First, let me wish a Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate. I’m happy to spend my first Christmas with the little one, who may not know anything about Santa but sure seems to enjoy things like wrapping paper and shiny ornaments.
Anyway, I hope everyone enjoys the break.
Dan and I will give our predictions for the Slam Dunk before the games tip tomorrow evening. First, here’s my story about an interesting wrinkle to Thursday’s Iona Prep-Eastchester matchup:
As student-athletes continue to chase success and scholarships, their training seeps so deep into the offseason that there actually is no offseason. Few are better versed in that continuing shift than Iona Prep’s Vic Quirolo and Eastchester’s Fred DiCarlo.
Quirolo and DiCarlo will coach against one another Thursday night in the opening round of the 15th annual Slam Dunk Tournament at the County Center. And in one unique way, the meeting between Iona Prep and Eastchester will mark a rare moment on the local sports landscape.
They are the only remaining men to serve as both head football and boys basketball coaches at their schools in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties. The only other coach holding similar positions in the two high-profile sports is Ossining football and girls basketball coach Dan Ricci, whose team will defend in the girls’ draw this week.
“To me, it’s just natural,” said DiCarlo, who played both sports at Eastchester and said he’s never considered picking one over the other. “I’ve been doing it for 15 or 16 years.”
Holding arguably the two most prominent coaching posts at his school may be natural for DiCarlo, but it’s anything but normal by Section 1 standards. The same can be said in the Catholic league. They are the only two-sport coaches of their kind in their respective leagues.
Still, the demands increase every season and have grown exponentially compared to when they first took over.
“I think what it’s turned into is the high schools want to be like the colleges and the colleges want to be like the pros,” said Quirolo, who’s in his 17th season as the basketball coach after serving his 11th with the football team.
Both lean on their assistants for help. Case in point: Reggie Langston operates preseason basketball workouts at Iona Prep in the fall. In fact, after Quirolo took a quick break from football to introduce himself, Langston actually ran star junior recruit Matt Ryan through drills when Duke assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski visited in October.
Quirolo leans similarly on Felix Patrillo during the ever-expanding football offesason.
“This place has a great support system with the coaching staff and the administration,” Quirolo said. “It makes it more manageable.”
The fact that players can never remember Quirolo needing to drag himself through the day keeps them sharp.
“He’s the first person at practice and the last one to leave,” senior Isaish Ice said. “He’s definitely an energy-giver.”
DiCarlo relies on his assistants as well in order to abide by the rule he established for himself to never lose focus on the sport in-season. It’s a philosophy easier to abide by at Eastchester, he said, because of the school’s high number of multi-sport athletes. In fact, seven of them play both sports for DiCarlo.
Both coaches said spring and summer can actually be the busiest time of the year. Quirolo even coaches his daughter’s basketball team, but it’s also when both he and DiCarlo are left to juggle summer basketball leagues, 7-on-7s and football camps as they overlap.
“For me, that’s the hardest,” DiCarlo said.
Quirolo and DiCarlo sure seem the last of a dying breed, but both have no desire to facilitate the extinction.
“I go through phases of saying, ‘What am I doing?’ Every once in a while, I’ll just feel like I’m drowning,” Quirolo said. “Then there’s other times, where it’s such a positive experience that you don’t want to lose that.”
Now, here’s a look at some of the top PLAYERS TO WATCH at this week’s tournament:
• Jack Daly, Eastchester: The 1,000-point scorer is at the helm of another strong team as a senior. But the 6-foot point guard will be in for a tough challenge against Iona Prep’s deep, talented backcourt.
• Mike DeMello, White Plains: The senior point guard and recent Pace signee has developed into a bona fide star. He’s fresh off an MVP turn in last week’s Harrison tournament.
• Derrick Felder, Saunders: The 6-foot-2 sophomore is a terror in the open floor. His development is key if the Blue Devils hope to challenge a tough field.
• Kai Mitchell, Spring Valley: Fellow junior Rickey McGill is already a Division I commit (Manhattan), but the big, skilled 6-foot-5 forward might be the tournament’s single toughest matchup.
• Aaron Ray, Middletown: The 6-foot-2 junior combo guard is the younger brother of former Villanova All-American Allen Ray, who played one season in the NBA and is now overseas.
• Matt Ryan, Iona Prep: With 28 Division I offers, the 6-foot-7 junior is the area’s top recruit. That means he’s also a constant focus of opponents’ attention. This week should be no different.
• Darren Thomas, Bedford Academy: Don’t be fooled by Thomas’ 5-foot-6 frame. He’s a four-year starter at point guard who has led the Brooklyn school to the PSAL Class A semifinals the last three seasons.