Leroy Isler described the pain in his left ankle as sharp. He had trouble walking lately and didn’t attend the city championship game press conference on March 4.
Clearly, this wasn’t the condition the Boys & Girls’ forward hoped to be in against Cardozo’s duo of Ryan Rhoomes and Dwayne Brunson. The thought of not starting, however, never entered his mind.
“I’m going to play no matter what,” he told Boys & Girls coach Ruth Lolvelace on Friday, March 5. “I’m going to be on that court. I owe it to myself, I owe it to my teammates.”
Isler, a 6-foot-6 forward, wasn’t his usual active self in the paint, managing just four points and six rebounds and two assists. He did, however, hold his own against Brunson and Rhoomes, helping to hold the two to a combined 20 points, 16 by Rhoomes.
“He inspired us so much,” Taylor said. “He could’ve sat out, punked out, but he just sucked it up.”
He also made arguably the biggest shot of the game, a layup in which he slipped by the two in the lane, pushing a two-point Boys & Girls lead to four with 1:23 remaining. The Kangaroos held on for their first title in 31 years, 55-50, at Madison Square Garden Saturday, March 6.
“Everything in my body was telling me to keep going,” he said. “[My ankle] was hurt pretty bad. I had to sacrifice.”
The move was just a snippet of what made him into a possible all-city performer this season and has Lovelace pushing him as the PSAL Player of the Year. Isler averaged 17 points and 13 rebounds during the regular season, gudiing The High to its first outright division title since 2004.
If his play wasn’t motivational enough, there was Isler demanding more from Taylor midway through the fourth quarter with the scored tied at 45. The talented junior was having a solid second half already, but hadn’t gotten many touches in recent minutes. Isler yelled at him to get open, no matter how many defenders Cardozo threw at him.
Taylor responded by freeing himself for a 3-pointer. While he missed the shot, he was fouled on the play by Malcolm Brooks, and made two free throws, giving the Kangaroos a lead they would never relinquish.
“Mike hearing it from a teammate carried more weight than hearing it from us,” Boys & Girls assistant coach Elmer Anderson said. “That’s when he went off down the stretch and that’s why we are here.”
Isler was hardly limping during the wild celebration. Winning, it turned out, was the perfect antidote.
“It don’t hurt no more,” he said, smiling. “The championship makes it better.”