Wednesday, April 16, 2014

From Egypt To Cold Spring, Dwidar Builds Soccer Culture

Look Ahmed Dwidar in the eyes and ask him what he'd sacrifice for soccer. You will find there isn't much that he wouldn't.

Dwidar's fondest, most revisited childhood memories stem back to 1997, when he was a striker for the Gomhoria Club U12 team.

Framed pictures of that memorable squad, which practiced before the professional team, still adorn the walls of Dwidar's Wappingers Falls home.

Dwidar's father, Talat Dwidar, has coached soccer in Egypt's professional ranks for over 20 years. And so Dwidar took after his Dad in Shebin Al Kawm, a sprawling city located in the Nile Delta of Egypt, where soccer is the holiest of pastimes.

The passionate fan bases arrive at Elmenifa stadium in droves, as captivated as an American on Superbowl Sunday. The competitive spirit, often akin to bloodsport, has a tendency to go overboard.

There are riots.

There are violent fights, resulting in arrests and blood-soaked shirts and even death. The ramped up hostilities, sullying relationships from fan base to fan base on game day, are live and real in Egypt.

 Dwidar, who grew up a 10-minute bike ride from Elmenifa, witnessed this first hand as a kid.

 He recalls the tempers flaring frequently, the hot heads brawling it out in the stands.

 He can still pluck memories of a fist-trading fracas that morphed into a free-for-all.

 The lunacy exacerbated in 2012, when a horrifying post-game clash following al-Masry's victory over Cairo-based Al-Ahli resulted in 74 deaths. It is the country's worst soccer disaster.

Dwidar, who has captured two Section 1 championships in four years at Haldane, remembers the intense rushes of panic that swarmed him when he witnessed the massacre on television.

 His friends from Egypt were startled as the two fan bases warred.

The 28-year-old coach no longer wishes to talk about these events or revisit the  nightmarish sideshows of the Egyptian game. He's seen fan-player fights gruesome enough to make the Malice In The Palace look like an episode of Looney Tunes.

What Dwidar does like to discuss, however, is the evolution of his younger brother, Mahmoud Dwidar.

The 24-year-old, who turned professional when he was a teenager, has become a key striker for Gomhoria's professional team.

Depositing goals with his head and emerging as an aerial threat, Dwidar believes his younger brother possesses the gifts and coach's son IQ to have a long and prosperous career.

"He played for the Egyptian Olympic team and plays on the Gomhoria pro team," said Dwidar.

 "He's a homegrown product. My father has coached him since he was 10. I think coaching kids has helped us love the game even more. One thing he really emphasizes as a coach is to play with heart at all times. He rewarded his players by truly allowing them to love and respect the game. I always wanted to be a coach like him."

Dwidar moved to the United States in 1999, translating from Arabic to English that summer.

 He enrolled at RC Ketcham as a freshman in the fall of 2000, immediately earning a spot on varsity. The team won a sectional crown that year, but Dwidar's relationship with the coaching staff frayed over in-house disputes. He opted not to return.

Oddly enough, leaving the team enlivened his draw to the game.

 He began a three-year soccer odyssey, never once scouring the rearview mirror or entertaining thoughts of returning to the team following a sabbatical.

Rather than prolonging his career on the same Section 1 fields which he currently finds himself coaching, Dwidar became a mainstay at the open gyms. He dipped his feet into the club team waters.

 Today, Dwidar is not the biggest fan of the club and soccer routes, perceived by many as a threat to the varsity game.

Dwidar nearly had to re-recruit one of his former players, Sean Daly, when Daly flirted with pursuing the club route.

When Dwidar arrived at Haldane in the fall of 2010, the challenges were inevitable. His immediate goals were to slay the minimal expectations and shred any lingering doubt. From Day 1, his intentions were to refresh the brand.

"I had to coach nine seniors that year, which was tough as a 23-year-old," said Dwidar. "We always played schools in Class AA, A, and B during the regular season, rarely Class C. I think playing bigger schools helps us prepare, especially when it comes to Sectionals and big stage atmospheres like that. We were a smaller team, but we had a big heart. We wanted no excuses and only results."

The early results weren't much for promise

. Dwidar admits that managing the vastly different personalities and melding them into one was arduous. Soon enough, however, Dwidar spread his convictions of selflessness and sold his players on the team identity. He rehydrated the same tenets his father preached abundantly in Egypt.

Dwidar began incorporating catch phrases and motivational maxims and adages, writing a new quote on the chalkboard prior to every game. The team was fueled by then-senior Chris Marchese and the aforementioned Daly,  tandem Dwidar referred to as "Batman and Robin."

The Blue Devils snuck up on the prognosticators and fled obscurity, registering a 2-0 win over favored Solomon Schecter in the program's first Section 1/Class C championship.

Chris Marchese, now a starting midfielder at Mount St. Mary's College in Newburgh, accounted for both goals.

This past fall, the Blue Devils again won the Class C crown. They avenged a 2012 title game loss to Schecter, again with a 2-0 triumph. The Blue Devil's hyperactive defense, which made a sustained effort to negate Schecter's scoring threats, was crucial.

"Ahmed was always a laid back coach and knew how to have fun, but he never forgot about the most important thing which is winning," said senior captain Jay Marchese.

"If we were doing well and doing big things on the field, he would be okay with us joking around and having some fun, that's what soccer is all about. That really helped us come together as one. He also never let anything get out of hand, and knew when to be assertive."

While the championship was an end product of the work applied from August to November, Dwidar sees it as much more than that.

Since becoming Haldane's head coach, his vision was to establish a soccer culture. While there are no grass-roots or feeder programs in tiny Cold Spring, Dwidar instills a 12-month focus. It's all done in team format. The Blue Devils put forth a team in the Tarrytown Dome during the winter.

They practice at St. Basil's Academy gym throughout the ensuing seasons.

 "(Dwidar) has built a family at the school," explained Aiden Draper, who ignited the Blue Devils by drilling a 1-0 penalty kick during the Section 1 championship.

"He wants to get to know each player. It's a great environment for such a small district, he really works with what he's got."

Dwidar is an accurate depiction of film junkie, scouting teams and revisiting plays and getting a read on who to apply the clamps on. That work comes into focus during practice, as his players simulate opponents and Dwidar plots out defensive schemes.

"We have to keep the kids playing all year," Dwidar said.

"There is no other way. The culture at Haldane has definitely changed. The kids are tough and they play with heart. Of course, we couldn't have done it without (assistant coach) Rocco Appolonio."

While Dwidar is grateful for Appolonio and values his friendship with Lakeland coach Tim Hourahan, taking note of the traditionally-potent program he's furnished, there is one coach looks to when advice is needed.

"I pick up the phone and call my old man," Dwidar said. "He's always there with the words."

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bronx-Bred Guard McLean Receiving Heavy NCAA Interest


Giovanni McLean's prodigious handle and ability to pilot a team has allowed his stock to balloon the past three months.

The 6-foot-1 guard is suddenly a sought after product on the recruiting agora. A sophomore at WCC, where he averaged 16.8 points, 7.3 assists, and five boards to help the Vikes (28-4) earn their first NCAA tournament berth since 1996 this season, McLean has been receiving steady interest from Missouri, Texas State, Eastern Illinois, St. John's, Fordham, Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas State, Memphis, Virginia Tech, Quinnipiac and Duquesne.

While Fordham and St. John's have been making a late push, according WCC head coach Tyrone Mushatt, Mizzou and Eastern Illnois may have the upper hand in McLean's pursuit.

"Right now, I like Mizzou a lot," said McLean, who spent a lot of time at Missouri's campus while he was playing at Moberly Area Community in Moberly, Mo.

"I like Texas State a lot. Eastern Illinois, I have familiarity with them because (head coach) Jay Spoonhour coached me my first year at Moberly. He's a great coach, his style is a lot of ball screens and his defensive philosophy I love. He's all about denying the wing, taking charges. Nobody has really motivated me to play defense like him. Of course, I can't rule Oklahoma out just because of who they are."

When will McLean arrive at a decision?

"I'm going to have 2-3 more visits at the most, then I'll decide," he explained.

 "I'm taking it by ear right now."

McLean began the season as a veritable jack of all trades, leaving his fingerprints in every statistical category in the book.

He was a scorer, a distributor, and a presence on the boards, spurring the transition game instantly after snaring rebounds. McLean, who discovered basketball following a soccer-obsessed childhood, averaged 25.2 points during a four-game stretch.

When shooting guard Luis Morales suddenly became eligible, during the 16th game of the season, McLean seamlessly transitioned by hunting for his shot less and creating more.

A product of PSAL alternative school Bronx Regional, McLean has had academic issues in the past. He's on target to graduate from Westchester this spring, however, and says he's going to take summer courses on whatever campus he lands at.

McLean established an inside-outside game with 6-foot-8 forward Keith Thomas, another burgeoning high-major prospect. His ball handling and patented spin moves, during which he maintains his dribble each and protects the rock throughout, helped lure in defenses.

He made defenders who overplayed him pay, kicking out passes to an open Montero. Montero, who has also earned high interest, with Alabama, Penn State, Oklahoma State and LSU in persistent pursuit, averaged 15.6 points and 5.9 boards.

"The ball is still bouncing while he's spinning," Mushatt said. "You don't see the kind of moves he pulls too often anymore."

 Mushatt continued, "During the first half of the season, Gio was kind of doing everything for us, he was leading us in scoring and assists. He lessened his role kind of by mistake. When you add another scorer to the lineup, it changes the makeup of the team. A lot of guys would have folded. Gio didn't pout. He adjusted. He realized, we didn't need him to score 25 anymore. He's still going to have his games, like he did, where he goes off."

That much evident during McLean's 34-point eruption, on 13-for-20 shooting, during the Vikes' 101-99 double overtime loss to Wallace State in the national tournament. Prior to that, McLean dropped 21 points during an 82-70 win over Baltimore City Community College. McLean drilled three 3-pointers in the Vikes final four games. On the season, he had five games during which he bagged four 3-pointers or more. McLean shot 46.6 percent from the floor.

The Bronx-bred guard, a fixture at NYC basketball proving grounds such as Dyckman and Rucker Park, said the team's chemistry was paramount to the JUCO national tournament run.

"I think learning how to play with each other was key," McLean said.

"Sometimes you are going to have arguments and bumps and bruises down the road. We kept that to a bare minimum. The chemistry allowed us to play the way we did. When it was game time, everyone was focused and together."

McLean renewed his basketball jones a few summers ago, when he authored numerous loud performances on the streetball circuit. Known as "Batteries Not Included" on the blacktop, McLean has always been the younger kid up against the established wolves, entrenched in battles with guards such as Corey Fisher and former NCAA scoring cyborg Keydren Clark.

Mushatt said McLean's leadership qualities are what makes the 23-year-old such an appealing prospect.

"He's just a kid that doesn't give up," he explained.

"I've seen games where he struggled, shooting-wise, because they're running double teams on him. He just hung in there. He'll tell me 'Coach, we're not going to lose this game.' He puts the team on his shoulders, and you don't see that a lot."

Friday, April 11, 2014

Nedwick's Career Blossoming In Italy

A black BMW is blurring down a long, tight road en route to the burgeoning metropolitan area of scenic Ascoli Piceno, Italy.

The blazing-fast BMW, along with several cars trailing it and gunning to pick it off, is eclipsing 110 miles per hour.
Nick Nedwick, saddled in the back of a navy blue bus directly behind all the passing cars, is nauseated.

Never has Nedwick been car sick before, albeit the quick-whipping wind and speedsters and the fatigue of three consecutive road games is beginning to wear on him.

What begins as a sharp stomach pain rapidly intensifies, and Nedwick is suddenly feeling dizzy.
"Guys, we've got pull over," says Nedwick, who typically comes with the tagline "The American Boy" to Italian basketball announcers, to his teammates.
"I'm sorry, but I've got to jump out real quick."
Nedwick pops out, pummeled by more dizziness than a young child after his first rollercoaster. As the cars continue to storm by, Nedwick effortlessly dispatches his breakfast on the side of the road.

 Nedwick's teammates look on, shrugging and not uttering one word.

 Andrea Bocelli and other Italian music, a long ways from the Jadakiss and Styles P and Jay-Z bangers that Nedwick routinely warmed up to before his Ferris Ave. summer league games in White Plains, hums from the radio throughout the trip home.
Italy is rife with enough maniacal drivers to give even a Midtown cabbie fits, but few other differences have fazed Nedwick.
As a lightly recruited 6-foot-1 off guard out of Irvington High School (N.Y.), and the the all-time leading scorer at Division-III Eastern Connecticut State University with 1,605 points, Nedwick has hurdled obstacles more arduous than aggravating, speed-crazed drivers.
 The Irvington native's innate joy for the game has allowed him to prolong his basketball career in Italy's professional ranks. Nedwick currently averages 22 points per game for Cestica Ascoli Piceno, Italy's Basketmarche League.
Nedwick, whose offensive output has come on a mixed bag of mid-range jumpers, pull-ups, 3-pointers, and surges to the rim, learned of the overseas opportunity through former Mercy College/Gorton High guard Nick Volchok.

Volchok, with whom Nedwick plays long, hyper-intense games of pickup ball at New York Sports Club in Dobbs Ferry and House of Sports in Ardsley has plied his trade in Italy's professional leagues as well.
"Nick put me in contact with the right person and it all took off from there," said Nedwick, who registered his presence with a 40-point game earlier this month.
"Playing professionally now, being 6-1 is just too short for a shooting guard. I have to transition my game to the point. I still play the two-spot, because I can score but to make it to the next level I have to become an efficient point guard."

Nedwick describes Ascoli Piceno as a soccer-obsessed community, where the residents typically pack bars to the gills for heavily-anticipated matches. The soccer fanfare has long been established in Italy, which took home the 2006 World Cup.

 Bordered by tall mountains, living in an apartment roughly 30 minutes from the Tronto River, Nedwick is adjusting to a slow-paced lifestyle away from the city area. With little distractions, Nedwick spends much of his time training and practicing. Games are typically played on Saturdays, as all Sundays are reserved for Holy Day festivities. He's assimilated to the culture, taking Italian Speaking classes twice a week and learning to communicate with his teammates. He is no longer fazed by his teammates' puzzling language, which created a slight barrier during his first few weeks in the country.

"It's really nice over here," Nedwick said. "The only downside is I'm in a very small town in the country. It's beautiful, but boring."
You may remember Nick Nedwick during his heyday at Irvington High, when he stabilized a radiant 1-2 scoring with bullish guard Brittain Purcelle, a high-volume scorer who carved through defenses throughout Class B. 

Nedwick's high-energy, frenetic style helped spur the resurrection of a once ailing Bulldogs program.

Behind Nedwick, Purcelle, and countless others who played with unbridled passion and 32 minutes of sustained relentlessness, the boys basketball program was finally on the same plane as the storied, tradition-rich girls program under Hall of Fame coach Gina Maher.

Nedwick, a 2008 Irvington graduate, was known for locking up opposing guards in a Ziplock bag, vowing to provide nary a slither of breathing room. Defense was Nedwick's calling card, since his early days as a smurf-sized runt in Billy Ottovich's Irvington Rec league.


The appeal of that aspect of the game has endured the test of time, mirroring Nedwick's true basketball identity.


"Nick's a physical 6'1 guard but plays as if he's 6'5," said Erik Gormley, the former Dobbs Ferry point guard, who has played against Nedwick since their CYO days.

"His ability to move without the ball and read the play all at once is something that's extremely hard to guard. When he has the ball, he's good with both hands. He's improved his ball handling dramatically. Some players give up on plays or take plays off to catch their breath, Nick doesn't."
Nedwick's game is predicated on coming off screens, freeing himself off the ball, and sidestepping traffic. This allows him to get the ball in position to pull-and-pop or knife to the bucket.
"Probably the biggest adversity I've had to overcome as a player was proving I could be affective at the two-guard despite being 6-1," Nedwick said.

 "I really thought I was overlooked a lot in high school. I just had to prove to everyone I can play the game."
 The blanketing defense, those deep corner 3-pointers, quick slashes amid contact, and the ball disruption which sparked run-outs and easy layins, it's all still in Nedwick's arsenal. He's still as active and super-hyped as ever. The game day energy still soars through mountaintops, as he's lasered in on every play and diving for loose balls.
"He's always had that drive," explained Ryan Riefenhauser, the former Dobbs Ferry guard who went up against Nedwick before joining forces with him in the aforementioned Ferris Ave. league.
"What makes him difficult to guard is how versatile he's become. First it was with the three, then he started driving a lot more. Now, he's got a pull-up jumper. He still can't hold me though."
Having shifted his gaze to facilitating the attack as a lead guard, Nedwick hopes to earn his paycheck in one the country's higher leagues.
"My goal is to make it to one of the top leagues, I hate how Division-III players are looked down upon and people think that were not good enough," Nedwick explained.
"I just want to prove that D-III players can play professionally and make it out here. That's what drives me so much. I was told by an agent that European coaches will look at D-I or D-II guys with little to no stats before they look at a D-III player with top notch stats."
Nedwick is not certain about his basketball longevity. He's far away from home, pursuing lifelong dreams. He always told himself he would "ride it until the wheels fall off," but he knows nothing in life comes with a guarantee.
"I know I'm not going to be able to play basketball for the rest of my life," Nedwick said.
"I want to play as long as I can but obviously there are concerns. In the next year or two, if I'm not making good money, I can't stay here. I have to be able to support myself financially. It's definitely tough being away from family and friends, but I get so much support and I'm always on Skype, Facebook and WhatsApp talking to everyone."


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Hotly-Pursued Thomas To Visit Loyola-Chicago On Friday

Keith Thomas' consistency, collection of double doubles, and furious-paced work ethic is what makes the 6-foot-8 Westchester Community College forward appealing to high-major Division-I programs.

Thomas played just one year of high school basketball at Yorktown (N.Y.), spearheading the Huskers to the Section 1 Final Four. A rediscovery of how much he loves the game allowed Thomas to make a second run.

Now the Mount Vernon, N.Y. native is one of the nation's most hotly pursued forwards.

"He was so consistent this year, but what I really like about Keith is he takes no prisoners on the court," said Vikes head coach Tyrone Mushatt, who played at WCC himself in the mid-1990s.

"There were some games against lower level competition where could have cruised. He could have said 'Oh, this is going to be a cupcake game.' He didn't take anything for granted. He gave everything in every game."

Thomas averaged 15.3 points and a NJCAA-leading 15.7 boards en route to NJCAA Region XV Player of the Year honors. He helped lead the Vikes to their first JUCO national tournament berth since 1996. Thomas is slated to visit Loyola-Chicago on Friday.

St. John's, Fordham, Loyola-Chicago, Florida State, and Wright State have been in active pursuit of Thomas, according to Mushatt.

Memphis and Dayton have jumped in the KT sweepstakes, expressing significant interest in the 23-year-old.

"Loyola-Chicago has been recruiting him for about 4-5 months now," Mushatt said.

"Keith is a kid who is about loyalty. They've been there since the very beginning and he recognizes that. Florida State is trying to get a visit setup. They're another powerhouse program that he's considering."

Mushatt has referred to Thomas as his "NAVY SEAL" for his toughness during workouts and ability to finish through contact and withstand the brutal hits inside the paint. Thomas authored efficiency during his freshman year at WCC, shooting the rock at a scalding 65.4 percent clip. This was underscored by a mammoth 29-point eruption (13-for-14 FG) against Harcum and a 10-for-11, 22-point shredding of Orange County Community College.

Will Thomas stay local?

New York schools appear to be rolling out the red carpet for him.

"St. John's is on him a lot, they're trying to keep him in New York," Mushatt explained. "Fordham is showing him a lot of love too."

Thomas was once the young kid in the stands, watching with a hawk-like gaze as his uncle, former Mount Vernon guard Randy Brunson, won a Section 1 championship alongside Ben Gordon.

Frequently entrenched in pickup battles at Solaris in Yorktown, Thomas can best be described as a gym rat. He is stoked with growing confidence, which manifests itself during high-pressure moments.

An adept passer, Thomas is always working on new components of his game, incorporating new moves into his arsenal.

"He lives in the gym," Mushatt deadpanned.

Saving his loudest performance for the tail end of the regular season, Thomas dropped 28 points and tore down 17 rebounds during WCC's 82-70 win over Baltimore City Community College.

 Thomas dropped 11 points, snagged 13 rebounds, and doled out four assists during the Vikes' 101-99 double-overtime loss to Wallace State in the national tournament.

Facilitating the balanced attack for the Vikes was Giovanni McClean, third in the nation in assists with 7.4 per game. McClean is currently receiving interest from St. John's, Oklahoma, Memphis, and Duquesne, among others.

 Luis Montero, who averaged 15.6 points and 5.6 boards playing off McClean in the backcourt, has entertained steady interest from Alabama, LSU, Penn State, and Oklahoma State.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Daniels Follows Forward Footprints At Quinnipiac

Quinnipiac has a pattern of breeding big men. Don't argue with history.

When the Bobcats were in the guard-geared Northeast Conference, they featured walking double-doubles such as 6-foot-5 combo Forward/Center Victor Akinyanju and 6-foot-7 Center Justin Rutty.

 Akinyanju was a gym rat and superior finisher, applying an adept kit of post moves against taller and wider bigs. The undersized forward is one of few players in program history to erupt for a 20-point and 20-rebound game, as he did in 2007.

Rutty, currently playing professionally in France, cemented his legacy with NEC Player of the Year honors.

A southpaw out of Newburgh, N.Y., where he was a Division-I prospect in both football and basketball, Rutty arrived on campus raw, rugged, and rough around the edges offensively.

His presence in the post, where he manipulated and blocked shots and battled for supremacy on the backboards, was put to immediate use his freshman year. In the ensuing three years, Rutty's scoring acumen mushroomed.

 He worked at rectifying dismal free throw shooting and increased his scoring in the key, becoming the focal point.  Rutty reaped the results of an inside-outside game, becoming a steady beneficiary of versatile guards such as James Johnson and James Feldeine. A blend of mental and physical toughness, ingrained in Rutty by lockup specialist Jeremy Baker and the legendary DeMario Anderson, allowed him to grow and flourish in Tom Moore's system.

And so the success of the Bobcat-bred bigs helped sell Meriden, Conn. native Chase Daniels.

 Daniels, he of the oil-smooth jump hook and refined back to the basket game, was entertaining steady interest from a bevy of programs.

UMass, Duquesne, Virginia Commonwealth, Towson, Fairfield, Drexel, Tulane, Hofstra, and Norfolk State were also courting the 6-foot-8 Daniels.

A 15-minute trip to the sprawling Hamden, Conn. campus, however, changed everything.

Daniels feasted his eyes on a 3,500-seat TD Bank North Sports Center, a jumbo sports complex which appears better suited for a Big East or an ACC caliber program.

"I loved the gym," said Daniels, who played for the Connecticut Select and grew up simulating the moves of Kevin Garnett, LeMarcus Aldridge, and former UCONN bruiser Jeff Adrien.

"I played there my junior and senior years in high school in the conference championship. I like Quinnipiac's style of play because they feed the bigs a lot. I think my biggest attribute as a player is that I play hard at all times."

Daniels' game is predicated on sustained focus and hard-fought interior buckets. Choosing Quinnipiac, was easier than scoring on the slew of has-beens and beer-bellied also rans who tend to flood Treadwell Park.

Influencing Daniels' decision was assistant coach Scottie Burrell, a homegrown Hamden product and an all-purpose reminder of the state's past glory.

Burrell, who won an NBA championship with the Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen-Dennis Rodman-Ron Harper quartet of the late 1990s, is synonymous with "The Shot," a play forever embedded in the Huskies' annals.

 It was Burrell, a quarterback at Hamden High and a MLB draft pick, who heaved a 90-foot inbounds bomb to Tate George. George drilled a buzzer-beating turnaround jumper to knock off Clemson in the NCAA tournament.

Daniels' game blossomed during the summer of 2012. He developed a dependable short-range jumper. He became more aggressive on the glass, boxing out and chasing down 50-50 balls and plucking boards as soon as they rimmed out and clanked off the back iron. Daniels expanded to the wing, during an extended AAU road swing featuring stops in Florida and Atlanta.

Daniels' averaged 12 points and 12 boards at traditional New Haven power Hillhouse, en route to a  26-1 season and a CIAC Class L State Championship.

At Putnam Science, he's added to his all-around basketball package. He's also become a more dependable setup man in the paint and leaned on a jumper he's shifted beyond the arc.

"I'm at my best when I just play hard and score the ball," Daniels explained.

 "When I get the ball in the post, I'm looking to score. That's my style. But I'll pass if I see an open teammate there. At Putnam, I've developed a 3-point shot."

Daniels' brother, Dante Watson, was a  cerebral 5-foot-11 scoring guard at Vinal Tech High in Middletown.

The third 1,000-point scorer in Tech history, Watson routinely went off on 30+ point scoring barrages and knifed through box-and-one defenses with a pack of nifty spin moves and patented left hand finishes in traffic.

When the oft-balling brothers go one-on-one, who wins?

"We haven't played in forever, but when we do, I'm gonna win that one," Daniels promised.

Offensively Inept Woody Should Be Out

You hear the rumors.

You see the back pages of the tabloids.

You know Mike Woodson will likely be done after an abysmal season, marred by subpar play even in the laughingstock Eastern Conference.

You know the isolation offense that he's constantly preached won't morph into the Triangle. You know the appeal of Phil Jackson will add intrigue and value to the Knicks, inexorably linking household names to the head coaching position.

During his (extended) stay in NY,Woodson has relied heavily on a limited offensive system featuring an isolation game featuring ball-dominating scorers.

Though it has allowed Anthony's scoring acumen to grow, the ball-stoppage and scoring woes have been back-breaking.

Melo needs help. He needs a Robin to his Batman, a Pippen to his Jordan, a lineup that can function and allow him to get his shot off deep into the playoffs.

Last season, a revival year for the Knicks' floundering franchise, Woodson thrived with a different look.

The Knicks of 2012-13, off to a scalding 18-5 start and winners of 50+ games for the first time in 13 years, were predicated on fluid angle-to-angle ball movement on the perimeter, countless pick-and-rolls, dribble handoffs, and a pack of manipulative post moves.

Of course, losing Jason Kidd and 3-point shooters and floor-spreaders such as Steve Novak in the off-season fractured this style, forcing Woodson to revert to his old and stagnant ways.

The Knicks' disciplined, wealth-sharing style took a turn for the worse during the 2013 playoffs. The  Knicks looked like the scattered pieces of a puzzle, lacking the intricate parts.

And while he's been red-hot recently, J.R. Smith was mired in a below-freezing shooting funk during the 2013 post-season. The shots were falling short and lipping out and hitting the back rim and rattling in and out.

Despite Smith's shooting woes, despite Novak and Chris Copeland's availability, Woodson let Smith's brickfest continue as Novak and Copeland suddenly fell out of favor.

  The lack of picks, the absent playbook, the suddenly punch-less offense diminished their chances. Woodson refused to make adjustments, going with what he knew and refusing to hit the drawing board.

The New York media, as responsible for the heightened pressure that comes with playing in the Big Apple as anyone, refused to take note. Instead, they churned out stories on Roy Hibbert's sublime play.

Hibbert, enlivened by a summer's load of MMA training and displaying an effective back-to-the-basket game, suddenly became Wilt Chamberlain with an extra inch and greater wingspan and a gold-and-white jersey.

 Flaming Tyson Chandler as the scapegoat, magnifying his terse words regarding the Knicks' offensive ineptitude, became the more appealing story.

Remember how badly Pat Riley was sledgehammered for leaving John Starks in Game 7 of the 1994 playoffs, en route to a 2-for-18 brickfest?

With Rolando Blackman toting fresh legs, Riley kept Starks in the game as the legendary Knicks two-guard hunted for a bucket. Riley never heard the end of it from fans and the media.

 Last spring, Woodson repeatedly left Smith in, even as the missed shots stockpiled.

Woodson never implored Smith to ditch the forced jumpers and attack the rim. Woodson never discussed the prospect of limiting Smith's minutes. He never entertained a method to jolt him out of a maddening slump. At the same time, Woodson never received even an iota of media scrutiny for his actions.

Smith has done a veritable 180 this season, recovering from countless incidents and early season struggles to become a 3-point ace. There was a suspension for marijuana use. There was erratic tweets. There was a knack for pulling bush-league antics like untying shoes, which only because he's JR Smith invited heightened criticism.

 And while his antics have taxed and tested the patience of Woodson, while it seemed Smith would be jettisoned quicker than Metta World Peace and noted Woodson scapegoat Beno Udrih, he's re-discovered a lethal-when-hot stroke to pace the Knicks offense.

 Smith netted 10 3-pointers during the Knicks' 102-91 loss to Miami, establishing a new club record. A week after hitting nine 3-pointers against Sacramento, Smith's let it fly while Carmelo was nicked up and laboring through a 4-for-17 dud. Smith has now tied the league record for most 3-pointers during a three-game stretch, sinking 24.

While Smith's resilience and recovery has been a feel-good story, the Knicks clustered offense continues to sputter.

Woodson escaped the wrath of the New York media during last year's playoff bungle, though he's hardly free from a gang of tabloid killers.

 Conventional wisdom tells us his long, cold stares at the referees and spotty substitution patterns will be gone at the culmination of this season. Playoff berth or not, he's out.

 Partly because of his relationship with Phil Jackson and partly at his desire to sink his toes into the head coaching waters, Steve Kerr has floated up in premature discussions of who will supplant Woody.

Is Woodson extending his stay on loaned time?

The offense continues to fracture under the isolation king. Sunday was indicative of this.

Again, the Knicks were too reliant on the perimeter game. Again, the Knicks needed to balance the floor and feed the bigs more. Again, the Knicks did not find the right shots, shooting a meager 37.5 percent.

Again, the Knicks were a jumbled and free-wheeling puzzle. They launched shots from all over South Beach, without a trace of fluid ball movement.

During the Great Woodson Love Fest of 2012, which heightened during NY's smoking 18-5 start, everyone began waxing poetic about Woodson.

He was peppered with praise. He was anointed as Gotham's defensive guru, responsible for revamping the ailing franchise and recharging the Garden's pulse.

He was a stern taskmasker who demanded his players take accountability. Woody was regarded as  respected locker room figure who has supposedly won over his players, a sentiment James Dolan echoed during a rare interview with the NY Post.

The general belief, unless the Knicks can make a mad dash to the playoffs and pull off much-needed Magic from there, is that Woody has worn out his welcome.

Performances like Sunday's prove why.  The Knicls' fatal flaw, lackadaisical offensive schemes was so glaringly obvious during Sunday's game, which saw the Knicks squander an early 13-point lead. The Knicks shot a paltry 13 free throws to Miami's 30, steering clear of the driving lanes.

 Woodson is now the Marriot guest who is staying extra hours, when the front desk told him he's been out well beyond check out time. Playoff berth or not, it is time for the maid to clean Woody's room and open the door for the next in line.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

CT Guard Spikes Now on D-1 Radar

In a current universe where thunderous dunks and excessive, And-1 Mix Tape dribbling win over a majority of young players, Timothy Spikes is a basketball old soul.

The 6-foot-1 guard, out of Meriden, Conn., does not spend his summers devoured by an AAU schedule. He refuses to become enamored with Youtube highlights or give in to the national hype machine which gases highly-coveted recruits.

Imagine that?

Spikes takes pride in applying confrontational, lockdown defense while playing a rigorous prep school schedule across the country.

Meriden, Conn. is a long ways from Rucker Park, West Fourth Street, Dyckman, Kingdome, and the traditional New York basketball proving grounds. Players up the Merrit Parkway tend to come with less expectations, less exposure, and less buzz.

 Spikes spent his early days playing long, exhausting games at the Meriden Boys & Girls club and Washington Park.

A Post-Graduate at Stillwater Christian (Kalispell, MT), the crafty guard grew up patterning his game around the talented but troubled Doug Wiggins. Wiggins, the former UConn guard, is one of Hartford's favorite and most recognizable sons.

Spikes was a routine spectator at the plenty-competitive Hartford Pro/Am games during the summer.

Buoyed by the power that parallels the role of stopper, Spikes always handled the chore of bottling up the opponent's best player.

All the late-night games, all the one-on-one battles paid dividends when Spikes went eyeball-to-eyeball with Clemson-commit Dante Grantham of Hargrave Military Academy.

Grantham, an athletic 6-foot-8 forward who can spread the floor with a deft shooting touch, presented the toughest challenge of Spikes' career. It was a barometer and a sign of how far he's come. And though he was far from putting the clamps on the highly-touted Tigers signee, the matchup fed Spikes' insatiable hunger for more defensive energy.

"I've gotten a lot better at defense and that's what coaches like when they see me play," said Spikes, who has earned interest from Division-I programs such as Liberty University and Old Dominion.

"My handle has gotten a lot better and I continue to get shots up in the gym, day in and day out."

Who is with Spikes shooting in the gym?

Quinnipiac-bound forward Chaise Daniels, Tracy Rumley, and Jamel Hamens, on most days.

"They always keep me motivated," said Spikes, who has reaped the results of constant labor with trainer Kyle Solomon.

"Tracy and I workout together all the time and we're always trying to improve each other's game."

As a youngster, Spikes was perched in the stands at the XL Center and Gampel Pavilion, his eyes pasted on some of the electric, guard-laden UConn teams of his boyhood.

 He watched Jerome Dyson finish fast breaks with emphatic dunks. He watched Hasheem Thabeet punch, alter, and manipulate shots in the paint.

His eyes widened as lead guard A.J. Price drilled clutch pull-up jumpers and guided the team during crucial sequences. He erupted as Craig Austrie bagged deep 3-pointers and Stanley "Sticks" Robinson infused Jim Calhoun's offense with dazzling displays of athleticism.

What began as a hobby now holds the keys to his future.

Thirsting for a scholarship, Spikes is quick to acknowledge how impactful his friends and teammates have been in his active pursuit.

"My teammates at my prep school really pushed me to get better and to never play scared," Spikes said.

"I  wouldn't be anything without Jon Mitchell, Rahiem Robinson, Donald Williams, Malik Gaffney, Jalen Oliver, Dom Lee, Joe Pillow. They are all D-1 players and they've really helped."