With tears in her eyes, the PSAL Class AA championship trophy in her hands, and chants of “You can’t beat The High” in the background, Ruth Lovelace was the picture of serenity.
After 17 years of near misses, the Boys & Girls basketball coach was finally a champion. Just seven months after the man – Frank Mickens – who hired her passed away peacefully in his sleep, the Kangaroos snapped their 31-year title drought. No. 2 Boys & Girls rallied from an 11-point deficit to upend top-seeded Cardozo, 55-50, Saturday, March 6, at Madison Square Garden.
“It means everything to me,” said Lovelace, who became the first female coach in PSAL history to win a boys city title. “The guy deserves all the credit. No one would’ve ever hired a female back in that time. I was young, I was 23, but he had a vision for me I couldn’t see for myself. I wouldn’t be standing here If it wasn’t for him.”
A large framed photo of Mickens was placed on the Kangaroos’ bench. He was the last coach to win a city title at Boys & Girls, back in 1979, and as a former principal, was credited with turning around the once-troubled Bedford Stuyvesant school. When the final result was decided, the photo was held high and taken to midcourt for the trophy presentation.
“His thing was: Do what you have to do and you get what you want, and he stressed that a lot,” assistant coach Elmer Anderson said.
Mike Taylor, who developed a bond with Mickens before the former principal’s unfortunate passing, made sure the celebration was possible by scoring a game-high 25 points and earning MVP honors. Antoine Slaughter added 12 points and four assists and Jeffland Neverson had nine points and six rebounds.
“For us to be that special team to win, it just feels so good,” Taylor said.
Cardozo (25-8) came out flying, scoring the game’s first six points and taking an 11-2 lead. It was 28-18 at halftime and 37-25 following a Ryan Rhoomes basket, before the Kangaroos came storming back. Consecutive 3-pointers from Taylor and Slaughter capped an 8-0 run. Neverson’s turnaround jumper gave The High its first lead, at 41-39, early in the fourth quarter.
“I’m so proud of them,” Lovelace said. “They never say die. They battled together, they stayed together. That’s what championship teams do.”
The Kangaroos made a point of winning it for Lovelace. They often talked about doing what the other groups failed to do. Four members of the 1979 championship team visited the locker room at halftime, adding motivation.
“It means a lot to me, but it really means a lot to my coach,” Slaughter said. “Seventeen years, she hasn’t gotten one, but today she has one — March 6, 2010, she earned it. It wasn’t given to her.”
Lovelace may not have been able to do it without Taylor. He saved his best for last, scoring 19 points in the second half, including 11 in the fourth quarter. His two free throws with 2:44 left gave Boys & Girls (28-5) the lead for good. Playing with a badly sprained left ankle, Leroy Isler extended the lead to four with a layup between Cardozo forwards Rhoomes and Dwayne Brunson. Cardozo badly faltered down the stretch, turning the ball over three consecutive times.
“It all came down to the end,” said Rhoomes, who led Cardozo with 14 points and 16 rebounds. Reynaldo (Junior) Walters added 12 points and Shelton Mickell had 11. “They came out with intensity like a Brooklyn team. We needed to step up and we didn’t.”
Soon, the celebration three decades in the making would be on. Following Lovelace’s lead, several Kangaroos shed tears at the final horn before a pileup at center court. She took turns hugging each of them, particularly Taylor, the highly-recruited junior guard. Several players have promised Lovelace they would get her the elusive crown.
Taylor, who won a JV title as a freshman and made it the semis last winter, kept his promise.
“He has to get credit for getting it done,” Lovelace said. “When you mention the great players [out of Boys & Girls] like Pearl Washington, you got to mention Mike Taylor.”