In New York state basketball, there is only one top prize. They hand it out today around 4 p.m. at the Times Union Center. You win it, you are the undisputed Kings of the Mecca.
Mount Vernon will play for that prize against CHSAA champion Christ the King. Only Rice, with six championships, has earned the crown more than Mount Vernon. The Knights enter the afternoon tied with Lincoln of Coney Island for the second-most large-school Federation titles with four, but Christ the King is the defending champs. The Royals actually beat Boys & Girls last year in the final after they bounced public-school state champ CBA-Albany in the semis.
Anyway, last game of the year, last pick of the year. Let’s get at it…
Last round: 1-0
Class AA state Federation final
Mount Vernon vs. Christ the King (CHSAA), at the Times Union Center, 2 p.m.: Unlike Boys & Girls, I’ve never seen CTK play before so I’ve solicited a lot of opinions. I can tell you that CTK and Mount Vernon scrimmaged back in the fall and that CTK dominated. Bob Cimmino said after Saturday night’s win that it was a six-quarter scrimmage and CTK probably won 4 1/2 to 1 1/2. But we are a loooong way from November.
It wasn’t always roses and gumdrops for Christ the King. The Royals started 9-6 and suffered when George Mason-bound point guard Corey Edwards missed the first month of the regular season. Then they struggled when Edwards returned and they had to figure out how to integrate him with junior star Omar Calhoun, a slasher who had dominated the ball in Edwards’ absence. The process took a while but you can now consider it completed; CTK has won its last 13 games, including a 60-57 victory over Rice in the CHSAA AA championship game.
Christ the King also beat Rice 67-54 earlier this season, which, you would think, is a bad sign for a Mount Vernon team that lost to Rice in late January. But clearly the Knights are different now and feature a number of weapons that have combined to form a real rotation. The only other common opponent was defending Pennsylvania state champ Neumann-Goretti, which both teams beat.
Although Calhoun, the No. 2-rated junior in the state, is CTK’s most talented player from an upside standpoint and the team’s leading scorer at around 20 per game, it sounds like Edwards is the player to stop. He is a pure point who makes the Royals go, with the talented 6-foot-5 Calhoun ready at attack from the wing and 6-foot-8 senior Chris Ortiz filling the role of a rebounder and defender in the paint. T.J. Curry joins Calhoun and Edwards in the backcourt. Ortiz is joined in the frontcourt by 6-3 Terrel Hunt, a quarterback who has signed with Syracuse. Obviously, you know Hunt is strong and you know he’s an athlete. Ortiz and Curry have both earned Division I interest, while Calhoun has already been wooed by UNC, Pitt and Villanova, among others.
Clearly, both teams have an abundance of talent. But at this point, the game will undoubtedly come down to the fourth quarter. No team will win by more than seven or eight points, and it will likely be even closer. CTK coach Joe Arbitello told the New York Post before this weekend that he didn’t want the bye, but typically the rested team fares well in the final. I don’t know now. When I study the Royals’ results, I see a bunch of close wins over teams I’ve seen that I would take Mount Vernon over today without much thought. So if the Knights limit Edwards’ penetration and Jabarie Hinds stays on the floor, Mount Vernon can win. Just like on Saturday, it will need its long wing players Isaiah Cousins and Randy Stephens to check Calhoun, perhaps the best junior in the city. The pick? Mount Vernon 70, Christ the King 66