Sunday, October 19, 2014

Soccer A Way Of Life For Battle-Tested Santucci

Buoyed by a beyond-his-years savvy and point guard-esque vision, Giuliano Santucci's unique blend of instincts, know-how, and experience has made him one of the top netminders on the New York Soccer Club circuit.

Versatile enough to dictate the offensive flow as effectively as he could stymie it, Santucci's feel for the game developed rather early.

"When I was in my mother's stomach, I was kicking and kicking," said Santucci, a Yorktown native who is training with Guillermo Valencia, the reputable goalie coach.

"I was kicking and juggling bubbles in my mother's stomach."

While the energy of Marcello and Silvia Santucci's oldest son was boundless, it portended his earliest athletic exploits.

From ages 4-11, Santucci did not play age appropriate.

Rather than being thrown to the wolves, the three-time Regional Champion was facilitating offense and applying a rigid brand of defense against guys 3-4 years older than him.

He had constant backyard brawls on his feet.

His first-ever opponent, go-to influence and arguably his biggest advocate today is his cousin, Enzo Sangiacomo.

 Everything from jump rope to swimming to brisk distance runs on the Santucci-Sangiacomo's combined five acre property in Yorktown extracts heightened, unavoidable competition.

"Honestly, he's like my brother," said Santucci of Enzo, the midfielder with whom he forms an inseparable tandem.

And while a young Giuliano Santucci was entrenched in constant battles from midday to sundown with Enzo, he had a stiffer challenge against his uncle, Fernando Salazar.

Salazar played professionally with C.A. Rentistas Club in Uruguay. He battled Santucci with the same high-wired aggression as he did professional foes.

"You know how parents are supposed to always let the kid win when they're younger? Well he never did that with me," Santucci said, trickling into laughter.

"Never. He would kick me around and play me physically. He was trying to get me pissed and get me to play as tough as possible. He took no mercy on me."

Growing up a bit faster than most, Santucci reaped the results of the around-the-clock work load.

There was no training wheels or life jackets on his young game. Everything was learned the hard way.

Santucci's  defensive acumen grew, grew, and grew.

Rarified, deceptive athleticism and an advanced understanding of scoring threats' tendencies earned Santucci respect between the posts.

Keeping the net intact, he subscribed to the role of neutralizing perilous scorers. He knew where to make the stop.

 He was poised to fend off shots and stifle attacks. All the one-on-one games, which saw him bruise quicker than a banana, paid dividends.

 Enzo and Salazar's long afternoons pelting him with shots and blasting goals at him was adequate preparation.

"From age 4-10, I noticed that this kid has a natural talent and is really in a class of his own," said Rick Romanski, the head honcho of Yorktown Youth Soccer Club.

"At a young age, he had an amazing view of the field of play. He had the instinctive nature. He was very cognitive, very coachable and showed early strides of being a tremendous goalie."

While other young kids were nestled in sandboxes and playing with legos, Santucci was manipulating and stopping waves while quarterbacking offense for a slew of Romanski's Yorktown-based club teams.

He was as vocal as he was diligent, often helping other players out with the mentality of a de facto coach.

"We wanted to nurture his talent in the right way," Romanski said.

"We had to at least place him a few notches above his age level. He had that skill-set and mentality to make that decision a no-brainer."

Romanski recalls sitting him down during a one-on-one, mentor-pupil session that lasted about 15 minutes.

While Romanski's Kiids program's is a no-pressure environment with emphasis on fun, productive activities and team concepts, he knew he had to approach Santucci with a different mindset.

His message was simple: "You have natural ability that far exceeds the rest,' I explained to him," Romanski said.

"But it's never going to work unless you commit to this sport as much as you can, without distractions. Don't lose it, kid."

Santucci reacted by pouring his sweat and livelihood to the sport, revolving all four seasons around a schedule that fits his skill-set, classification, and devotion. Now he's playing against his own age group at the New York Soccer Club.

His biggest challenge in life has occurred off the field.

Santucci lost one of his closest friends, Jack Reyna, to cancer in 2012.

Very rarely does Santucci wake up without thinking of his friend. When he suits up for games, he makes sure the band commemorating Reyna's life is draped to his arm securely.

Honoring Jack's life and keeping his presence alive is "my sole source for motivation."

Santucci is a forward naturally.

He knocked in the tie-breaking goal in the final 60 seconds of regulation to send New York Soccer Club into overtime in the final of the first-ever EDP Cup. After being pulled out from goal, he returned to protect the cage in the penalty shooting. He stopped three penalty kicks, preserving a hard-fought team victory.

This summer, Santucci and Enzo embarked on a trip to Belgium and Spain, where they trained with elite level professional teams. The quality of play was flaw-free, the intensity was amplified.

Without the early hype or hyperbole, Santucci already seems on target to become one of the more decorated players in Yorktown history.

In this 2.5 square mile area, the grass-roots programs have churned out plenty of mid to high-major prospects.

The most acclaimed product of the Yorktown Youth Soccer Program has been Kevin Reiman, a McDonald's All-American who played at Michigan State.

Reiman, a cerebral left-footed middie who coached at Division-I Army, would prolong his career professionally with Real Salt Lake.

Lakeland, Yorktown High's staunch border-town rival, features a high-scoring playmaker in Johnny Denis.

As in, the Johnny Denis who happens to be Santucci's second cousin. Denis made headlines this past week, depositing five goals and dealing out an assist in the Hornets' 6-3 win over Panas. With the five goals, Denis established a new school record.

"We're so competitive out there all the time," Santucci said.

"On the field, we get really intense and it gets fiery. But we know it's really for our own benefit and we both try to make each other the best we can be. All three of us, myself, Jon and Enzo, we're constantly looking to make each other better."

Denis has gone from free kick specialist to a diversified offensive threat, shredding teams off the dribble and knifing through defenders.

Both Denis, Enzo Santucci entertain a demanding year-round soccer schedule and are constantly hiking up each other's competitive juices.

You may have seen Denis' name circulating the blogosphere or found in soccer notebooks canvassing "who's who" in Westchester County. The junior popped four goals in the Hornets' recent 7-1 whipping of Middletown.

Is Santucci the greatest or simply the latest? While he reeks of promise and upside, he's so young that you simply can't gauge him or determine the limit (if there is one) on his potential.

"Ultimately, my goal would be to play professional soccer," Santucci said.

 "That's what I'm looking to do. That's my personal aspiration and dream and that's what I'm working at."

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Westchester's Montero Aggressively Pursued By SJU And More







A late growth spurt and a new, more prominent role involving an uptick in ball handling and a score-first mentality has shaped Westchester Community College's Luis Montero into one of the nation's fastest-rising recruiting targets.

The ceiling on Montero, a transcendent 6-foot-9 guard/forward, is still unknown. The St. John's target has played only half a season of JUCO ball, attracting a full menu of Division-I interest from across the country.

After practicing with the Dominican national team this summer, the hounding intensified.

Four days after that initial practice week, Vikes head coach Tyrone Mushatt fielded a call from SMU head coach Larry Brown.

USC, SMU, St. John's, South Florida and Arizona are all in persistent pursuit of Montero, who will devise a campus visit schedule as early as next week.

Right now it's an open field. Montero's high-major appeal is most notably linked to a diversified folder of tools.

He's a threat to dial in from beyond the arc.

He can dice defenders off the dribble.

 He can score consistently via self-creation, with a knack for splitting into the driving lanes and finishing at/above the rim. He's become more adept as a passer and creator.

 Mushatt said it would be a disservice not to have the ball in his incoming go-to-guy's hands as much as possible.

And what to say of Montero's considerable wingspan, those Pippen-long arms that seem as long as stickball bats?

"He's a better defender than people think," said Mushatt, who listed SJU as a potential suitor.

"(St. John's) is in the gym here every chance they get," explained Mushatt.

While his identity is that of an electric offensive threat with a janitor's supply of hard-to-guard tools, Montero still has just 16 JUCO games under his belt. This season will gauge his leadership and determine if he can thrive while shouldering a bulk of the offensive load.

He averaged 15.6 points, 5.9 boards, and 3.0 assists in 16 games as a freshman, erupting for  31 points during a wire-to-wire 113-86 bludgeoning of Rockland Community College.

 He scored 20 points, shooting the rock at an 8-for-13 clip, during a win over Harcum College. Montero dropped 19 points on 7-for-11 FG during the Vikes' final game of the regular season, an 82-70 win over Baltimore City Community College.

That win, against a reputable and familiar foe, allowing the JUCO landscape to feel a triumvirate burning down its own pathway to the national tournament in Hutchinson, Kan.

Bordered by Keith Thomas (15.3 points, NJCAA-best 15.7 boards, 65.4 percent FG) and Giovanni McLean (16.3 points, 7.3 assists, 5.0 boards), Montero's late arrival solidified this troika.

"He brought that extra stuff," Mushatt explained. "We were good. He made us great."

McLean, a mercurial scoring threat who possesses prodigious handle, is currently up the Merritt Parkway at Quinnipiac.

 Thomas, who entertained budding interest from Florida State, Miami, Fordham, Loyola-Chicago and late pitches from Dayton and Arizona, is 25 minutes from WCC's Valhalla, N.Y. campus at St. John's.

The Johnnies hosted Montero last night, along with a cadre of top-profile recruits underscored by extraterrestrial Roselle Catholic point guard Isaiah Briscoe and Our Savior New American forward Cheick Diallo.

Last season, Montero was purely a secondary player. Mushatt implemented a tweaked triangle offense, empowering his three high-efficiency scorers on one side of the rim.

Alabama's colossal fan base has all but promised a locker and luxury dorm room with Montero's name on it. Bama fans appear to keep carrying a torch proudly for him.

 The Crimson Tide were one of the first schools to pursue Montero in March, following the Vikes 101-99 loss to Wallace State in the JUCO national tournament.

Is 'Bama still in the hunt with the front pack?

"I haven't heard from them in months," Mushatt said.

What he has heard is the unmistakably loud footsteps of Joel Angus, an interior scoring forward who averaged 12.6 points as a supplementary piece to Thomas in the paint last season.

Strong, athletic and effectively changing floors, expect an amplified role from Angus this season.

 The Vikes will orchestrate the offense through John Dewey, a tough little guard who has taken game management responsibilities into his own hands this fall.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Long Road Behind Him, KT Looks To Stabilize Frontline At SJU







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

 With the desire to stay local and play significant minutes immediately, Thomas chose nearby St. John’s over high-major suitors such as Arizona, Florida State, Miami, Fordham, Dayton, and Memphis.

The Johnnies’ frontcourt void and the Queens-campus’ proximity to Thomas’ Mount Vernon home made the Johnnies the most logical Division-I destination.

Thomas averaged 15.3 points and an NJCAA-leading 15.7 boards, bagging NJCAA Region XV Player of the Year honors.

He helped propel the Vikes to their first JUCO national tournament berth since 1996.

Shooting the rock at a 65.4 percent clip, Thomas pioneered the Vikes interior attack while taking bigs away from the rim with a dependable short-range jumper.

Thomas tore down 33 rebounds in a single game, just a few short of the still-standing NJCAA record. In another jarringly workmanlike performance, Thomas hit the glass to the tune of 31 rebounds, re-scripting the program record books in the process.

 Jockeying for position underneath the rim, boxing out and snaring down rocks until the final whistle, Thomas never stopped hustling.

Following Westchester’s berth in the JUCO national tournament in Kansas, which saw Thomas score 11 points, rip 13 boards, and dish out four assists, he was smothered by a sudden uptick in interest and several late recruiting pitches.

 During those weeks, he made a note to never pick up his cell phone unless he recognized the number.

The kid who fell so deep under the cracks of obscurity, who everyone had pigeonholed as over-the-hill and never be heard from again, was suddenly sought after.

New York recruiting presence Emmanuel “Book” Richardson, an assistant at Arizona, made a late push for the crisp-passing behemoth.

At age 23, Thomas is proof that you can still teach an old dog new tricks, especially among young pups.

WCC head coach Ty Mushatt called Thomas "one of the hardest working guys we've had here," often likening his kill-or-be-killed philosophy to that of a NAVY SEAL.

Fordham ramped up their aggression, busting out every recruiting tool imaginable to help sell Thomas.

Ultimately, the Johnnies' front court deficiency helped Thomas realize the instant impact opportunity he'd have at Steve Lavin's nearby program.

 Lavin has recruited a bevy of high-risk, high-reward players of Thomas’ caliber. Though he's not exactly Tarkanian in his philosophies, Lavin's propensity for recruiting those with checkered pasts indicates he's a firm believer in second chances.

 Yet the grim fact surrounding Lavin remains. He has not garnered an NCAA tournament since 2011.

 That memorable season, the Johnnies were led by hyper-clutch guard Dwight “Buckets” Hardy. Hardy's flair for the end game revitalized the program following an era of disappointment and ineptitude.

The Johnnies have sputtered, mired in mediocrity ever since.

They were bludgeoned by Northeast Conference foe Robert Morris, 89-78, during an NIT home disaster last spring. The tournament’s No.1 seed, the Johnnies buckled and crumbled under an early 19-2 run.
Lavin, he of the West Coast coaching resume, has yet to secure a Class of 2015 commit.

 He has yet to author the same recruiting success he had his first year, when he supplanted the oft-scrutinized Norm Roberts.

Because of New York's pressure cooking environment and the city's unavoidable and hyper-intense media machine, Lavin must win and win often this season.

If not, he can expect to hear fans calling for his job. As often as Roberts did during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 campaigns, that is.

Thomas played just one year of high school basketball at Yorktown, spearheading the Huskers to the Section 1 Final Four. A rediscovery of how much he loves the game allowed Thomas to return from a multi-year sabbatical.

The graduation of Orlando Sanchez and Godsgift Achiuwa opens up the potential for immediate playing time for Thomas and massive 7-foot, 322-pound freshman Adonis DelaRosa.

Many have likened “KT” to a more athletic version of Justin Brownlee, a former Johnnie forward known for his jack-of-all-trades adaptability.

"It's hard to pinpoint Keith's best attribute as a player and that's became he's always working on all components of his game," explained Mushatt, who played at St. Raymond's under the legendary Gary DeCesare.

"He's always in the gym. The best part about him though, is that he doesn't take prisoners. It doesn't matter who you are playing."

Thomas has turned his life around, his dicey background no longer an issue.


He staged a comeback on the AAU scene and continued to ply his trade in Yorktown, immersed in constant pickup games.

Thomas is the nephew of former Mount Vernon guard Randy Brunson, who won Sectional titles alongside current NBAer Ben Gordon in the early 2000s.

Weighing his options, Thomas decided to renew his basketball jones at Westchester. He professed a newfound love for the game to Mushatt a year ago today. In a move to gauge his seriousness, Mushatt told Thomas he would need to try out.

It was an opportunity Thomas simply couldn't let slip. Thomas knew wistful reminders of what could have been could haunt him down the road.

The rest is history.

Thomas authored efficiency during his freshman year.

He turned in a mammoth 29-point performance against Harcum Community, shooting 13-for-14 from the field. He nearly duplicated this with a 22-point performance, on 10-for-11 FG, against Orange County Community College.

At the tail end of the regular season, with a Regional Player of the Year award hanging in the balance, Thomas scored 28 points and tore down 17 rebounds, en route to a 82-70 win over Baltimore City Community College.

With the dark past in the rearview and the bright current opportunity to stabilize St. John’s frontline ahead, Thomas relishes the challenge of vaulting New York’s team back into the realm of respectability.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Alkins Steals Show, Goes Off En Route to MVP Honors












Rawle Alkins scanned the rim and saw Justin Wright-Foreman all alone in the open court. Floating up a lob pass that had a bit too much force on it, the ball ricocheted off the backboard and landed right back into Alkins' hands.

With every eyeball at a standing room-only Gaucho Gym widening, the bullish 6-foot-5, 210-pound two-guard delivered a violently emphatic two-handed dunk.

Not only did the play punctuate New York's 103-93 victory over New Jersey at the sixth annual Sharette Dixon Classic, not only did it send the crowd into a frenzy, it personified Alkins' night.

Attacking, finishing above the rim, infusing a laissez-faire offense with dazzling displays of athleticism, burying quickly-released 3-pointers, and carving through all defenders in his path, Alkins poured in 34 points en route MVP honors.

"The New Jersey guys started to get on a run, we just stayed together and won as a team," said Alkins, who reeled off a personal 6-0 run in a 48-second span in the fourth quarter.

After a jittery first half, New York employed a transition attack.

 A hailstorm of timely 3-pointers erased a six-point deficit and subsequently built a double digit fourth quarter lead.

Notre Dame-bound Matt Ryan bagged the tie-breaking 3-pointer, knotting it at 61-61 following a handful of lead changes. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound Ryan later got free for a corner trey, slicing it to 68-66.






Ty Jerome, a Virginia-commit and Ryan's Iona Prep teammate, cut it to 71-69 with an NBA range 3-pointer.

  Georgetown-commit Jessie Govan emerged with a loud stickback, knotting it at 71-all.

Then, Alkins erupted.

He swooped in for a putback of Ryan's mid-range jumper, converted a steal to a wowing reverse dunk and again went airborne, punching in Ryan's lob pass as New York seized a 78-73 lead that was never threatened.

Alkins is suddenly a marked man, one of the most highly-coveted recruits on the country's recruiting market.

 With a Big East body, sky-scraping athleticism, and an ability to get the right shots off with ease, Alkins was rendered un-guardable Saturday night.

His phone is often bombarded with text messages from high-major coaches all across the country.

He's the high-energy guard inundated with recruiting mail and autograph requests while cameras and microphones are thrust in his face.

"Kentucky's starting to get into the mix, Arizona is starting to get into the mix with Coach Book (Richardson)," said Alkins, now hounded by Louisville, Seton Hall, Indiana, Minnesota, N.C. State, Villanova, Providence and countless others.

"Right now I'm probably getting texts as we speak."

Wright-Foreman and Desure Buie were New York's key sources in the third quarter, knifing to the rim and finishing.


 The team identity, sorely lacking in the first half, developed during the final 15 minutes of the game. New York began kicking in the extra pass and featuring Alkins.

"We got stops and I think we played together more than them," said Jerome, who kicked in a nifty no-look pass to Govan for a bucket and an 86-78 lead.

The team was far from a piecemeal product, as several players established chemistry in the NY v.s. Philly game last weekend.

Each year, this event showcases the top student-athletes from both states.

Dixon is the late, loving wife of Kimani Young, the former New Heights pioneer and current assistant coach at Minnesota.

 New Heights has churned out a steady crop of local talent and is one of the country's premiere grassroots programs and perennial Division-I launchpads.

 Many in attendance shelled out donations for Young's family, for whom the event raises money.

Dixon was an English professor at Kingsborough Community College and the event honors academic success.

While the thrill factor of Alkins and the piecemeal team that found fluidity during a second half surge was the story, the point illustrated was simple: The power is in the pencils.

A significant percentage of the student-athletes showcased are honor roll and high honor roll members.

Huskers Get Complete Effort In 42-14 Roasting Of Dutchmen

Yorktown overcame a rash of untimely penalties, avenged an exasperating 34-33 OT loss from 2013 , and received the across-the-boards team contributions that's become emblematic of the Senior Night Spirit.

The end result was a thorough 42-14 trouncing of Tappan Zee at home Friday Night.

One of five remaining Section 1 teams with an unblemished record, the 6-0 Huskers were again catalyzed by an imposing ground game.

Junior halfback Nick Santavicca cut, zipped, and bounced around a bevy of tacklers aching to knock him off his path.

The Section's leading rusher, Santavicca churned out 185 yards on 17 touches.

Also mashing and moving was senior Ryan Brandt, who hit the ground for 45 yards, hauled in a 35-yard pass from Ryan Baker and provided a two-yard TD plunge which fattened Yorktown's lead to 35-7 with 3:49 remaining in the third quarter.

Senior defensive back Ryan Cegielski, bouncing back from a nagging injury, had a commendable performance with three solos, five assisted tackles, an interception and a forced fumble.

While Ciegelski's defensive fortitude punctuated the Senior Night slaying, Yorktown's youth movement broke out with flashes of  promise.

Sophomore wide receiver Max Costello inhaled a 44-yard touchdown pass from Baker and classmate Jose Boyer ripped off a 35-yard touchdown jaunt, padding the insurmountable lead to 42-7 with 10:43 to go in the fourth quarter.

Baker's fleet of foot sparked Yorktown's quick-paced attack. The elusive senior broke a pair of touchdown runs  and was flinging the rock through the Dutchmen's secondary. He passed for a game-best 103 yards, showcasing the arm he spent much of the summer refining.

Yorktown arrived at the doorstep of 2014 without the high expectations and hearsay.

Now the Huskers are demanding a measure of respect that's resonated around the Northern County.

Traditional blood rival John Jay, waiting in the wings for a scintillating Week 7 matchup, surely hears the footsteps.

"I think you'll be in for a show," said Huskers head coach Mike "House" Rescigno.

"This will be the week that we work the hardest, so far. The coaching staff has the same philosophy as our kids. We can rev it up even more each week. I know what John Jay's capable of. I know Jimmy Clark very well. He's a real good coach. He's going to be prepared, his kids are going to be prepared as I know our kids are going to be prepared.

Yorktown's secondary was ready to play from the jump Friday night. After Cegielski picked off Liam Donahue's first pass of the night, Nick Golio levitated in front of the intended receiver and plucked a pass from the sky.

Buoyed by effective blocking, the senior motored back to the house for what appeared as a pick-six.

Much to the chagrin of a full throttled CROP crowd, which instantly serenaded the referee crew with a "Nuts and Bolts" chant, the play was nullified due to penalty.

 Penalties, which halted action in the Week 4 win against Brewster, again reared their hated head.

"We've been saying it all year, we have to try and play more perfect all the time," Rescigno said.

"There were some flags. That seems to be the theme this year for Yorktown. Like it or not, we have to take care of it."

Improving on a week-to-week basis has been pivotal for the Huskers, which ran into Dutchmen team piecing together the rebar of a thorough rebuilding project.

Tappan Zee sliced the deficit to 14-7 when John Daly motored 17 yards down the right sideline. Yorktown answered in bang-quick fashion.

With the line providing the necessary push and warding off trench traffic, the Huskers worked the chains through-surprise, surprise--Santavicca.

Baker, who spent much of the off-season polishing up his arm and adding on range, hit a streaking Costello to extend the lead to two touchdowns.

"Our line does a great job of protecting Ryan, that gives Ryan a ton of time to throw us the ball every day," said Costello, who took advantage of the most significant playing time of his young career.

The dramatics swirling around the ensuing John Jay/Yorktown game cuts right into the heart of this rivalry.

 Both teams have been staunch rivals for as long back as they can remember. The Crop v.s. The Tribe has all the explosive elements of an entertaining sideshow.

 Due to the upper-crust lacrosse and volleyball programs possessed by both programs, Yorktown and Jay are frequently on a collision course en route to championship territory.

Jay handed Beacon its lone loss of the season with a statement 44-22 Week 5 win.

Due to the intense nature that's defined this storied rivalry, it is only right this one is saved for the tail end of the season.

The Indians have a Super 11 selection in Ryan Lee, who will play lacrosse for Richmond next season.

Lee wears several helmets for Clark's team. He can sling it. He can scamper. He can line up as a receiver and haul in passes.

Lee racked up 271 total yards in the Indians' 41-20 drubbing of Brewster earlier this season. He aired it out for 145 yards on a 9-for-9 clip in a 46-7 mauling of Tappan Zee, handling double duty with 107 yards on 10 touches. He does everything but hand out tickets and sell hot dogs at halftime.

Buckle up.



Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Bedford's Munson Adapting To Leadership Role













Defense, defense, defense.

Academics-crazed Bedford Academy knows the recipe for overcoming lack of size and blue chip power entails pints of rugged team defense. 

That model has helped Bedford sustain a stranglehold on PSAL "A" teams the past few seasons.

Minimizing penetration, vanishing the passing lanes, closing out on shooters, and pursuing the ball through 94 feet has shaped Bedford into a perennial contender. 

For junior guard Anthony Munson, who adjusts from Supplementary Sophomore to Jumbo Junior, defensive grit was never a question. 

Munson enters the 2014-15 as one of the league's fiercest on-the-ball hounds, a well-built 6-foot-2 guard known for altering shot selections throughout conference play. 

It's the kingpin role that the incoming alpha dog must acclimatize to. 

Filling the gap created by since-graduated Darren Thomas and Layte Workman, Munson's evolution as a more aggressive scorer is necessary. Now a three-year starter, Munson will shoulder leadership responsibilities at an around-the-clock rate. 

It's on him to take high-pressure shots and to call his own number during heightened moments. When the stakes soar, when Bedford looks for a much-needed spark, Munson will be called upon to supply the fireworks. 

Spurring the team with confrontational defense and clutch, game-altering shots is the role he truly covets.

It's also the role Phelps has envisioned for him since last season ended.

"We need him to step up from being a 12-13 points per game scorer to being more of a 20-points per game scorer," Phelps explained. 

"He has to really bear the load of scoring points, him and Ian (Roach). That's where a bulk of our scoring is going to come from."

Roach was locked inside the gym all summer.

Firing 3-pointer after 3-pointer and extending his stroke well beyond the 3-point line, the 6-foot-2 off guard has subscribed to a 500-600 shots per night regimen. 

Roach's new range and increased catch-and-stick acumen was evident throughout Scrimmage Wars

Munson, a consistent double-digit scorer for a loaded New Heights team featuring 6-foot-3 Virginia-commit Ty Jerome at point guard and Duquesne-commit Kai Sanders, has interest from Division-I schools such as Brown, Holy Cross and George Mason.

Tournaments such as the Sunflower Showcase in Kansas City and the UAA finals in Georgia, a showcase event which New Heights won, kept Munson active in a basketball-centric environment.

While he was flanked by star-spangled recruits on the AAU circuit, Munson knows its loyalty over royalty.

And so he'll compete for his third PSAL 'A' championship in as many years with the same kids he's played alongside since he was nine.

Anthony Gibbs, Romello Ford, Trevis Wigfall and Munson are a hoops quartet. Their feel for the game first developed with the Staten Island Ironmen.

Meshing since the good old days, this inseparable basketball clique has now made championships the key chapters in their lifeline.

"The chemistry that we have together is outstanding," Munson said. "It's always great to have your closest friends, like your brothers, on the team to keep you motivated. We keep playing."

Now, Phelps hopes Munson will run his mouth as effectively as he runs the floor. He must become more vocal, commandeering the offensive flow through action and words. 

Given Munson's knack for splitting open the driving lanes and scoring via self-creation, expect the ball to be in his hands more. 

Bedford's year-round team focus, underscored by day-long open gym runs and team camps throughout the summer, helps enhance the squad's offensive fluidity. 

 Munson will do his decent share of quarterbacking, kicking in the extra pass and flinging it to Roach on kickouts and perimeter spot-ups.  

His game has even earned the plaudits of the bordering Brooklyn area competition.

"Munson is probably the best on-the-ball defender in the A and probably guarded (28.4 PPG scorer) Matt Scott better than anyone else we faced," Brooklyn Law and Tech coach Mike Levy said. 

"He made (Scott) earn every point he scored. Munson has always been the backbone to that team. Even as a freshman, you could see the toughness in the kid. You could see that he was a hard-nosed player. His hustle and aggressiveness is emblematic of what Bedford does. It really spreads to the whole team."

One of the city's elite academic schools, Bedford has translated the intellect to a cerebral on-the-court identity.

 Poised to fend off high-scoring teams with innate toughness, Bedford places extra emphasis on preparation. 

The grind begins with Phelps' dreaded early bird workouts, which routinely has Bedford's roster hitting the alarm clock as early as 5 a.m. and 4:45 a.m.

"The first week of morning workouts, everybody has to get used to it," Munson said.

"It's a good way of getting you ready for the season. It gets you stretched out, conditioned.  Your body gets used to it. I don't know any other teams in the city that do that and practice that early. It just shows how good and committed we are as a team."

Phelps, a cyborg-like scorer at Nazareth High and a hot-shooting role player at Providence in the Big East, isn't exactly an advocate of AAU or its murky underworld.

He runs this team in the style of a small college program. Weight room work, defensive work, laborious drill sessions in which they won't even touch the basketball, and team concepts are necessities.

Since Bedford features just two scholastic sports, basketball and track, Phelps is almost never short on numbers during spring and fall workouts.

It creates a winning formula.

"The main thing I've improved in my game is my dribbling and my shooting," Munson said.

"Last year I was kind of a slasher, an everything to the rim kind of player. This year, I'd like to improve more on the shooting and ball handling."

The intangibles are equally as pivotal.

"I'd like to be more vocal with the team because this year because we have more sophomores and incoming freshman that are trying out," Munson said.

 "I've got to get everybody involved and keep us confident and on the road to the chip." 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Uno En Uno With: Cameron Ciero, Horace Greeley Football






Cameron Ciero can't get a break.

Never could.

Likely never will.

 Not with a thorough support system that has lofty expectations and constantly holds him to a high standard.

 Since he was seven, Ciero recalls his brothers challenging him to be the best out of a proven football bloodline.

Constantly filling his head with advice, keeping close tabs on his production tree, it's been added guidance and pressure-free hounding.

Whether it was teaching him proper tackling techniques or demonstrating how to protect the football in his bicep, Jeremy and Justin Ciero have readied the youngest for the same stage they once savored.

If he messes up, Cameron Ciero knows he's got two voices to hear it from. There are no free passes.

At the same token, he's got two sources for guidance and steady motivational maxims.

If he needs a someone to push him through a rigorous workout, there's an open door policy at home.

 Justin Ciero is now at Fordham, living out Division-I dreams following an all-NECSAC stay as Colby College's quarterback.

 Jeremy Ciero is 20 minutes up the road at Pace.

 And so both Justin and Jeremy are still an everyday presence, traipsing the sidelines and providing even closer moral support.

Growing up in a sports-crazed family, where everything from one-on-one basketball to endless games of "kill the carrier" to a simple foot race results in rough-and-tumble competition, Ciero knows taking it easy on him isn't an option.

Growing up in this house, Cameron Ciero didn't have to travel to big arenas in New Jersey or peruse sports highlights or devour endless hours of NFL Sundays to become enamored with football.

 All he had to do was report to the backyard.

Ciero, a 25 PPG scorer and poster boy of Greeley's basketball team, has balanced the sports in which Jeremy and Justin--as in, the guys who took no leniency while posting him up in the driveway  and cracking him with bone-rattling tackles in the backyard--pushed his ascension.

Slightly taller and a bit more physical than his two brothers before him, the mash-happy Ciero has evolved into one of the most dangerous dual threats in Section 1.

Clocking a 4.65 in the 40-yard dash, Ciero has racked up 675 yards on 75 touches to supplement his 692 yards in the air (slinging it at a 50-for-81 clip, 6TDs, 2INT).

Ciero possesses the patience to let the plays unfold in Tim Sullivan's fast-paced, field-spreading offensive attack.

Becoming more comfortable in the pocket, the senior has improved his decision making and quickness.

Displaying a proclivity for quick patterns, most notably slants and hitches, Ciero feeds a wealth of options in stride.

And if the play breaks down? The 6-foot, 190-pound Ciero instantly looks to scramble, keeping his size 11 cleats moving amid traffic and contact.

In basketball, Ciero is a hard-driving scorer by trade. He takes pride in snaking along the baseline, grittily penetrating the teeth of defenses and finishing amidst big rim protectors.

Paced by Justin at speed workouts and attending camps at Yale, Holy Cross, Bentley, Middlebury, and Columbia, Ciero entered the 2014 campaign with championship aspirations.

Ciero On Family Support

"We are a very competitive family, so anytime we play a backyard game it is a battle. Justin and Jeremy have been a huge influence for me, because they've both been in the position I am in right now. So, they know what it takes to succeed. I try to learn as much as possible from them. I look up to both of them a lot and try to mimic what they do. They are my influences because they always make me work harder and strive to be better than them."

"Football was introduced to me by both of my brothers. They always got me involved in their backyard games when we were younger. I got hooked and wanted to keep playing and pursue it."

 On Being A Multi-Sport Athlete 

"Basketball has always been a passion of mine and seeing my brothers play so much made me want to work harder and take it more seriously. My goal is to play both sports in college."

"Playing both sports year-round is a lot of dedication and it takes up a lot of time. It's necessary. If sports is something you're interested in, it's something you love to do." 

 On His Role And Team Identity 

"Coach Sully (Tim Sullivan) is a great coach and has developed a system where he uses both my passing and running ability. He gives me the freedom to make adjustments as I see weaknesses in the defense. I feel our offense is best when we are uptempo and making the defense move. We have a really big and talented line. I couldn't make any big plays without them."

"What helps us as a team is we have a great relationship with each other. Being friends off the field helps our chemistry on the field. I've been playing with a lot of these guys for a while, so I know their tendencies. It helps me make decisions on the field."

On His Receivers 

"We get together over the summer and try to throw as often as possible. The goal is to get our timing down and maintain our chemistry. We developed very rapidly. As a team, we hosted very productive workouts this year and everything on the offensive side came together nicely and quickly." 

On Team Aspirations

"Our ultimate goal is a championship and we feel that we have the potential to do that, but we need to take it game by game."