The Benjamin Cardozo boys’ basketball team has a bone to pick with those who doubted them.
After top-notch transfer Jaquan McKennon left the team preseason, media outlets dropped the Judges in the PSAL rankings. But behind two key players and a solid roster they still believe they will be one of the city’s top teams.
The Cardozo Judges (2-0) proved just that in their home opener against Martin Van Buren High School (2-1) on Monday, December 9, routing the Fighting Vee Bees, 76-40. Senior Francisco Williams scored 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the team, and sophomore guard Rashond Salnave had 20 points and six assists in the game.
“They said we weren’t going to be that good, so every game we play we got to show out,” Williams said. “Without him (McKennon) we are still going to be a good team. We’re going to win with or without him.”
Williams, who started his high school basketball career at Cardozo, transferred due to personal issues and a health problem with a family member. But following his hiatus he has returned for this final high school year and played his first-ever home game with the Judges against Van Buren. He wants to help the team go far this year.
“I want to take it to the [Madison Square] Garden,” Williams said, referring to the location of the PSAL city championships.
The Judges’ other breakout player is Salnave, who is becoming a top-notch guard in the league. In just his first two games on varsity, the 15-year old combo guard is averaging about 23 points and 5.5 assists.
Besides these two players, the Judges are chock full of talent this year. Senior Carl Edoua Balthazar is a long, lanky forward and a defensive presence on the floor. In the match against Van Buren he finished with 12 rebounds, six blocks and six points.
“Carl is a shot-blocker,” Salnave said. “If we get beat, although it’s not something good to brag about, we know Carl has our back.”
Having coached basketball at Cardozo for more than 30 years, head coach Ron Naclerio knows that the competition will get stiffer as the season drags on. He believes in his team’s strength, but doesn’t want to be cocky.
“I try to say be humble and be hungry,” Naclerio said. “Things could change. Today we were on the north side, but we had some scrimmages where we were on the south side.”