NEW ROCHELLE — Rasaun Young received a call at the firehouse from a New Rochelle basketball supporter, one of many who rang these last two weeks to express their gratitude. This time, a simple question was posed — “How does it feel?” — but Young wasn’t quite sure how to respond.
“To tell you the truth, it didn’t sink in yet because of all the other hoopla,” Young said. “I’ve been too busy making sure my kids stay focused on what we have to do.”
It’s the type of hysteria they may never experience again, but, despite the blinding shine of cameras, the 37-year-old first-year coach and his players’ focus have been filtered in purple, white and black.
“It’s been fun. We’re going to enjoy it while we can,” said senior Khalil Edney, who received the bulk of the limelight after his buzzer-beater in the Section 1 final went viral. “We have great coaches. They keep us grounded. They keep us locked in for practice. We have boundaries with the media and that’s kept us calm.”
Young and school administrators have achieved a tenuous balance between allowing players their 15 minutes of fame and limiting its impact on them as student-athletes. He and athletic director Steve Young (no relation) have worked together to handle interview requests, with the latter informing principal Don Conetta and district communications director Paul Costiglio about appearances and potential conflicts.
On Monday, March 4, the day after Edney’s buzzer-beater, the school allowed Edney and seniors Joe Clarke and Donny Powell to miss school and tour the talk show circuit. They met several high-profile TV personalities and celebrities, including R&B star Ashanti.
Since then, the school only denied a couple of interview requests: One when the demands on Edney had escalated, another when they infringed even further on his time in the classroom.
“This will probably never happen again in a lifetime,” Rasaun Young said. “The school has been great. I thought it was important for these guys to live in the moment and enjoy it. They deserve it.”
The experience exacerbated the learning curve for Young, who, along with typical first-year administrative adjustments, has also developed a team that started 1-5 and was still just 8-9 a month ago. He tweaked its starting lineup, built New Rochelle’s bench into a strength, and crafted a deadly press, all while players rehashed the drama on national TV.
The attention has, perhaps, overshadowed the progress. Young replaced Powell with junior Drew Peterson as the starting point guard in early January and the bench trio of Powell, Edney and senior Terrence Holden has evolved into one of the team’s greatest strengths.
Those three and junior guard Derek Dorn have fueled the press, with Young, a 1993 New Rochelle graduate, incorporating techniques he learned while coaching at rival Mount Vernon.
“I have more energy,” Powell said. “By the time I come in, the other team’s guards are usually worn down. I’m a fresh pair of legs.”
The Huguenots will deploy their press to try to rattle much bigger opponents at the state final four, beginning with Northport at 12:30 p.m. in Saturday’s semifinals. They know — as Edney and Clarke have proved — that adulation accompanies accomplishment.
“They are our leaders. With them being humble, the team has followed them,” Dorn said. “We’re all humble now. We have one goal: To bring a state championship to New Rochelle.”
Class AA state semifinal
New Rochelle (15-9) vs. Section 11’s Northport (22-2)
When: Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
Where: Glens Falls Civic Center
Key players: New Rochelle — Joe Clarke (6-3), Sr., F; Khalil Edney (6-4), Sr., F; Derek Dorn (6-0), Jr., G. Northport — Luke Petrasek (6-9), Sr., F; Mike Milligan Jr. (6-5), Sr., G/F; Matt Smith (5-10), Sr., PG.
Outlook: For the first time all postseason, New Rochelle will be at a distinct size disadvantage. Petrasek is a skilled forward who averages 18 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks per game. He has received Division I offers from Hofstra, Binghamton and the Citadel. Milligan is an athletic swingman who transferred in from St. Dominic’s via Crespi High School in California and has also received interest from scholarship schools. Clarke, Edney and company have thrived against bigger players earlier this season, particularly at the Slam Dunk vs. St. Mary’s 6-foot-10 big man Jessie Govan, one of the top sophomore recruits in the country. The Huguenots will rely on their defensive pressure to try to rattle Northport, which upset Baldwin 43-40 in the Long Island championship and has held opponents under 50 points per game. Both teams’ surprising journeys to Glens Falls were led by first-year coaches. Like New Rochelle’s Rasaun Young, Northport’s Anthony D’Eloia took over his alma mater this season.
What’s next: The winner will face either Section 2’s Troy (20-3) or Section 5’s Bishop Kearney (15-7) in the state championship game at 3:15 Sunday afternoon at the Glens Falls Civic Center. Bishop Kearney lost 71-61 to Mount Vernon on Jan. 6 at West Point but played the game without senior Chinonso Obokoh, a 6-foot-10 forward committed to Syracuse who is one of three players 6-8 or taller on the team’s frontline. Similarly, Troy is led by 6-9 and 6-7 forwards.
Northport coach Anthony D’Eloia —
On Petrasek: “He’s has a very big potential. He’s definitely a late bloomer.”
On Milligan: “He is an athlete, a good defender. He’s another college prospect. He can really finish around the rim.”
On the supporting cast: “All of our guys can shoot it. We’re a team that executes that works the ball.”
On beating Baldwin in the Long Island championship: “I don’t know if we were an underdog. Once you get to this point in the season, there are really no underdogs. If you weren’t good, you wouldn’t be there at this point in tournament.”
On New Rochelle: “Dorn and Clarke and Edney are the key guys. They seem to be very good players. It seems like they do a lot of damange inside are are very well-coached. I think it’s going to be a very good challenge for us.”
On Northport’s height advantage: “A lot of it depends on how the game flows. Obviously, height is always an advantage in high school basketball, but if you have a quick guard on the floor and he goes around the big guy, it doesn’t matter.”
New Rochelle coach Rasaun Young —
On Northport: “I know they’re long. 6-9, 6-8. They went very big at one point. Played zone most of that game, but also play man to man. They’re a little different from what we used to.”
On being prepared: “We played Harborfields and St. Mary’s. Our bigs did pretty well against them. I just hope they step up. Guys that need to step up are Khalil and JOe. I’m asking a lot from them. I think they can be up for the challenge.”
On his team’s physicality: “We have guys who don’t mind going in there and banging in Terrence Holden and Joe Clarke.”
On Northport’s size affecting the game: “They’re long. You can’t teach strength, but they can block shots and change our shots.”
On New Ro’s press: “We’re going to play like we’ve been playing. We’re going to pick up when we need to. That’s been our success. We’ve had success when we do that.”
On Northport’s backcourt: “They have a strong point guard who can play. The other two guards can shoot the ball. I hope with our pressure defense how we play that we can change things a little bit for them.”