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Expect those whispers to grow louder after his performance in the PSAL Division AA city championship on Saturday, March 9.
Trailing the Thomas Jefferson Orange Wave by one point at the Barclays Center, Salnave drove hard to the basketball and was fouled while shooting with 2.5 seconds remaining. The shot didn’t go in, but then, despite enormous pressure weighing on him, the sophomore buried two free throws to win the game, 55-54.
“I was nervous, too,” Salnave said. “I’ve been in those situations before, it’s just that the situations before weren’t as big as this one. Some people say I’m only a sophomore and it’s a big feeling, but I knew what I had to do.”
Salnave finished with 16 points, and was 10 of 12 from the free-throw line, to help lead the Cardozo Judges to their first city crown since 1999. He was the undisputed recipient of the league’s MVP award.
After the final buzzer, Salnave and Cardozo head coach Ron Naclerio cried and shared a hug. It was an emotional win because during the 15-year drought between city titles for the Judges, Naclerio said the team faced many hardships, including losing a player he “considered a son” to another school, and Naclerio’s own suspension of a few games during the playoffs last year after he tossed the Queens Borough Championship runner-up plaque.
Naclerio satirically cradled the championship trophy from the time he received the golden basketball, and didn’t let it go while taking tons of pictures with fans, then walking through the halls of the Barclays Center, then during the press conference with reporters, and even in the locker room.
Cardozo senior Francisco Williams embodies the difficulties the team faced during its drought. Williams started as a freshman at the high school, but personal problems, such as joining the wrong crowd and health issues with his mother, forced him to transfer schools. But this academic year he transferred back to Cardozo, and became one of the team’s most complete players.
Williams added 21 points and six rebounds in the win, and was a dominant defensive presence under the rim. The senior was so happy that his return helped win a championship that he was looking to celebrate in a special way.
“I’m really excited,” Williams said. “We’re going to stay up all night tonight. I’ll probably play 2K (NBA 2K14 video game) and go to Hooters.”