Wednesday, June 24, 2015

With Mental Moxie, Louisville's Rozier Could Be Surprise In Tonight's Draft

Since former commissioner David Stern implemented the age rule, blockading the jump directly from high school to the NBA, the league hasn't exactly lost any youth.

A plethora of freakish freshmen have gained poise, experience, and a measure of maturity from that lone year of college, prep, or overseas pro ranks.

The 2015 NBA draft features much of the same.

 Nine of the first 15 projected picks are freshmen. Several reek of more potential and promise than polish and poise.

A number of NBA teams are forced to gamble with upside over instant impact.

As this select core of teenagers vaults into the top percentile of the nation's wealthiest people, they must grow up fast.

They must adjust to a faster, more physical game. They must get acclimatized to the wear-and-tear of an 82-game grind. They must shed all traces of tremor.

 Established veterans, you can bet your bottom buck, will be burning to expose them.

A potential sleeper in this year's draft is Louisville sophomore Terry Rozier.

A 6-foot-1, 190-pound combo guard with an aggressive approach, high-motor, unbridled defensive energy, as well as instincts and composure beyond his 21 years of age, Rozier is an intriguing prospect for a variety of reasons.

Chief among them would be Rozier's cerebral toughness, a propensity to snatch rebounds and play a bit bigger than he appears.

Rozier developed into a more prolific scorer on crafty surges to the rim.

Jumping at contact and converting turnovers into buckets in end-to-end fashion, Rozier's scoring average catapulted to 17.1 PPG, fourth highest in the ACC. Sneaking through the driving lanes and connecting on difficult, hard-to-guard and low-percentage shots certainly heightened his stock.

The supreme questions surrounding Rozier, as he dips his feet into the cold testing waters of the NBA?

1) Is he a true point guard? 2) Can he become a sturdy defensive backbone at the highest level the world has to offer?

Despite these uncertainties, Rozier's maturity and status as an elite-level athlete have never been in doubt.

"He likes to play fast, he likes to run that matchup zone, I'm looking for him to bring a lot of energy out of the gate," explained Elev8 Director of Basketball Development/NBA trainer Cody Toppert, who ran Rozier through a string of workouts in heavy draft preparation.

"He's got a 6-8 wingspan, a 38-inch vertical leap. He can contest shots without getting too close to guys. He can base you into a bad dribble jump shot. Those are his biggest attributes."

While final exams culminated in May for Rozier, he's spent the weeks leading up to tonight's draft studying, studying, and studying away.

No Adderall necessary, given Rozier's tuned up focus.

The communications courses were suddenly replaced by situational aspects of the NBA game.

Like Siddhartha, Rozier spent time alone searching for truth.

He developed an insatiable hunger for answers. He's learning. He's finding out why the Chris Paul-DeAndre Jordan tandem is so efficient in the pick-and-roll, why they average so many points per possession.

Rozier went to work at breaking down team concepts and patterns, busting out his mental notepad throughout the 2015 NBA Finals. He watched admirably as Lebron snaked through a middle pick-and-roll, unveiling an aesthetic left-handed dish.

Right there is another department in which Rozier has worked to improve: ambidextrous passing acumen.

He's an elder statesmen in this year's draft, with experience and a noted mental fortitude that trumps many of the young bucks. There are however, several ifs.

If his jumper becomes more consistent, if he can process himself into a reliable pick-and-roll option and pressure the basketball at the same rate he did at Louisville, Rozier will emerge into a steal in the late-20s selection.

Boston and Chicago have expressed interest in Rozier, though there's a chance he'll fall to Brooklyn at 29. He'd supply needed backcourt depth for the Nets, who must discover if he'll function better at the point or off the ball. 

Months of training, development, rigorous tests and tireless work have been applied in this entire process, for Rozier and the other soon-to-be millionaires.

Long disucssions with agents, trainers, and middle men have consumed monstrous percentage of cell phone energy.

Months of workouts, both private and public, have played a tremendous role in this process. Endless comparisons to current and former NBA players, some bending actuality just a bit, have smothered these prospects throughout this tiring, taxing, and eventully rewarding grind.

Whether Rozier's mental toughness and experience sets him apart in a freshmen flavored draft remains to be seen.

Friday, June 19, 2015

AND 1 Looking To Go Grassroots In Return

Once purely the flashiest streetball attire of the 1990s, And 1 is on the verge of a triumphant return.

The product rose to prominence in the 1990s, emblematic of the streetball culture. The original white t-shirts were indicative of the flash, pizzaz, and trash talk sprinkled on blacktops across America.

They were to be worn strictly by those with game, those containing enough silky-smooth handles and moist jumpers and the hiked up defensive aggression to pull off the one-liners on the back.

The graphic t-shirt brand skyrocketed in popularity. An abundance of those with game steadily began flaunting their gear. While the slogans and trash talk gave And 1 an identity and a unique swagger, the shorts and cutoffs and kicks and socks would soon follow.

Stephon Marbury, once a prodigious schoolboy talent out of Coney Island's fabled Lincoln High, emerged as the company's first spokesman.

At the time, Marbury was thriving as a hard-driving, deft passing guard blessed with a killer crossover. The muscle-bound guard formed a blossoming 1-2 punch with Kevin Garnett.

They were two of the league's prominent stars, representing a promising youth movement in Minnesota. An ego battle changed the course, with the internal strife eventually setting the two apart.

The And 1 product drove deeper into the NBA scene, with commercials featuring Latrell Spreewell and a host of other NBAers of that late-1990s heyday.

 The And 1 mixtape, featuring iconic asphalt legends such as Rafer "Skip To My Lou" Alston and The Professor, solidifed And 1's pure streetball presence.

Now And 1 is taking a different approach, establishing a rapport with the NYC prep scene.

"They seem to be changing their approach from the streetball concept, they're going more into the grass-roots circuit, trying to alter their image," said Rob Phelps, one of the city's most lethal scoring threats during his Nazareth High heyday (2,477 career points) and currently the head coach of Bedford Academy in Brooklyn.

"They were really into the whole streetball concept when they emerged. There was the white t-shirts, there was the sneakers. That was their foundation. It's a whole different concept now."

Bedford, an academically-enriched and guard-geared program moving up to the PSAL-AA ranks following a 20-win campaign in A, is stoked about a partnership with the household name brand.

"Our focus here at Bedford is academics and doing things the right way," said Phelps, who operates a 12-month program that includes team camps and Scrimmage Wars.

Phelps makes team workouts a livelihood, doing everything in his power to sidestep the AAU process.

"We've been looking for an opportunity like this for a while. It has a lot of resonance with me because everyone sported And-1 attire during my day. It was the go-to product if you played ball. They had Steph (Marbury) representing them. They had Spreewell. They had (former Orlando Magic guard) Darrell Armstrong. They even had my man (former Providence teammate) Austin Croshere representing them."

And 1's resurgence occurs during a time of ascension for Bedford. They return one of the most unheralded, prolific guards in the city in Anthony "Mook" Munson, a Division-I talent identified by harassing defense.

During the 2014-15 campaign, Munson's game levitated during heightened moments against stiffer competition.

He scored 25 points, tore down eight rebounds and had four blocks,  taking home MVP honors of the Francis Lewis MLK tournament. During a semifinal game against Springfield, the 6-foot-3 Munson had 18 points and ripped a team-best nine boards.

Beyond Munson, Bedford returns a young nucleus, including another defensive catalyst in pesky Anthony Gibbs. Both have played significant varsity minutes the past three seasons.

Romello Ford, a smooth left-handed guard, showed promise. The trio of Munson, Gibbs, and Ford has formed a basketball clique, having played together since youth days with the Staten Island Ironmen. This upcoming season will be a culmination of roughly 10 years playing together, this time against the city's top dogs.

As is par for the course, Bedford will gear up for the grind of the summer with Dean Street. A number of the city's premiere powers--Lincoln, Christ The King, St. Raymond's, and Wings Academy to name a few--will compete in the annual summer event.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Cerebral Tuttle Ready For Next Level

Watching this year's NBA Finals, Northern Iowa product Seth Tuttle has taken sharp note of Cleveland's Matthew "Delly" Dellavedova.

Delladova's smothering defensive pressure, teary floaters, ruggedness, acumen in the pick-and-roll game, and knack for sprawling on the ground for 50-50 balls has vaulted the Saint Mary's product into cult hero status.

Now an unlikely supplementary source to Lebron James, the Australian-born "Delly" has generated mega-headlines and hype on an international scale.

 Tuttle is not the least bit surprised.

Having twice played against "Delly" in college, Tuttle noticed a cerebral energizer, capable of dictating the game flow with or without the ball.

Dellavedova's integral ingredient for success, a high basketball IQ, has paralleled Tuttle's career.

At Northern Iowa, the 6-foot-9 Tuttle was hyper-efficient, shooting a scalding 63 percent from the floor and knocking down treys at a 43 percent clip.

By making reads few bigs can pull off, including key decisions during amplified pressure, Tuttle's in-game know-how is akin to Dellavedova.

"How he (Dellavedova) approaches the game is how I would approach it," said Tuttle, who averaged 15.6 points, 6.9 boards, and 3.3 assists en route to Associated Press Second Team All-American Honors.

Beyond leaving his mark across the stat sheet, Tuttle was a vocal presence and a dependable one-man support system, a leadership-heavy veteran on which UNI ate off of.

 A hardened work ethic, which saw him pack on 20 pounds after all but camping out in the weight room this summer, helped as he catapulted UNI to the national spotlight.

On a team rife with sharpshooters, Tuttle wasn't just another option from beyond the arc.

 He was the sole orchestrator of UNI's perimeter assault.

"I got more accustomed to making the right reads," said Tuttle, who doled out a career-best nine assists against South Dakota State back on December 28.

A major selling point of Tuttle is the low-risk factor. A pick-and-pop threat who can space out the floor as a four-man, Tuttle never dipped under 52 percent during his four years at UNI.

As a senior, he twice turned in games of 9-for-12 and 6-for-8 FG shooting, including a 10-for-12 performance.

While the future is as unpredictable as his past has been eventful, the man who helped catapult UNI to Top-25 national status is thinking NBA first and foremost.

He doesn't bother scouring the mock drafts for his name, or weighing his assessments and evaluations amongst other four-men of his make-up.

Tuttle refuses to engage in mock draft and website hype, especially with much of the noise emanating from self-anointed experts who weren't actually present at any NBA workouts.

Tuttle has had workouts with the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, L.A. Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, L.A. Clippers, Portland Trailblazers, Atlanta Hawks. He earned the most positive reception from Atlanta and Dallas.

With one final workout slated for the Bobcats, Tuttle will trek from South Florida to Charlotte on Tuesday.

Heading into his senior campaign, an uptick in workload was integral in Tuttle's transition to go-to-guy.

"We just killed in the weight room all summer," Tuttle recalled.

 "With bench press, squats, power lifts, and a variety of other workouts, I was able to put on size and really pack on muscle."

Unsung and vastly under-recruited out of Sheffield, Iowa, Tuttle's biggest attribute may be the perpetual chip on his shoulder.

His teammates describe him with words such as "Warrior" and "Beast" and "Monster," though his court sense, calming influence with the basketball and know-how may ultimately determine his career path.

"Seth's basketball IQ is the best of any four-man in this draft class," opined Elev8's Cody Toppert, who has worked out Tuttle and a bevy of others in Elev8's Pre-Draft.

"He's got enough size to play in the NBA, but he brings a unique skill-set as a perimeter player with tremendous passing ability."

In addition to preparing Tuttle physically, Toppert has helped Tuttle play with an added dose of confidence.

Shooting the ball more effectively from the outside, refining his handle and taking on different reads has steadied him as he continues to build a portfolio as a diversified, multi-dimensional draft prospect.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

O'Neale Impresses In Pre-Draft Workouts

As a bone-thin elementary school kid, Royce O'Neale leaned on grand illusions of becoming an NBA talent.

 Mesmerized by the manipulative moves of Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, Lebron James, and a host of others, O'Neale's lust for the game has only blossomed.

Ten years and a 10.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.8 APG senior statline later, the Baylor product's childhood NBA dreams no longer appear far-fetched.

At 2015 Elev8 Pro Day, the 6-foot-6, 215-pound forward displayed considerable versatility.

Previously undiscovered thleticism took many by surprise.

Workouts with the Warriors, Rockets, Spurs, as well as others, have showcased a largely unheralded and multi-layered weapon blessed with deceptive athleticism.

 Scouts have also stumbled upon the massive and Wolverine-like 10-inch hands of O'Neale, the unique trait mastered by the Spurs' Kawhi Leonard.

Those monstrous hands have been implemented well beyond the arc.

O'Neale has grinded away at piling on range, launching straight-away three-pointers and treys from the angles and corners for hours at the Village Academy School in sun-baked Delray Beach, Fla.

 It's not a pure stroke or a quick release, as O'Neale totes more of a set shot.

A notable uptick in consistency and heightened confidence after knocking back jumpers in succession has given O'Neale credence in the NBA circles.

Having long been enamored by the play of Lebron James, O'Neale has stressed the value of adapting to several positions on the floor.

Propelled by Elev8's Director of Basketball Development Cody Toppert, O'Neale has solidified his new focus.

Polishing up his handle, shooting a different variety of shots, and improving his ball handling through a more complex playbook,  O'Neale understands the power of the professional transition.

"There's nothing better than being versatile," O'Neale explained.

 "It gives you an advantage. Versatility has definitely evolved over time with the guard position.

Right now, I'm working at getting stronger and more physical and being able to knock down multiple shots. I'd like to be that defensive stopper who can guard a number of different positions."

As a strong-bodied guard, increased defensive tactics would give O'Neale the upside of a glue guy.

Toppert was quick to cite the deceptive athleticism and "sneaky explosiveness" of O'Neale. Capabilities at guarding multiple positions would give him a glue guy's upside in the NBA.

"He could be this year's Tyler Johnson," said Toppert, referencing the hyper-athletic Miami Heat guard, who went undrafted out of Fresno State in 2014.

"He's an undervalued prospect coming in, even though he's from the BCS conference. He's a mismatch. His passing in the pick-and-roll is something he didn't get a chance to showcase at Baylor. He's a bulldozer. He can take a smaller guard to the post and go to work."

A desire to work harder surely has the lofty schoolboy dreams morphing closer into reality.

Longer, more sweat-soaked hours, and a new commitment to fitness has helped him show out in NBA workouts. Though he admitted to battling a case of early jitters, the confidence and motivation O'Neale gained as one of two seniors during Baylor's 24-9 campaign has materialized.

"He shoots the ball at a much better rate than people think," said Toppert, referencing O'Neale's 45.6 field goal percentage.

"He can shoot it with a high rate of consistency."

He also shows up with a high rate of consistency, avoiding any multi-game ruts or spurts of stagnancy during his final season at Baylor.

Pushing players through painstaking workouts, applying innovative and methodical tactics to increase the skill-set has become a livelihood for Elev8's core of basketball triners.

"I was very impressed with how Pro Day went," said Elev8's Ganon Baker, a world class basketball guru with an arsenal of moves and fundamentally sound tactics.

"Cody Toppert did an outstanding job along with our staff to put it together. To have that many NBA teams in was remarkable. I was very excited to give these players the opportunity to shine."

Can't Knock The Tuttle

During an illustrious career at Northern Iowa, Seth Tuttle inserted his name in myriad categories across the program books. A double duty threat who authored unprecedented offensive efficiency, Tuttle averaged 15.5 points, 6.9 boards, and 3.3 assists during his senior year at

"Seth has an extremely high basketball IQ, the offense at Northern Iowa ran through Seth Tuttle," Toppert explained.

"The knock on Seth, however, is that he has a lack of strength and athletic ability to play the four in the NBA. His ability to make in-game reads and his versatility, particularly his ability to pass the basketball can and will help him at the next level."

Toppert continued, "We're talking about a First Team AP All-American here. He knows how to play the game."

He could play in the NBA, as ESPN's Jay Bilas publicly opined.

The multi-layered forward would need to pack considerable muscle onto his 6-foot-8, 240-pound frame should he bang with the behemoths and jumbo rim protectors of the NBA on  a nightly basis.

The court sense, the savvy during tense moments, and the ability to spread the floor with deft long-range bombs has kept the NBA aspirations intact.

During Tuttle's four seasons at Northern Iowa, his shooting percentage never dipped below 56 percent. He was again the picture of precision in 2014-15. As the focal point of every foe's scouting report, Tuttle decimated defenses to the tune of 63 percent field goal shooting.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Life Lessons In NBA Training Taught At Elev8

Lil Wayne's "Let The Beat Build" pumps vociferously through the speakers inside the built-in, 94x50 court at the D-Plex in Coconut Creek.

The man once synonymous with high school basketball in Kentucky, Darius Miller grapples through discernible fatigue while launching a series of 20-footers.

The music is cranked up a notch, mirroring the intensity which only the waning stages of a workout can necessitate.

Miller continues to let fly a fusillade of deep jumpers.

A sea of onlookers, with Elev8 Ganon Baker Basketball emblazoned on their shirts, paste star struck eyes on Miller.

Miller's form won't waver, the motion of his wrist and his release point steadied.

 Critics once pegged the lack of a deep jumper as the notable knock in Miller's game, albeit the issue seems rectified just about now.

Sweat cascades down Miller's XL white t-shirt profusely.

The 2011 SEC tournament MVP at Kentucky and the state's Mr. Basketball of 2008, Miller's role has been reduced to supplementary piece the last six years of his career.

A bruising and perilous scorer, blessed with Wolverine-sized hands and the build/athleticism blend of a tight end, Miller continues to fire in shots.

Rebounding and doling out passes is Cody Toppert, the professional basketball trainer who has diligently propelled him through three painstaking workouts this afternoon.

One of few homegrown products to play for head coach John Calipari at Kentucky, Miller was an integral piece on the Wildcats 2012 NCAA championship team.

Miller was simply a 10PPG scorer, he of the knack for floating above defenders and crunching home lob passes from Jeff Teague and Doron Lamb, though his role went well beyond that.

Miller was the vital veteran presence on a squad laced with callow freshmen.

 He was there for direction, praise, and the occasional earful that Coach Cal needed him to provide.

The glory of that championship is well in the rearview mirror.

Miller has yet to return to that stage of basketball nirvana.

Miller's hard-to-guard arsenal, underscored by a natural ability to bulldoze smaller defenders into the paint, vaulted him to local hero status in tiny Maysville, Ky.

 The road to sustained life in the professional ranks hasn't been as easy, with ditches and detours along the way.

In late November of 2014, Miller was cut from the New Orleans Pelicans. It was the first time in his life he'd been "cut," so to speak.

 For a guy who won a state championship and NCAA championship and garnered countless MVP and personal accolades along the way, it could be considered the considerable setback.

 Though it may have initially dented his psyche, Toppert's work helped Miller discover an inner X-factor.

There was no question, Miller wanted his second chance in the NBA. He could have weighed his professional stock overseas, penning a six figure deal without even glancing in the rearview.

With the help of Toppert, known for molding NBA draft prospects and fringe players for the rigors of the 82-game schedule and playoffs, Miller's NBA focus hasn't faltered.

At the D-Plex, sources of motivation are hard to find.

Distractions seem overwhelming.

There's a sparkling outdoor pool bordering the gym.

A quartet of scantily-clad women smack a volleyball around in the back entrance.

With the chlorophyll-green hibiscus plants and adorning the property and the white Range Rovers and souped-up BMWs stacked behind each other like dominos, there is a sense of South Florida prosperity to the joint.

Whether it is in-your-chest defensive pressure or excessive hand-checking, Toppert will not let Miller's focus wither.

Toppert, while pushing him through three hard workouts alongside Ganon Baker and Tony Falce, has helped smoothen over some of the mental aspects with Miller.

Using analogies and original motivational adages to hammer home his point, Toppert has also reminded Miller of the priority list he must subscribe to.

Miller now understands it. He's cognizant that he must hit corner three-pointers.

He must fight through sweat-soaked times and surf the chaos of intensified pressure. He must be a reliable source for knock down duties during those waning moments. He must make fitness a workaday commitment and more importantly, a life style.

If he adheres to these, Toppert reminds him, he'll be capable of turning a 10-day contract into an eventual 10-year contract.

As the music intensifies, the bass kicking in, so does the one-on-one workout. Heavily contesting Miller's shots and providing draping pressure, Toppert (Cornell's second all-time leader in 3-pointers with 237) ensures that every bucket must be earned.

"We've been applying drills like that to keep (Miller's) motor up the entire 50-60 minutes," said Baker, a world renowned NBA skill development guru, with clientele such as Lebron James and Kobe Bryant.

"Miller's heart rate is up. He's getting transition work. He's getting defensive mobility work. He's getting cuts, he's getting contact."

Molding the physical and mental toughness of young minds is Elev8's Tony Falce.

Possessing the build of a bar room brawling behemoth, Falce has helped push Miami Heat big man Chris "Birdman" Andersen out of his comfort zone.

 Falce's system has helped propel Andersen, once the introverted kid who toiled into obscurity. Initially failing to utilize his 6-foot-10 body to his advantage, Anderson has revitalized his career in the form of former CBA to NBA cover boys such as Ben Wallace and John Starks.

Incorporating the right footwork and manipulative post moves and awareness to his game, Andersen fled from the journeyman lifestyle.

No longer entrenched in a town-to-town basketball odyssey, including stops at Blinn Community College, The IBL, and the D-League, Andersen surfaced as a key cog on the 2013 NBA champion Miami Heat.

Once a 3-point triggerman at Cornell, where he and a core of highly-touted recruits passed up bigger offers to alter the Ivy League program's culture, Toppert's initial passion has evolved into a livelihood.

If the pressure of Ivy League academics seems overbearing, try playing for then-coach Steve Donahue.

Compliments do not come easy under either the coaching staff or the recruiting class with which Toppert emerged. Being able to handle excessive criticism in positive fashion, having the mental fortitude to withstand hardass discipline, which many confuse as "pressure," is essential for day-to-day survival in an environment which forever altered the perception of a once-downtrodden Ivy League program.

Thin skin, insecurities, and a failure to buy into team concepts would get you exposed in this system.

The militaristic meticulousness of the coaching staff, along Donahue's hardened style, were essential ingredients in resuscitating a program that struggled mightily prior to Toppert (Donahue's first recruit) and his class' arrival.

A fiery little guy with unbridled adrenaline surfing through his veins, Donahue was hard but fair.

 His no-nonsense style helped Cornell thrive, years after taking a back seat to Fran Dunphy's balanced, hot-shooting UPENN teams.

"We flat out learned the game," said Toppert, touching on his experience with Cornell's culture shift.

"We learned the habits necessary to win. He wanted us to create the future of Cornell Hoops and there was no option but to outwork everyone."

He continued, "Shootouts were all-out wars and we took some lumps and long bus rides, but the work paid off. Coach D's genius game planning kept us in game's against talent-rich programs."

Imploring him to realize the respect must be earned, Donahue had a simple understanding with his most reliable 3-point ace. Toppert would have a titanic green light with Donahue, as long as he didn't disappear or put together a clank fest on big stages.

Toppert answered, burying 7-for-10 from beyond the arc against Carmelo Anthony, Hakim Warrick, and Gerry McNamara-led Syracuse.

Prior to this, Toppert seized the hot hand in a nationally televised home-opener against Georgia Tech, connecting on 4-of-7 from beyond the arc.

 Toppert poured in 21 points against New Mexico, pulling-and-popping from way beyond the arc.

 Fran Fraschilla, the head coach of New Mexico at the time, did not recruit Toppert despite his stature as one of the state's highest all-time scorers, lethal for his spurt-ability.

For much of the 03-04 season, the tandem Ka'ron Barnes and Toppert were the second highest scoring backcourt in the nation.

The first? St. Joe's (Pa.), a then-sleeper team featuring pitbull guard Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, both of whom went on to the NBA.

Donahue could be confrontational, demanding, ultra-tough and even personal. Toppert values their relationship to this day.

If not for Donahue and the unparalleled work ethic he ingrained in his first recruiting class at Cornell, Toppert's all-or-nothing style may have never surfaced.

"What I learned from (Donahue) never left my mind, my game, or my willingness to work," Toppert said.

 "It's no surprise the tides turned and Cornell became an Ivy League powerhouse."

The NBA may seem like a cushy and care free lifestyle. There is fame. There is  fortune.

There is shoulder-rubbing with other celebrities across the world.

 There is a surplus of cash and freedom with money like few other professions. There are high-horsepower Range Rovers and Bentleys and the mansions, many of which seem well-suited for MTV cribs.

Baker and Toppert's work ensures that the workaday grind, as well as the high-order commitment to the physical, mental, and skill-set aspects of the NBA don't wither.

Stay tuned for more on NBA Pre-draft.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Legends Don't Die They Only Become Immortal: The Rise of Carcaterra

Growing up in Yorktown, Brian Carcaterra never hit the local sports memorabilia shop or devoured sports highlight reels.

 Despite his status as a young athlete, Carcaterra had no real preferences for professional teams.

His boyhood sports heroes were not a remote click away.

 Iconic figures, as he acknowledged them, were not found in historic stadiums in the Bronx or sparkling 30,000+ seat arenas in Manhattan or at super-sized ice rinks across the Hudson River.

They were simply a leisurely 5-mile drive from his Yorktown home.

The product of a legendary lacrosse bloodline, Carcaterra spent his childhood years traipsing the sidelines of Charlie Murphy Field.

Possessed by the exploits of original program poster boys such as Rick Beardsley, Roy Colsey, Tim Nelson and myriad others, Carcaterra was hooked rather rapidly.

There was a unique allure of the cross-town rivalries, the annual Murphy Cup battles, the high-powered offenses and the wowing saves. It was during these embryonic stages of Carcaterra's youth development that he discovered his future livelihood.

While Yorktown was a rather safe community, a barrage of bullets were frequently sprayed at the short, bone-thin kid’s dome.

Those bullets were in the form of lacrosse balls.

 Carcaterra was tasked with (he didn't have much of a say in the matter, as he would explain) stymying and stoning hard rips from his older brothers, Paul and Steve Carcaterra.

Entrenched in long, tiring, mentally-draining, and trash talk-sprinkled battles with his older brothers and their lacrosse clique, Carcarterra was never allowed to dip out early.

The older horde launched shots at him all afternoon, testing his grit.

The plan was to expose this cocksure, loudmouth little brother.

 Deeper than that, however, the objective was to ready him for the challenges of the next level.

As his performances gained their respect, the older Carcaretta boys ramped up the task.

Brian was forced to dispatch the helmet and gear, using his bare hands for stops and deflections.

The hobby became more of a job following Brian's fifth grade Christmas.

A lacrosse stick was waiting for him under the tree in Santa-red wrapping. That, as he recalls, was truly the turning point on his lax timeline. He went to work at safeguarding the cage.

Goaltending helped channel the deep and pent up adrenaline and endless supply of teenage energy flowing through Carcaterra, who developed a deep interest in professional wrestling.

His lust for lacrosse grew after he witnessing a chills-inducing, 21-stop performance from Hopkins goalie Quint Kessenich during the 1987 NCAA championship.

An understudy was born.

Absorbing constant guidance from his older brothers, accepting intensified hounding and constructive criticism,  the intangibles for a mental savvy were instilled in "Carc."

Everyone had Carcaterra pigeonholed as too tiny to be effective on the grand stage.

There was no indication that he'd see quality minutes or even earn a scholarship at Hopkins.

 Once the underachieving, no-scholarship freshman buried on the depth chart, Carcaterra materialized as the nation's most electrifying and multi-faceted netminder.

His knack for dazzling open field moves enabled the high-risk, high-reward recruit to beat guys downhill and create.

Carcaterra masked pebble-like size with deceptive athleticism and a blurring fleet of foot.

Gambling and leaving the cage wide open, there was a thrill element to his game.

He captivated crowds with the pizazz, flash and fancy dishes. Carcaterra's loose style of play taxed his coaches’ patience at unprecedented levels.

 Quarterbacking the defense, Carcaterra's rapid-firing motor mouth seemed incapable of shutting.

The road to a stellar senior campaign did not come without ditches and detours.

Having arrived at Yorktown his freshman year 105 pounds soaking wet, Carcaterra was already well-schooled on battling adversity.

The lack of size and strength at such a position forced him to outwork the rest.

At Hopkins, his role increased following a rollercoaster freshman season.

Carcaterra was forced to shed patterns of inconsistency during his sophomore campaign.

Blue Jays goalkeeper coach Brian Holman demanded four quarters’ focus.

And though Holman cited a blend of “spectacular saves” and a habit of “letting in some goals he shouldn’t have,” Carcaterra was lasered in when the stakes heightened.

During a string of 11 games with 15,000+ fan attendance, Carcaterra registered a .635 save percentage.

Fending off bigger, dieseled-up trigger men gunning to exploit his leafy, 5-foot-8 frame with high-arching blasts, Carcaterra would prolong his career in the MLL.

Carcaterra is quick to acknowledge that his path was dictated by Yorktown’s knot-tight culture.

His development was pushed and propelled by lifelong friends Rob Doerr, Dom Fin and John Harrington, cornerstone wing men.

Doerr was a stabilizing force alongside Carcaterra at Hopkins, a three-time All-American as a lockup man.

 He wound up authoring a professional career with the Baltimore Bayhawks of the MLL.

Harrington was a three-time national champion and two-time All-American at Princeton.

Fin ascended to near-GOAT status at Syracuse, with a First Team All-American nod during his apex as a middie.

Without this troika, Carcaterra’s rapid ascension from unknown to nationally-blown never happens.

“Yorktown is a special place, filled with special people,” Carcaterra said.

“Anytime I have ever been in need there is always someone from that community that has helped. Further, my parents have been the best parents we all could have asked for. Super affectionate and supportive, not overbearing and could care less if we won or lost or if I played great or sucked.”

We caught up with Carcaterra this week, canvassing his lacrosse evolution, college days, and his brother Paul’s career as an ESPN lacrosse analyst.

ZS: How did lacrosse shape both yourself and your brothers and how does the game continue to keep the competitive juices flowing within the family?

BC: It’s been everything for us. From a holistic point of view, it has
 rounded us all out in such a balanced way. I would say beyond everything, the game gave me a fiercely independent spirit.

ZS: Most memorable career moments?

BC: A few that stand out for me:

1997- starting as a freshman in the Carrier Dome against Paul, who was the captain (of Syracuse) along with Rob Kavovit.

1998- beating No.1 Maryland at Homewood in front of 15,000 fans and playing to the best of my ability

1999- opening the season by beating No.1 Princeton at Princeton. They had won the previous three championships and only lost two times in three years and never lost at the stadium we beat them in. I made a save with one second left to win the game.

2000- losing to Syracuse in the Final Four. Although I played OK, it was one of the toughest, hard-fought games I have ever been in.

1998- playing in the World Games for England and breaking the FIL record for saves against USA (31)

ZS: How about the experience of watching your HS program celebrate a 2014 state championship? The prestige of the Yorktown program isn’t the same without that shiny NYS championship souvenir…

BC: It is tougher and tougher to win championships in New York State and everywhere else for that matter. Their accomplishment this year matches all the wins we have had in the past.

Being a part of the ride and being close to this team throughout their journey was special. Each player and coach attended my Mom’s wake, I bought the team pizza before the state semi-final game, I support them anyway I can. I am truly a fan. I particularly liked this team and its make up. Tough, athletic, confident, great leadership… I wouldn’t have wanted to have to beat them in the tourney. They wouldn’t be denied. 

Beyond all that, they are just great kids that come from great parents. The fabric of Yorktown lacrosse is as strong as ever. It’s the people, not the wins and losses.

ZS: Can you get a free 30 seconds with Paul during that NCAA championship week?? I’d imagine his time is limited then.

BC: Paul always makes time for me.

ZS: What are some of the changes you’ve witnessed in lacrosse from your time at Yorktown to current day and is the game growing across the country? Is it evolving outside of the traditional hotbeds? Will it get bigger going forward?

BC:I miss the takeaway check and I haven’t seen a goalie make 20 saves in God knows how long. Technology and athleticism has made it a more offensive game.

ZS: As a goalie at Hopkins, you were known as a risk-taker, never afraid to leave the cage. How did that style benefit the team and what about your game between the pipes separated you from the rest?

BC: I grew up dreaming about being a great lacrosse player, not just a great goalie. My idols growing up were guys like Dom Fin, Ric Beardsley, Bill Dwan, Roy Colsey, Tim Nelson etc. I had pictures of those guys playing on my walls, not Joe Montana or Magic Johnson. I didn’t want to be just a goalie. I wanted to do everything my heroes did.

ZS: I imagine Paul and Steve fired a lot of shots at you during those backyard battles. How much did that prepare you for a career and when did the games start? When did the action intensify?

BC: They bought me a goalie stick my 5th grade Christmas. The previous summer, they shot on me all day and all night in a goal made out of PVC pipe by our plumber neighbor. It wasn’t until that Christmas morning that I discovered there is a goalie stick (they made me get in there with a short stick).

I never got to a play another position. They enjoyed shooting on me and having their friends come over and do the same thing. I wouldn’t wear equipment and just beg them to shoot as hard as possible on me.

ZS: Describe the MLL experience.

BC: Best lacrosse on earth. Nowehere to hide…

ZS: Guys have joked that Paul was always inquisitive growing up, noting he’s always had a heavy interest in the game and the behind-the-scenes factors while evaluating players/teams. Did you ever envision he would take it as far as he has, being an ESPN analyst and revolving much of his life around the game?

BC: Paul is highly focused and very determined. He doesn’t allow for a lot of distractions in his life. When he puts his mind to it, he accomplishes a lot. No surprise he is doing so well. I am immensely proud of him.

ZS: Five most lethal scorers you’ve ever had the daunting chore of negating?
1) Josh Simms
2) Jesse Hubbard
3) Mark Millon
4) Tom Marachek
5) AJ Haugen

ZS: You’ve probably heard a lot of Quint Kessenich comparisons. The similarities aren’t too difficult to discover. You guys are both about 5-foot-8, both led Hopkins during prominent periods in program history, both have had to make up for lack of size with athleticism and open-field acumen that bigger, stronger goalies can’t pull off. How much did Kessenich influence you as a player and did you ever develop a relationship with him?

BC: Quint was everything I wanted to be in a goalie. He was athletic and played outside his crease. I enjoyed emulating him. Nice to have him in my life as Paul’s colleague.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Elev8 Guard Takes Leadership Role Out Of The Woods

First Matt Woods pulled off a nifty cross over, carving his way into an open lane and depositing a lefty layup.

 Capitalizing on the opportune timing, Woods' move gave Elev8 Black a sudden momentum head rush and 62-58 halftime edge.

In the second half, the 6-foot-2 point guard whipped a one-handed pass to Brandon Simmons for a traditional three-point play.

With the pressure steadily mounting and his focus intensifying, Woods bucketed an 18-foot corner jumper.

Nine seconds later he took a steal three-quarters of the court, drawing an at-the-rim foul on a left-handed surge.

Woods knocked back both free throws, knotting matters at 80-all.

Ultimately it was not enough.

 Defensive lapses and a few untimely turnovers plagued them in a 90-86 loss to Coastal Academy Grey.

 Woods finished with 16 points, five assists, and four steals. He had his fingerprints on every magnified possession.

It was purely a dizzying battle throughout, with lead changes, spurts, and plenty of counterpunching.

 Elev8 Black/Coastal Academy Grey had less talent, yet the matchup had the most entertainment value of a blowout-filled Thursday afternoon at the Aquatic Complex in Palm Beach Gardens.

The biggest thorn in Elev8's side was put there by Martin Jones' shooting hand.

Jones had 19 points on the strength of five long treys, firing in from near NBA range in the first half.

 Matt McMorris had 23 points, scoring in a variety of ways from pull-ups to baseline drives.

Simmons, a stretch four type, paced Elev8 with 22 points (9-for-11 FT). Imposing in the  paint, Simmons erupted following a quiet first half.

There's no question Woods needs a touch--if not every possession, as many possessions as possible--to align the wheels of Brett Newman's offense.

In entrusting both Woods and three-point specialist Cody Kelley with back court leadership, Newman gives each a jumbo green light.

 Kelley, a country boy out of Wyoming, had four 3-pointers in Thursday's loss.

The communication between Newman and Woods, who possesses the high-moral fabric and beyond-the-years maturity you can liken to an Eagle Scout, is pivotal.

Yet their relationship is rooted beyond that.

Newman coached Woods' older brother, Mike Woods Jr., as an assistant under Pat Esteep at Division-II Cedarville (Ohio).

The squad, immediately adapting to a new stage following years in the NAIA, won the school's first-ever NCCAA Championship in 2012.

A long 6-foot-3 combo guard, Woods Jr. and Cedarville obliterated teams by an average of 18 PPG in the post-season.

Matt Woods' familiarity with Newman helped bring him to Delray Beach, Fla. from North Carolina.

 He averaged 19 points at Asheville Christian Academy last season.

Newman, who played for the U.S. military all-stars, always holds his point guard to a high standard.

Tough and confrontational on arguably the team's most important influence with the ball, Newman preaches leadership values.

 Dictating a game defensively. Being a vocal leader which teammates eat off of. These are the essentials of the role.

Raised in a faith-first family, Woods relishes the structure and accountability because it took his play up the pegs in high school.

 After all, it's nothing new to him.

Unrelenting guidance from his father, Mike Woods Sr., taught him the value of player/coach relationship.

 The former East Tennessee State guard, Mike Woods Sr. has nurtured his son's development while emphasizing the power of a high hoops IQ.

At Elev8's campus, an enclave of signed or scholarship-hungry student-athletes, players needn't conceal their pride or competitiveness.

Thus, those who set off that an inner toughness from Woods are the same cats with which he shares the breakfast table: Elev8's top-tier Red team.

There's a considerable talent drop-off from Elev8 Black to Elev8 Red.

Elev8 Red's roaster is soaked with Division-I talent, underscored by Kobie Eubanks (UCLA, Missouri, Texas, Oregon, UCLA), high-rising Jamal Gregory (VCU, Maryland, South Florida among others expressing interest), J.T. Escobar (headed to Ole Miss), Caleb Tanner (Radford-signee), Leroy Butts (Rhode Island-signee), Yankuba Sima (Maryland, Arizona, Louisville in pursuit), Shane Eberle (committed to Columbia).

Every time Woods' Black team goes against the more-hyped and clearly more recruit rich Red team, he's eyeballing an upset worth mega in-house bragging rights.

Newman could talk all day about Woods being your typical "safe bet" recruit.

On his assessment of Woods' next level placement, it's a bit different.  Newman is swift, clear, to the point.

"He is," said Newman, "A Division-I player."

Woods On His Role

Basically, I'm tasked with being a leader. As a point guard, you have to know the offense and to get your team going. You have to put your teammates in the best position to score. You really have to be a floor general and see the game like a coach. In addition to knowing all five positions on the court, you have to bring the energy both offensively and defensively and set a tone.

On The System

Coach Brett is really big on consistency, so he emphasizes that in practice. He's big on bringing more and more energy every day. Since high school, that's one thing that has kind of stuck with me. I'll ask myself, "How can I get better each day?" Trusting the system is really the most important thing. We've all bought into that.

On His Scoring

It's really a mixture of both my shots and being able to attack. My mid-range game I think is the best part of my game. In this era, you don't see a lot of mid-range because everyone wants to shoot the three. It is kind of a lost art. I think I can do my part and help bring it back.

On Goals, Expectations, and Focus

We're such an unselfish team and that's something we really thrive off. I honestly think we're the most unselfish team here at Elev8. It benefits us. I've never been the guy to want to get my shots all the time, I like just as well and it fits with our focus.

Really our goals and expectations are to be the best team and leave here without any regrets. We ask each other this question all the time, "What would we play like if there was a million bucks on the line? That's something we learned from Brett.