Before beginning to defend its first city championship in 31 years, Boys & Girls went back in time on Sunday.
There was the 2009-10 senior class of Leroy Isler, Jonathan Arroyo and Brandon Williams. Coach Ruth Lovelace getting on the microphone and talking with reverence about Frank Mickens, the former principal who hired her 17 years ago, a controversial move then. Assistant coach Elmer Anderson speaking of all the hard work that championship took, from the players to the coaches and on down.
With Queen’s “We Are the Champions” blasting on the LIU Wellness Center’s stereo system, the Kangaroos were given their championship rings and posed for a photo at midcourt in front of the PSAL Class AA trophy in the 36th Annual Kangaroo Classic.
“It was a special moment,” said senior Mike Taylor, the Rutgers-bound guard who was so instrumental to that magical March. “It was like, oh my God, we really won.”
Then the 2010-11 season began and it felt like last March again, Taylor and point guard Antione Slaughter creating havoc for opposing guards on both ends of the floor, the Kangaroos — despite being shorthanded, as was often the case a year ago – building a big lead and coasting to victory.
Boys & Girls kicked off its title defense with a 71-54 victory over Queens power Forest Hills. Hofstra-bound forward Malik Nichols and sharpshooting sophomore Teyvon Myers didn’t dress for disciplinary reasons – Nichols, Lovelace said, failed one of his two first-period classes and Myers was late handing in his homework — and versatile junior forward Jeffland Neverson exited early in the opening quarter with lightheadedness and never returned.
“It goes to show you how talented we are,” Lovelace said. “We still beat a good team by double figures and I played everyone. … I don’t know a lot of teams that can do that.”
Their absence was hardly felt as Taylor and sixth man Anthony Hemingway each scored 18 points, Slaughter followed with 11 points and 9 assists and Leroy (Truck) Fludd tallied 9 points and 12 rebounds. Boys & Girls got off to a slow start, leading by just a point after the opening frame, but quickly turned up its defensive pressure — the Bed Stuy school’s calling card – and took command with a dominant 31-14 second quarter.
“We came out hard on defense and that’s what’s gonna get us points,” Taylor said.
Hemingway, an athletic 6-foot-4 forward with 3-point range, made sure Forest Hills never got closer than 13, scoring 13 points in the second half. He hit long jumpers, converted offensive rebounds into points and finished off drives in the paint.
“He’s a kid that would start on any other team in the city based on his talented and work ethic,” Lovelace said. “It’s not shocking. That’s what he can do every day for us.”
Lovelace has reminded him the NBA chooses a sixth man of the year because of how important the role is. To his credit, Hemingway doesn’t mind being a reserve, though.
“I like coming off the bench because I get to watch the game, see what adjustments I have to make once I come in the game,” he said. “It’s a big game for me because this year my team is expecting a lot from me.”
Forest Hills coach Ben Chobhaphand was pleased with his club’s effort and resilience. The Rangers (0-1) lost a ton of firepower when St. John’s signee Maurice Harkless transferred to South Kent (Conn.), but their problem on Sunday was turnovers, as senior Denzel Dulin scored 18 points and Rudy Collins followed with 12. They struggled with the Kangaroos’ full-court pressure, which led to easy uncontested baskets in transition.
“When we’re not turning the ball over, it’s hard to guard us,” Chobhaphand said. “We take care of the ball, it’s a different game.”
It wasn’t a different game for Boys & Girls. In fact, it felt like one out of last March’s script.