It is a late November afternoon as the Thomas Edison five hits the court together. Nothing special or out of the ordinary.
It may as well be June or April.
No matter the time of year, they are all together, whether it is during the high school season, when they are all Inventors, or the AAU season, when they are members of NYC Finest, Rob Diaz’s Queens Village-based program.
The entire starting five - guards Allan Thomas and Stephon Hodges, center Presano Bell, and forwards Arthur Abbensett and Osamuede Egharevba - play for Diaz in the summer and fall, along with several reserves.
“That’s the idea - they want to play together and they are constantly getting more familiar with each other,” Edison Coach John Ulmer said. “It’s not streetball; he’s teaching them. They run some of the things we run here.”
When the high school season ends, teammates generally separate to different parts of the city, joining different AAU programs and traveling to different parts of the country.
Not the players from Edison.
In fact, just days after losing to Transit Tech in the PSAL ‘A’ final, they were with NYC Finest in an early spring showcase. It is, out of several reasons, one to pinpoint as an explanation for their sudden success. One season ago, the Inventors surprisingly won Queens A-West, knocked off ‘AA’ powers Bayside, Cardozo and Campus Magnet en route to their first borough crown, and advanced to the ‘A’ title game, before they moved up to the Queens AA division.
“It’s a big edge,” Thomas said. “We understand each other’s games better.”
Certain public and Catholic powerhouse programs in the city have a similar relationship with the AAU circuit, almost a funneling of talent through the longstanding amateur organization. Diaz would not call it that. He and Ulmer have a solid relationship. They run similar sets and have a mutual respect for one another. That is where the bond ends. Diaz, after all, is an assistant coach at John Bowne.
“I have kids that go to John Bowne, Townsend Harris, Richmond Hill,” Diaz said. “It just happens that these guys were already friends with each other. I wouldn’t funnel players [anywhere]. We’re not that type of program.”
Edison hopes that continuity breeds success in Queens AA. They will be tested every night, face opponents just as talented, just as gifted athletically. Kind of like the summer or fall. Just with baby blue Edison jerseys on their backs instead of black NYC Finest.
“We’re excited,” Ulmer said. “The guys are definitely ready. We showed last year we can hang with ‘AA’ competition.”
More new faces at Cardozo
Every year Cardozo has a new team stocked full of mega talented transfer students. That is the case again this fall, but not necessarily by choice. Two of the Judges’ core from last year - 6-foot-7 senior forward and Syracuse recruit James Southerland and talented sophomore guard Chris Hampton - left the Oakland Gardens school. When Cardozo lost to Wings in the PSAL ‘AA’ quarterfinals, the two were expected to be in the starting lineup.
So, instead, Coach Ron Naclerio has a completely new group to mold. His backcourt returns seniors Trinity Fields and Vincent Scott while two key rugged frontcourt pieces in Edy Toussaint and Denzel Wilson are back in the fold.
The rest of the cast is brand new. There is former Christ the King center Marquis Grant, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound force; Australian import Jarrod Balcombe, a 6-foot-6 wing; Woodmere Academy transfer Terrence Carter; Rice transfer Daisean Roberts, the younger brother of Holy Cross forward Kayvon who can “jump to the moon,” according to Naclerio; Madison transfer Cadeem St. Aubyn, another athletic guard: and Molloy point guard Reynaldo Walters, one of the best sophomore point guards in the city. Adding talented freshman guard Chris Gayot and senior wing Dennis Oglesby has made it even tougher for Naclerio to find everyone enough time.
“We’re still a work in progress,” Naclerio said. “We’re very, very young and we’re very, very new. It’s taking time to mix.”
Forest Hills adds elite talent
Besides Edison, Forest Hills is another program gunning for Cardozo. The Rangers lost in the second round of the PSAL ‘A’ playoffs but moved up to ‘AA’ nevertheless. Three big reasons why they made the move are Armani Cardwood, Alex Hall and Chris Larmond. The trio of transfers, all at least 6-foot-3, sat out last year, but should make an impact.
Cardwood, a Xaverian import, is the most important, a 6-foot-3 sophomore point guard. He will certainly have help, notably in high-scoring junior guard Andre Armstrong, who made the Five Star all-star game, and last year’s leading scorer, junior Damir Beharovic, in addition to Flushing transfer Keith Stephens and athletic 6-foot-4 forward Terry Harrison.
Forest Hills has been on a steady rise under Coach Ben Chobhaphand, making the playoffs each of the last three seasons and advancing further each March.
“This is the most talent I’ve had in four years,” Chobhaphand said. “I feel we’re one of the better teams in Queens.”
Slight changes for Campus Magnet
Campus Magnet may have graduated their top two scorers - center Keith McAllister and guard/forward Malachi Peay - but the rest of the team is the same.
The Bulldogs will feature an all senior backcourt - 6-foot-1 point guard Nathaniel Wilson and 6-foot-3 sharpshooter Mennon Chavis. Sophomore Sasha Clarida is also expected to start in a three-guard alignment. Up front, 6-foot-8 pivot Kyle O’Quinn replaces McAllister up front and Khalil McDonald, an athletic 6-foot-6 wing, fills out the frontcourt.
Datalia Holness (the quarterback on the football team) will back up Wilson at the point, while Dexter Jones, Kelvin Lewis and Justin Bennett give Campus Magnet depth off the bench.
Lewis takes aim at ‘A’
Francis Lewis may not quite be able to compete with the likes of Cardozo, Forest Hills and Edison just yet, but they are not too far behind. The Patriots return just two players from last year’s disappointing 2-14 campaign - junior forward Rubin Santana and sophomore forward Rocheny Francois - but have added much-needed talent.
Ineligible a season ago, forward James Anacreon has his grades right and will start. It’s up in the air whether talented 6-foot-5 forward James Wolf will suit up. Young guards Francis Arnold, James Hinton and Phillip Gladney will all see extended playing time from second-year coach Perry Dortch.
“I have a young team, but they are more willing to learn than last year,” he said.