“Madison Square Garden” are three words often uttered this time of year. Every PSAL Class AA boys basketball thinks it’s going to the World’s Most Famous Arena in November. So does Thomas Jefferson. You just won’t hear the Orange Wave talk about it. MSG may as well be an expletive.
“We don’t want to jinx ourselves,” said Manhattan College-bound forward Edson Avila, one of five seniors in the starting lineup.
The Orange Wave talked big in recent years, but came up small in March, losing in the semifinals in 2008 and 2009 and quarterfinals last year. If it weren’t injuries or academic ineligibility, it was mental mistakes.
“Something always happened,” seventh-year coach Lawrence (Bud) Pollard said, shaking his head.
Pollard now feels he has the team to finish the job, a star-less group of seniors, headed by Avila and Davontay Grace, another Manhattan recruit, that are about “we” instead of “me.”
They spent a lot of time over the summer together, in the New Heights and Juice All-Stars AAU programs. Pollard took the team down to Hoop Group’s team camp over the summer and treated them to a day at Great Adventure. The Orange Wave also competed together in the iS8 Nike Fall Tip-Off Classic, reaching the semifinals.
“Our guys love hanging out together,” said Pollard, who will even host several of his kids at East New York home when his fiancée is away. “We’ve had teams that were more talented, but this may be our overall best team. … I like our chemistry, the camaraderie. Everybody’s pulling for the next guy. They share everything – girls, food. It’s a fun group to be around.”
Clearly, chemistry isn’t a problem. Beyond the JV call-ups, the only newcomer is Tyquan Goodlet, a rugged defensive stalwart via New Jersey power St. Anthony. He left legendary coach Bob Hurley Sr.’s program to be closer to home, the daily one-hour commute wearing him down. Goodlet, who played middle-school ball with Grace, is familiar with his new teammates. They have quickly grown fond of him, too, saying he could be the missing piece to the championship puzzle.
“He’s always playing hard, no matter what,” Avila said.
Grace, who averaged 11 points and seven assists last winter and has trimmed down, said: “We’re both combo guards, but we do different things. We’re gonna confuse a lot of defenses.”
Jefferson is also deep, beyond the starting five of Avila, Goodlet, Grace, and forwards Eric Turpin Jr. and Shamel Williams. Sharp-shooting junior Thaddeus Hall is back. Pollard expects contributions from Jaquan Lynch, who averaged 14 points per game on the JV last year, Willie Turpin and Kadeem Riddick.
Goodlet may be a newcomer, but Avila is different, too. He dedicated the offseason to improving his body and his raw offensive game. Avila enjoyed a solid summer with New Heights, to the point where he garnered the college scholarship. The quarterfinal loss to Transit Tech served as his personal motivation as Rhamel Brown, yet another Manhattan recruit, outplayed him, leading the underdog Express past Jefferson.
“He made me want to work on my game,” the 6-foot-10 Avila said. “Rhamel helped me get better.”
Grace is the closest thing Jefferson has to a star. In recent years, it was known for all-city caliber talents, from Dave Coley (Stony Brook) to Keith Spellman (Morgan State) to Joel (Air Jamaica) Wright (Duquesne).
This is more of a workmanlike, grind-it-out group. That may not be a bad thing. At iS8, Jefferson made the semifinals, beating powerhouse AAU programs the New York Gauchos and Long Island Lightning in the process.
Still, Jefferson won’t talk about the Garden. The Orange Wave would rather reflect on getting there this spring.
“We’re just gonna play the season out, play every game like it’s our last and see where we stand at the end,” Grace said.