Saturday, April 29, 2017

Battle-Tested LaBarbera Heating Up On Recruiting Market

When Avery LaBarbera began registering her presence as a daily staple at the House of Sports in Ardsley, N.Y., promise and hype and heightened expectations smothered the unrelenting gym rat. 

Blessed with a crafty handle and a vision for locating cutters, the young playmaker commanded attention.

 As Labarbera continued to whiz pinpoint passes to astonishingly open teammates, kick start the souped-up tempo fresh off a defensive rebound, and aligned her team in the offensive set, then-HOS AAU coach Nick Volchok was cognizant of the heady player he'd inherited.


 We’re talking an unprecedented brand of gym rat, the caliber of "one more game" competitor needing the basketball surgically removed from her hands. 

Since fifth grade, she's had the sustainable focus to get in a gym and launch shots until her arms gave out.

 She's a different breed--a kid who will self-orchestrate countless drills with cones and get shots up on the gun and put in skill-development work. Her pace makes Red Bull look nervous. 

On a fall night prior to the season, you might see her in the gym until the janitor threatens to shut the place down entirely.

Four years ago LaBarbera was still an evolving piece. 

Young and a bit demure, she watched guards like (former Iona stud) Scottie Machado with a hawk-like gaze. 

She was a veritable film nerd, learning the complexities and nuances of the point guard role at the next level.

The kid took to it, too, absorbing the adjustments like a Rhodes Scholar studying a new formula.

 LaBarbera fired roughly 1500 jump shots a day, developed a nose for her teammates’ tendencies, refused to place personal statistics or self-interest over the team. 

From her on-court demeanor and mentality, it's clear individual accolades are meaningless to the Empire State guard.

What you are seeing now, an incoming senior who routinely puzzles defenders as a high-scoring guard and one of New York State's top gamers, is residual effects of that labor four years ago...

A facilitator with a steadily rising jumper and dependable 3-pointer, the Harrison High guard entertained lofty aspirations before she ever donned a Huskies jersey in an official varsity game. 

She scored 13 points in her first-ever varsity game, with an "it's going to be a fun four years" echoing from the bleachers. 

Head coach Louis Kail, a stern taskmasker instrumental in nurturing LaBarbera's development, kept her working. He spoke of a young lady who "continues to get better." 

As a barreling 6-foot-5, 220-pound forward, Kail played basketball at Saddle River Day School and later at Ithaca College. 

Kail empowered his lead guard's-around all-around game during the Section 1 play and post-season.

When the spring and AAU season rolled around, the torch was passed to Volchok. 

LaBarbera called it a "blessing" to have the trust factor of both young coaches in her corner throughout the year.

“I think one of the key components is how Avery makes players around her better,” said Empire State head coach Nick Volchok, who has cultivated LaBarbera’s development for five years now.

“She’s put a lot of players in a position to be successful and thrive. When she’s around high-level players, she showcases this ability to spread the ball around and make pinpoint passes. It’s appreciated, it’s appreciated beyond our team and even by the opponent and people in the crowd. They all really get a kick out of it.”

Volchok, known for his career as a 3-point triggerman at Gorton High School, has watched LaBarbera grow from strictly a facilitator to a facilitator, scorer, and a clutch performer with a flair for the end game.

Noticing her consistent effort in practice and after hours, unrequired work, Volchok wanted LaBarbera to inherit ownership of this team.

LaBarbera said the final year of AAU has extra juice for her. She's become a bit nostalgic, knowing this is it for her on the circuit. 

This is LaBarbera's final chance to relish criss-crossing the country for high-level basketball tournaments with intensified exposure.

Every little task is done in full throttle fashion. 

You can feel the adrenaline emanating from her style of play.

 During a recent North Carolina road swing, Empire State’s Division-I prospect averaged 16 points and eight assists in four games. 

The team finished 3-1 in that tourney losing its lone game on a dreadful, hard-to-swallow buzzer beater.

Possessing a deft, yo-yo handle maximizes LaBarbera’s playmaking acumen. At the same time, it is her calming influence with the ball and IQ that helps her embrace the quarterback role.

“She has that ability to know when to push it and know when to get into the set and her numbers really reciprocate that,” Volchok said.

At age 16, LaBarbera is on the doorstep of her senior year at Harrison High, where she has helped alter the program perception while simultaneously catapulting the Huskies into the realm of relevance.

 She’s a known commodity amongst Harrison's devout fanbase and the sea of younger players. Each and every last one of them are eager to witness the ensuing trick in her seemingly endless arsenal.

 LaBarbera has eclipsed the 1,000 point milestone and garnered two All-State selections. She brings a full package of headiness, thrill factor, and a little sneaky swagger to her game.

Incorporating a pull-up jumper, a deft floater, ambidextrous passing off the dribble, and displaying an ability to connect from well beyond the confines of the arc--she is amongst the "who's who" of Section 1 and New York State guards.

In the spring and summer leading into her senior year, it’s fair to say this is Avery LaBarbera’s time so to speak. 

Teen spirit and distractions are kept to a minimum.

On the court all moments are amplified, given the numerous scholarships she's been receiving.

The Division-I offer sheets are all but being dropped on the doorstep of her Harrison Home.

 LaBarbera’s high-academic reputation and boards have enabled her to open up Ivy League and Patriot League doors.

A plethora of heavily-intrigued coaches from all across the Eastern Seaboard are steadily keeping tabs on her production rate. 

They log miles and miles, taking note of her on-court savvy without a trace of trepidation. 

They are not feeling themselves, they are not saying "oh we have a player who is similar to her." 

These coaches aren't here to see her just to evaluate and report back to the head coach. It's clear. They want her to sign with them and sign today if she is willing.

Canisius, Holy Cross, Fairfield, Bucknell, and a bevy of others have offered the 5-foot-5 guard. On April 26th, LaBarbera picked up on offer from UMBC. Prior to that, NJIT plunked down an offer sheet.

Iona and Brown have also been in active pursuit at one point or the other. It seems Canisius, one of LaBarbera’s several potential Division-I destinations, appears to be the front runner in LaBarbera's recruitment.

Of course, given the hothouse nature of recruiting and the promises that change day-by-day, it is a process.

An active presence in LaBarbera's recruitment has been Canisius assistant Megan Shoniker

Known for an illustrious 1,138-point career (including 158 3-pointers and 301 assists) at Rhode Island, the Rochester native starred at Greece Arcadia High School. This has a unique resonance with LaBarbera.


 Shoniker essentially was Avery LaBarbera herself dating back 11 years ago.

Shoniker left a similar stamp at Greece Arcadia, one which draws parallels to the legacy Labarbera is carving at Harrison.

Prior to LaBarbera’s emergence at Harrison, Shoniker was a high-scoring and multi-dimensional guard who left her imprint on New York State history.

Though slightly taller and a bit more of a score-first threat in her heyday, Shoniker plays notably similar to LaBarbera.

 Yet the offensive variety, the spurt-ability and knack for getting hot in a hurry, it’s there.
If you take away the generational gap and a few differences in their style of play... Shoniker and LaBarbera are as close as you get to hoop twins at this level.

Which role does LaBarbera envision for herself at the collegiate level?

“I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win,” LaBarbera explained.

“I have to learn their system and then master it. I have to continue to get better and really enjoy the whole ride. I see myself at as an impact player at all of those schools recruiting me. Ultimately, I want to be a program-changing point guard.”

Cerebral qualities and mindful awareness—that ability to see the play unfold before facilitating it—is what puts LaBarbera on a different pedestal as a Section 1 point guard. 

For Empire State Hoops, trust and team cohesion and open lines of communication among teammates have been bedrock principles under Volchok's system. Empire State has its shooter and certifiable stretch four in Ardsley's Danielle Scapperotta.

"She can shoot it from anywhere, Scappy's handle is unbelievable and she's got tremendous footwork," said LaBarbera of her teammate.

"Scappy is just like her name--scrappy. She's the most athletic girl I know. She's got a pull-up game, gets fast break layups, and she's by far our best defender."

Fordham-commit Kaitlyn Downey has spent the last sixth months proving herself as one of the most talented, multi-dimensional players to ever emerge from the Rivertowns region. 

Downey, who also eclipsed the 1000-point milestone as a junior, has been a pivotal source of offense and an integral piece on the blocks. Downey displayed a deft shooting touch during the aforementioned Deep South Classic in Durham, N.C. 

On the night she scored her 1,000th career point against Eastchester, LaBarbera torched the Eagles to the tune of 33 points.

Whether it was bagging timely 3-pointers, hitting nifty floaters, turning in transition buckets with ease, burying 20-footers amid draping hands and close-outs, her Division-I skill-set was on full display.

She morphed into a mad disher that night, pulling off ambidextrous passes in traffic and creating issues for the Eagles throughout. Her play captivated the gym, even earning plaudits from the cross-town competition.

“I think one of the key things which propels Avery’s game and her overall performances is the fact that she plays with a chip on her shoulder,” Volchok said.

“They all say the same thing. If she’s taller, we're talking about the BCS conference. Thethe truth is, she makes up for it in a variety of other ways. She’s a kid that you just can’t replace for five years. She has special talents where she’s just put a lot of players in position to be successful. Because she takes care of the ball so well, because she has a great plus to minus ratio in terms of assists, her off-the-dribble playmaking really astounds.”

Whichever program LaBarbera does end up at, Volchok envisions LaBarbera carrying the influence of a “face of the program” type of player.

 She has the potential to leave a memorable mark on an institution and continue a basketball livelihood beyond college.  That's how much he thinks of his go-to player, who he will bid adieu to at the culmination of this AAU season.

“She’s always been a leader on the court and a role model off of it, which is pretty special. You just don’t see that too much these days. She’s offering kids advice, she’s supporting our 15U kids, she’s helping out eighth graders. She’s just so selfless and humble not only as a player but as a high-character person in the community."