The buzz is the Hornets are champions!
The Midwood HS boys basketball team took home its first title in 43 years with a 60-49 win over Long Island City at St. Francis College on Sunday night.
Emmanuel Joseph earned MVP honors for the Hornets, netting 22 points and grabbing eight rebounds, leading the team to its first PSAL’s Class-A division crown, and first championship of any kind since 1968.
Joseph and teammates Jean Dimiri Dolce (10 points) and Enees Nikovic (nine points) paced the Hornets’ offense, as Long Island City’s defense chose to double-team Bryan Smith, the heavily scouted force behind Midwood’s attack.
But that decision didn’t pay off, thanks to the Hornets’ depth.
We have a lot of guys that can put the ball in the hole,” said coach Victor Gjecaj. “All the guys stepped up for us.”
Smith’s selflessness was nothing new to his teammates, who swore by him all season because he lacked an ego and always put wins over personal accomplishments.
Sunday’s title game was the latest example, as Smith, taking on most of Long Island’s defensive heat, scored only 13 points — a low this postseason — despite the swarm of college coaches there to see him play.
“It feels really great,” said the uncommitted Smith, who can choose to go to Hofstra, Fordham and the College of Charleston. “We worked six months for this. All our hard work paid off.”
After a blowout semifinal victory over DeWitt Clinton on Friday, Joseph talked a big game, basically guaranteeing victory. He backed up those words, particularly early, scoring eight points to help Midwood (28-3) take a 21-11 lead after the first quarter.
“I always knew nobody was going to stop us,” Joseph said. “We came out and did what we had to do.”
He was talking about his entire team, but he may as well have been referring to himself. The 6-foot-2 Joseph suited up in just five games as a junior because of academic ineligibility and was on the bench over the season’s first month this winter for ineffectiveness. Yet around the holidays, he found his stroke, worked his way into the starting lineup and saved his best performance for the season’s last game.
“I came back with a vengeance,” he said.
Gjecaj credited Joseph’s wiliness to listen and adapt as the reason for his surge. The biggest change came to his jump shot, which the coach said had been like a knuckleball. His adjustments led to three 3-pointers against Long Island City.
“He’s rounding into a heck of a player,” the coach said. “He trusted me, took exactly what I said.”
Joseph wasn’t the only player to contribute that wasn’t a Hornet at this time last year. Nikovic transferred into Midwood in the fall from Murrow, which didn’t have a varsity program, to improve his college looks and immediately filled Midwood’s void in the paint.
“I feel very lucky, grateful,” the 6-foot-8 pivot said. “I chose the best year to transfer.”
Everything fell into place for Midwood. Smith emerged as the selfless superstar; Joseph broke out after the slow start; Nikovic handled his first year of varsity basketball with aplomb. It added up to the Brooklyn A South crown, a berth in the Brooklyn borough playoffs and Aviator Holiday Tournament title. Those accomplishments, Gjecaj and his players said leading up to the playoffs, made a city championship a must. They didn’t want an asterisk to the memorable year.
“It seemed like we thrived on the pressure,” he said. “It feels good. We can enjoy our season.”