Side note: If you haven’t already, give a listen to our podcast on the sectional tournament here.
In Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals, LeBron James posted a triple-double (26 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists) to clinch the Miami Heat’s second NBA title. For me, though, the one player that will always stand out in that game isn’t James or fellow Big-3 members Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh.
It was a white kid from South Dakota.
Mike Miller, who had averaged 6.1 points that season, scored 23, including going 7 of 8 from 3-point land, to help the Heat to an NBA championship.
Basketball is a star-driven game. I wouldn’t argue that for a second. However, when the playoffs start, guys who might not have been in the spotlight the entire season tend to step up. One player can only do so much. Eventually he needs his teammates’ help.
The best example I can give of this is Robert Horry. Despite having never played in a single All-Star game, Horry has won seven, YES SEVEN, NBA Championships. Horry might have averaged double-figure points only three times in 16 seasons, but when the playoffs came around he always seemed to come up big.
So in Horry and Miller’s honor, I’ve picked five players from the three tournaments that start this week — Class AA, A and B — who play for potential contenders and could propel their team to glory. Chances are you’ve heard of these guys. Some might be considered role players, while others play second fiddle to a big-time star.
Either way, strong performances by any of these 15 could push a season into March.
Josh might have his Super 7, but now I present to you…
The Robert Horry 15
Everyone knows about the Red Raiders big man Elijah Tillman, but overlooking fellow forward Nardone could be a devastating mistake. The senior is North Rockland’s second-leading scorer, and has been one of its most consistent. If Nardone can put together a string of strong performances (like his 20-point games against Scarsdale and New Rochelle this season), the Red Raiders will be a shoe-in for the County Center.
Ricky McGill, Spring Valley
Kai Mitchell might draw all the attention, but McGill has just as much potential to be a threat. The guard poured in 20 points against Clarkstown North in the season finale, as the Tigers clinched the league title. With so many teams looking to focus on Mitchell, it should open up space for McGill.
Dan Tully, Mahopac
The Mahopac frontcourt has gotten plenty of attention this season, and rightfully so. How their guards perform, specifically Tully, could dictate if the Indians return to the championship. Tully did a great job on Somers’ John Decker last week, holding him to eight points and only one field goal. If he can continue to provide solid defense, while distributing the ball to Mahopac’s big men, the team riding a 13-game winning streak should continue to thrive.
Khalil Edney, New Rochelle
Edney has been a nice compliment to Joe Clarke all year. The question is if he can make the next step. If Edney can evolve into more of a consistent scoring threat down low — in addition to his steady rebounding and shot blocking — it will open up the paint Clarke. If there is anyone that can do it, it’s the kid who just quarterbacked his football team to a state championship. It might be a different sport, but winners always win.
Jamal Lewis, Mount Vernon
Josh and I can go blue in the face discussing who we think the more important Knight is between Brandon Martin and Josh Doughty. The fact of the matter is, when healthy, Lewis can be almost as important to this team. It was Lewis who posted three strong games at the REB Invitational to open the year, and Lewis who exploded for 18 points against New Rochelle in their first meeting. Granted, the guard hasn’t been 100 percent for the Knights. If he can return to form in time for the tournament, look out. Oh yeah, and don’t even think about letting him get out into the open court.
Jeff Lynch, Byram Hills
Despite being probably the Bobcats most talented player, injuries have hobbled Lynch the last two seasons. Andrew Groll and Ryan Golden have stepped up in his place, but to make it through the deepest class in Section 1, Lynch will need to need to star. The good news is he feels better than at any point this season and the tournament schedule should provide the senior plenty of recovery time between games.
Lylle Ryals, Panas (pictured above)
Early season losses have put Panas in a tough spot with the 13th seed. Vaughn Dweck has been an absolute beast for the Panthers, and played a huge role in getting the them a share of the league title with Peekskill. Ryals, a long, inside-outside presence, has been every bit as important. A big tournament from him could turn Panas into the Cinderella of Class A.
Musheed Muhammad, Peekskill
You live by the 3; you die by the 3. No team has emphasized this belief more than the Red Devils. When Jay Cabell and Ramon Searight are on, Peekskill is one of the scariest teams in the class. If the Red Devils hopes to make it to the County Center, they won’t be able to simply rely on the deep ball. If Muhammad is able to stay out of foul trouble and dominate the paint, the Red Devils might play into March.
Tom McConnell, Albertus Magnus (pictured above, left)
It’s no secret that Albertus is Jack Sullivan’s team. With that being said, every star needs a supporting cast and, with few exceptions, the rest of the Falcons have played their part well. Now, Albertus has potentially three straight games against teams with sizable frontcourts (Panas, Peekskill, Byram Hills). How McConnell competes in the paint as the Falcons’ primary big man will play a major role in how deep they advance.
D’Andre Smith, Poughkeepsie
Jermar Dancy might be arguably the most talented player in this class, but Smith is one of several role players who could hold the key to Poughkeepsie’s championship aspirations. If Smith can string together big games it will alleviate some pressure from Dancy and push the Pioneers closer towards that coveted gold ball.
Umar Singh has been a beast for North Salem all year, but Tunas has put up some huge numbers as well. During North Salem and Somers’ first meeting, the senior guard had 34 points. Don’t remember that? Probably because Decker (44) and Singh (37) grabbed your attention first. I’m sure Tunas cares more about winning a gold ball than making headlines, but he can do both with a solid tournament.
Jared Jones, Briarcliff (pictured right)
Nothing swings a game more than a 3-pointer, and one of the best at sinking them is the Bears’ Jones. While Brian Daniels provides the power and strength down low, it’s Jones who brings finesse from the perimeter. With momentum playing such a huge role in the postseason, a few well-timed 3s could be exactly what the Bears need to have a deep run.
Ryan Basso, Putnam Valley
It’s tough to really pick out a star on this Putnam Valley team with so many different players stepping up at various points throughout the season. As of late, the hot man has been Basso. If he can keep up his current pace, in addition to Jelani Bell–Isaac’s solid play inside, the Tigers will be a real threat to make a deep run.
Jason Howald, Croton-Harmon
OK, so Ian Thom is the Tigers’ leading scorer…by a lot. No doubt about whose team this is. As we get into the playoffs though, Thom will need some help. Howald has been solid for Croton-Harmon throughout the season. If the Tigers hope to have a repeat of the same upset magic they had against Woodlands in last year’s tournament, he could prove to be key.
Eric Paschall, Dobbs Ferry
OK, I know what you’re thinking. How could “Mr.Basketball” be considered a role-playing difference maker. Yes, Paschall is a known commodity. He is on everyone’s radar. That being said, I think this bracket is the perfect storm for the Eagles to ride Paschall. The junior turned it up another level to close out the season. What better way to prove he was deserving of being only the fourth junior since 1996 to be named Mr. Basketball than by leading his team to a Gold Ball?