Coaches are known as people who run practice, manage subs and try to solve X’s and O’s. Another part of their job — one that could even prove to be a more important task to master — is developing young players.
In today’s 2013-14 boys basketball preview, Dan DeFrancesco tackles that subject in the main story. He takes a look at Spring Valley, which, after two years of juggling two of the school’s most talented players in years, appears poised to contend for a gold ball.
Below Dan’s story is a list of the area’s top teams to watch in each class. In case you missed it, you can find this year’s Super 7 — as well as the Second 7 — listed in a previous post. (CLICK HERE for the Super 7)
As Spring Valley athletic director Bill Pilla draped banners he purchased for the basketball program’s 1,000-point scorers in the winter of 2012, he arrived at a daunting realization. Pilla had a tough enough time raising money for the seven banners due to the district’s tightening budget. The play of then-freshmen Kai Mitchell and Rickey McGill, the Tigers’ top two scorers that season, indicated his troubles were far from over.
“I was like, wow, I’m going to have to figure out a way in three years to get a couple more banners,” Pilla said. “I thought we had something there.”
Identifying and developing young talent is key to any successful program, and no team has better exemplified that point recently than Spring Valley.
Mitchell, a 6-foot-5 forward, and McGill, a 6-foot guard, enter their junior seasons as two of the top players in the area after earning first- and second-team all-county honors, respectively. They led the Tigers to a 17-3 record, the League 4-A title and a No. 1 seed in the Class AA tournament last season.
Spring Valley isn’t the first team to benefit from the growth of young talent — just the most recent and obvious. Choosing when to promote a young player is one of the most important decisions a coach can make.
For many, it’s dependent on what the situation dictates.
“We’re not going to bring up a kid and sit him on the bench,” said Byram Hills coach Ted Repa, whose three straight trips to the Class A sectional final were fueled by contributions from underclassmen. “That doesn’t make sense developmentally for the kid. … I think that’s the key: If you have an opening where they can get some minutes, that’s tremendous value.”
For Tigers coach Willie Worsley, indications that Mitchell and McGill were special players came from their willingness to improve. The Tigers went 7-12 and had plenty of lopsided losses during Mitchell’s and McGill’s initial season on varsity, but the duo’s commitment never wavered.
“The next day in practice they didn’t quit,” Worsley said of how the youngsters reacted after losses. “They came out and tried to correct the mistakes they made.”
Two years later, McGill has committed to Manhattan while Mitchell has attracted attention from several Division I teams.
Both said the biggest improvement in their games has been having the maturity to not let the little things bother them.
“Not to get frustrated as much,” Mitchell said. “Just keep focus and keep a level head.”
“We’re all starting to become mature enough to know what we’re doing,” McGill added.
Pulling up a young player isn’t always successful. Longtime Peekskill coach Lou Panzanaro said years of watching younger players struggle and lose confidence on varsity led him to be more hesitant.
When a player is special enough to bring up as a freshman or sophomore, Panzanaro said it’s a delicate process.
“You’re a little bit more tolerant with the younger kids,” Panzanaro said. “You give them a little bit more leeway. … I think you’ve got to be more patient with them.”
As for the possibility of adding more banners to the rafters of the Spring Valley gym, Mitchell (564 points) and McGill (517 points) are certainly on pace.
Not that Pilla is worried.
“We’ll get it done one way or the other,” Pilla said. “We’ll figure it out.”
TEAMS TO WATCH
Class AA —
• Mount Vernon: Even if the Knights wanted to forget that buzzer-beating, championship-winning shot by New Rochelle’s Khalil Edney, it would be impossible. Watching “The Shot” for the last nine months should be a motivator for a team led by seniors Devonte Banner, Brandon Martin and Yhanni Bartley.
• Spring Valley: With Kai Mitchell and Rickey McGill, the Tigers have perhaps the section’s top duo. They also have four starters back and another promising big man in 6-foot-5 Jordan Duncan.
• White Plains: Pace-bound senior Mike DeMello will anchor the backcourt and should have plenty of help, namely 6-foot-6 freshman Jordan Tucker. Although he’s yet to make his high school debut, the highly coveted swingman is already a high-major recruit.
• Clarkstown South: The Vikings’ experienced senior backcourt of Conor McGuinness and Joe Zayer should be among the section’s best. Forwards Kevin Martinez and Kyle Beckmann bolster a deep supporting cast.
• Fox Lane: A big, deep roster could put the Foxes back in County Center contention. Rangy, skilled senior James Morales is one of the area’s top guards.
• New Rochelle: The defending section champ and state runner-up was decimated by graduation. The Huguenots will rely heavily on the returning backcourt of Derek Dorn and Drew Peterson as younger players gain seasoning.
Others to watch: Mahopac, North Rockland, Ossining, Yorktown
Class A —
• Peekskill: Chemistry will be important because the Red Devils certainly have the talent, headlined by returning contributors Laron Holt, Musheed Muhammad, and Chavis Pigott.
• Eastchester: Returning all-section players Jack Daly and Mike Milo lead a deep, athletic team with all but two contributors back (once Milo returns from injury). The Eagles appear destined to return to the County Center.
• Poughkeepsie: The defending champ graduated 10 seniors and returns just one player, senior forward Otis Elvy. Still, expect the Pioneers to be better — and relevant — come late February.
• Pearl River: The Pirates took some lumps as Kevin Degnan’s supporting cast gained experience last season. Now, Thomas Armour, James Linnane and Jack Byrnes are among those ready to provide increased production.
Others to watch: Byram Hills, Tappan Zee, Our Lady of Lourdes, Harrison, Beacon, Brewster
Class B —
• Putnam Valley: With other schools up in class or hit hard by graduation, the Tigers appear like a strong preseason favorite. After five strong seasons building the program at Sacred Heart, new coach Mike McDonnell inherits a group that including senior stars Zach Coleman and Jelani Bell-Isaac and junior sharpshooter Ryan Basso.
• Briarcliff: New coach Cody Moffett inherits a 16-win team that lost four starters. Juniors Alquan Phillip and Jackson Wexler will be asked to lead a talented but inexperienced group.
• Woodlands: Third-year guard Najee Khan will lead a small but athletic team. Jamil Gambari and Brandon Johnson will be counted on to score after finishing last season strong.
• Irvington: With seven players back, including leading scorer Kevin Tierney, the Bulldogs could be in prime position to take advantage of younger, more inexperienced opponents.
• Palisade Prep: Talented seniors Isaiah Ward, Kevin Sabino and Brandon Tate formed the core of last year’s Class C champion. They hope that experience helps smooth the transition to Class B.
Others to watch: Dobbs Ferry, Pleasantville, Blind Brook, Valhalla
Class C/D —
• Tuckahoe: Iona Prep transfer Max Pierce joins fellow senior Mo Hollis to form one of Class C’s most talented backcourts. Tuckahoe will need it against a schedule filled with Classes A and B schools.
• Haldane: Size and shooting could be the main strengths for the Blue Devils, who hope to start strong and build momentum.
Others to watch: Keio, Children’s Village (Class C), Clark Academy (Class D)
• Stepinac: Last season’s AA semifinalist returns a talented backcourt trio of seniors Naim Thomas and Walter King and junior Damarcus Miller that is simply the area’s best.
• Iona Prep: With 28 Division I offers, junior Matt Ryan is the area’s most coveted recruit, but sophomore point guard Ty Jerome (Fordham, Manhattan, among others) has proved he is no slouch already.
Others to watch: Rye Country Day, Sacred Heart