott said.

"If you're not doing something right, if you're not working as hard as possible, you're going to hear about it. It's like he's so in shape and never tired on the sidelines. He's out there making sure everyone is doing their job. If you're not doing your job, he's screaming."

Pretlow's motivational tactics know no limitations.

"KP gives the best halftime and the post-game speeches, really acting out the parts and making analogies the kids can get," said Jets head coach Michael Levy, a Pretlow understudy who likens him to a basketball father figure.

"One of my all-time favorites is when he was getting on our point guard to be tougher with the ball. He said the kid was like 'Mr. Softee Ice Cream Truck.' Then, KP pretended to be driving a truck while humming the Mr. Softee theme song. It gave us all a good laugh, but more importantly our point guard understood the analogy. Needless to say, he toughened up."

Scott feels the Law & Tech program is indebted to Pretlow.

From readying his team with a daunting out-of-conference schedule to the high-horsepower flow of his practices to his around-the-clock scouting, Pretlow has helped alter the program's basketball culture.

Don't let those sideline eruptions and terse mentor-to-pupil chew-outs fool you. Pretlow is demanding and confrontational, albeit there's so much more to his DNA as a coach and nurturer of young minds.

"KP is a father figure to these kids," Levy said.

"Behind the scenes, he really is compassionate and truly loves his players. He pushes them to expand their minds beyond just basketball. He encourages them to read books, to do mind-stimulating activities. It is a beautiful thing to watch as he truly molds these boys into men."

Now taking over for Dwayne "Tiny" Morton at perennially potent Lincoln High, which has produced countless Division-I players and professionals (see Marbury, Stephon or Stephenson, Lance for more information), Pretlow had a handle on the city game earlier than most.

No one can ever understand the full extent of Pretlow's basketball odyssey.

What began as a childhood hobby has become a livelihood for the seasoned coach.


Raised in the rough-and-rugged Farragut Projects, highly-competitive games existed anywhere from a stone's throw to a Subway ride away.

Pretlow and his closest friends made daily treks to the parks.

They plied their trade at the Bushwick Projects, Riverside Park, Lafayette Gardens, and occasionally courts in the crime-infested, drug-addled Marcy Projects.

"I just played ball, that's what I did. Marcy used to be a little rough because if you won, they might chase you home," Pretlow said.

And while Pretlow has many amusing anecdotes from his childhood, few paths have been similar.

How's this for growing up fast: Raised by a schoolteacher mother and a Jehova's witness father, Pretlow knew how to read and write by the time he was three.

Partly at his mother's ability to pull strings at the elementary school and partly at his passing of a placement test, Pretlow entered the first grade at age three.

 He was a level ahead of his class in seventh grade.

 Circumventing eighth grade altogether, Pretlow went straight to ninth grade.

He fathered a son before he graduated high school.

Pretlow graduated from the prestigious Brooklyn Tech at 15 going on 16.

And still today, mysteries regarding the timeline of the newly-minted Railsplitters coach remain unanswered.

"I'm sorry, but I don't give out my age," Pretlow deadpanned.

With his mother stressing academics and his father driven by a Godly view of life, basketball was Pretlow's lone escape from all the structure.

He made the varsity at Brooklyn Tech as a sophomore.

 It triggered fits of disappointment in his father.

Arriving home from his first-ever varsity practice, Pretlow recalls his father scoffing at his freshly-laundered jersey.

 He immediately demanded Pretlow quit.

 That was it.

"He felt that his standing, as a member of his church, was that I wasn't allowed to have as much freedom as the other kids," Pretlow explained.

"He felt me being on the team and traveling around would influence me in the wrong way. We butted heads a lot."

Student Of The Street Game 

Though Pretlow's high school career was over before it started, his affinity for the game wouldn't wither. He kept the ball bouncing on the AAU circuit.

Pretlow become a mainstay in various streetball tournaments, playing under Rudolph Anderson at Big Red basketball. He played in leagues with the NY Housing Authority and St. John's recreation.

Tournaments such as Citywide, Yesteryear, and Each One Teach One became rituals.

A true student of the game, Pretlow's gym-to-gym journey intensified as basketball became New York's unrivaled pastime.

High-level prospects were scattered all across the city.

Pretlow was quick to cite Walter "The Truth" Berry and Stan Diamond as two of the most transcendent players of his heyday.

"Streetball back then wasn't as explosive as it is now, but you had guys that could play. You go up to Gaucho Roundball and you'd see Kenny Smith and Mark Jackson, you would see the Flemings. Bobby Hurley used to come down from Jersey. To me, it was more competition," explained Pretlow.

"Wheelchair Classics were huge back in them days. You had every borough, and the top player from every borough playing. The Bronx guys used to come down, you had Pearl, you had Kenny Hutchinson."

Pretlow's first coaching gig occurred merely by accident.

He was 19 years old, playing at Big Red tournament with a group of local neighborhood guys he assembled.

 Their coach failed to show and the tournament director had no time for it.

"Finally, the guy running the tournament asks, 'who's the oldest? I said 'me.' He said 'you coach.'

Pretlow walked away intrigued. He immersed himself in the city's traditional breeding grounds, coaching and evaluating talent.

Rather than prolonging his academic success at college campuses, Pretlow got his undergraduate degree in the hothouse gyms across the five boroughs.

He became involved with Riverside, which had waves of the city's top-flight talent.

"I went up to Riverside exclusively, I wasn't under anybody," Pretlow said.

"I had the eighth grade team. I had a great team. Keydren Clark, Jason Wingate, Ricky Soliver, some of my favorite players. We won about 60 straight games before we lost. Then, the next year they promoted me to 16s. (Riverside) did the most for me. They gave me the best opportunity."

A new opportunity opened up at Bishop Loughlin High School.

After coaching the J.V. for seven years, Pretlow felt he was ready-made as a varsity head coach.

The tune changed when the legendary Ted Gustus, a Canarsie product and shooting guru, swooped in.

Pretlow coached and learned under Gustus, who re-charged the pulse at Nazareth High during Pretlow's high school days.

Three years later, the varsity job again opened up. Pretlow felt he had the inside track on inheriting the keys to the kingdom.

Loughlin passed up on him.

"To this day, I think they made a mistake," Pretlow said.

Two nights after learning he didn't get the job, Pretlow received a phone call from Morton.

"I heard about how they screwed you around over there," Pretlow recalls Morton saying.

The former LIU-Brooklyn guard, Morton then pitched the opportunity of working under him at Lincoln.

A new era unfolded.

Lincoln Life

It happened every game without fail.

Lincoln's extravagant 6-foot-5 guard Isaiah Whitehead finds sky-rising 6-foot-6 lefty Desi Rodriguez drifting around the key.

 Like a quarterback lobbing up a fireball to his go-to receiver, Whitehead floats up a lob pass near the basket.

Rodriguez levitates above two defenders, plucks the ball with both hands and crams an emphatic dunk.

The sizzling 1-2 punch of Whitehead and Rodriguez, now at Seton Hall, piloted Lincoln past Thomas Jefferson in the PSAL 'AA' championship at Madison Square Garden.

Whitehead is the latest in a lineage of guards, elite company which includes Lance "Born Ready" Stephenson, Sebastian Telfair, and Stephon Marbury.

While Morton tends to harvest new and top-shelf talent,  grooming the supplemental pieces allowed Lincoln basketball to prosper.

"One of the things I learned under Tiny was that he developed the whole team," said Pretlow.

"There might be a lot of times guys think about who was there and what kind of talent was there. You knew, Bassy (Sebastian Telfair) was the guy. But it was (former St.John's guard) Eugene Lawrence who was the MVP in the Garden that year (2004). Lance's year ('09), Justin Greene had a 24-point performance in the Garden. Even Desi wound up being MVP in the Garden during Whitehead's championship. Tiny really got the most of his secondary players. He made sure that the whole team was being developed. Not just the one guy that we knew."

Pretlow said the Railsplitters' identity won't change.

Preparation-wise and in regard to X's and O's, he expects a similar system with a similar end product.

Acclimatizing to a youth movement and various new faces, Pretlow understands there's a long and arduous road ahead.

"We'll still be doing a lot of what Tiny did. He built the program," Pretlow said.

"I'm not going to just come in there and say 'hey, this is how we're going to do things.' I'm still going to follow the blueprint that he set. It's not really that big of a difference."

Pretlow will sustain his close ties with Morton, now at Seton Hall.

 Morton helped Lincoln become Brooklyn's most prominent program. He's also been a scrutinized figure. Recruiting allegations surfaced throughout Telfair's senior season in '03-04, inviting swirling controversy.

 Pretlow recognizes what Morton has done for the community.

"Tiny doesn't get enough credit," Pretlow said.

"You go down to Coney Island and you see people all over wearing Under Armour hoodies, Under Armour jackets. He really has given back in a major way."

The Last Scott

Few coaches in the city possess the same clout as Pretlow, who doubles as a referee.

Few have as short a leash.

 Even if his top scorer is engineering a personal 7-0 run, one turnover or  ill-advised shot results in an instant benching.

While Pretlow coached extraterrestrial scorers such as Keydran Clark (NCAA's leading scorer during a storied stay at St. Peter's) and prep-to-pro phenoms such as Telfair, his four-year assignment empowering the aforementioned Scott (now a freshman guard at Niagara) may just be his masterwork.

Scott arrived at Law & Tech, previously ACORN, with the physique of Gumby and a lack of confidence.

Scott was a quiet kid who displayed flashes. Yet he was often deferring too much for his own good.

 Pretlow discovered a potential pull-up specialist in Scott, a left handed shooter possessing enough scoring acumen to thrive at the 'A' level.

During a four-year transformation, Scott went from a demure freshman to a Division-I ready senior leader.

Pretlow hounded him, holding him to a sky-high standard every step of the way.

"His first year on varsity, I called him a 'Scared Sophomore," Pretlow recalled.

"As a junior, I challenged (Scott) by saying, 'you don't want to take the big shots. You don't want this pressure.'"

Pretlow noticed a monumental change in Scott, the summer leading into his senior season.

With the Jets' pre-season competition ramped up, Scott was constantly putting up 24, 25, and 26-point performances.

 His stock exploded when he dropped 32 on Thomas Jefferson in a summer league game.

Scott's buckets binge continued through the long grind of winter, as he knifed through double teams with relative ease.

He was getting to the rim and slithering through tight spaces. He was leaning on his pull-up game and creating for his teammates.

Scott announced his arrival when poured in 43 points during a non-league game against Monsignor Scanlan.

 Pretlow discovered a mentality change in his go-to guy the week prior to the season.

 The convincing moment occurred in the locker room, before practice.

 "Coach, I want to be a Division-I player," Scott said, the determination and sincerity etched across his face.

At his Pretlow's urging to attack the rim more, Scott evolved into one of the city's elite scoring guards.

A rare breed in today's scene, Scott did not play AAU. He spent more time in the gym while committing to endurance and running workouts.

Though a late bloomer on the recruiting agora, a process which saw him wait and wait and wait for a Division-1 offer, Scott's stock erupted during the stretch run.

He poured in 22 and 32 respectively, as the Jets navigated a murderer's row back-to-back against Lincoln and Christ The King.

"His whole confidence level changed when he understood, 'I really can't be guarded,'" Pretlow said.

"I was so happy for that kid. I know the work he put in that summer, 400-500 jump shots a day. His confidence level was just off the chains."

While Scott evolved into the alpha dog Pretlow and Levy envisioned him as, Ramos developed the hot hand.

The Jets' supplement to Scott, Ramos authored a shooting spree that helped lift Law & Tech out of the tunnels of 'A' obscurity.

Brooklyn/Bronx Brotherhood

Pretlow's competitive friendship with Wings Academy basketball coach Billy Turnage is a testament to his unbridled passion for the city game.

The two tend to chop it up for hours and hours and hours.

"We talk on the phone like girls," as Pretlow admitted.

 Everything from a press break to the best pure shooter of their heyday incites a thorough dissection and heated debate.

Their friendship has done nothing to dampen the competitive spirit between the rival coaches.

Pretlow is constantly trying to one-up his buddy, and vice versa.

Both coaches will school each other on the outcome of each game and chastise or commend each other's game plain.

They'll each point out a deficiency as quickly as they'll heap praise on each other.

There's no bullshitting between the two of them, no phoniness.

 Not a sliver of sugarcoating after a deflating or soul-sucking loss.

This is a brotherhood built on honesty and support and competitive nature.

Pretlow was sprawled across the couch of his Brooklyn home the other night, when an interview with Derek Jeter caught his attention.

 Jeter, on his farewell tour, told a sea of reporters that he speaks with Michael Jordan every so often.

As Jeter noted that Jordan often reminds him that he's got six rings to Jeter's five, Pretlow had to laugh.

"That's why I always tell Billy, I got eight rings--you ain't got none," Pretlow said.

The trash talk and creative taunting never tails off.

The Wings coach has heard one of Pretlow's favorite punchlines time and time again.

"I just called the Garden," Pretlow deadpans to Turnage.

"They said there will be no WINGS served in the PSAL championship."