Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Dort Proves Point At Basketball Without Borders Event

Luguentz Dort has been likened to a train with his ability to overpower foes and fluidly knife into the teeth of defenses.

The well-built Dort's game is predicated on bulldozing his way to the rim, utilizing his deceptive quickness and explosive vertical  to finish.

The manpower factor of the 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior's game and the increased dose of defensive tenacity from his sophomore to junior season has shaped one of the country's most coveted recruits.

While the hard-slashing guard is a daunting chore to guard, he's become more adept at creating offense as well.

A hard, powerful dribbler with the ability  to whiz passes with both hands, Dort proved plenty capable of adjusting to point guard. This was evident during Basketball  Without Borders this weekend in New Orleans.

"I always knew how to play the one and manage the game, it's just that I've had a smaller guard with me the last few seasons so I've been playing off the ball primarily," said Dort, who explained that Florida, Oregon, and Baylor are all showing the most consistent love in his recruitment .

Dort said he's expecting Oregon to visit him soon. He added that Arizona has now expressed interest, with Washington, Utah, and N.C. State additionally becoming involved.

Louisville, Arizona State, St. John's, Missouri, UNLV, and several others have offers on the table.

Dort opened eyes as a sophomore at Arlington Country Day, when he scored 33 points against Josh Jackson.

Dort's junior campaign started with a bang, when he hung 29 points against Prolific Prep with Duke-signee Gary Trent in the Bahamas.

During a recent Grind Session event at Taylor County HS in Kentucky, Dort poured in 36 points in piloting Conrad Academy to a double digit win against 22 Feet Academy (S.C.).

Despite marquee performances of this magnitude, Dort was mysteriously left out of ESPN's Top 60 rankings.

Did the low-key Dort find motivation in such a snub?

"I didn't think about it at all to be honest," said Dort, who was flanked by high-profile countrymen such as MVP RJ Barrett.

"I just played my game. I just focused on my own game and didn't think about anything else. I look to get better every time I step on the court and compete against whoever I have to, just looking to perform my best."

Entering this season, the only uncertainty hovering over Dort's game was his outside shot. After suffering a broken wrist during a shortened sophomore year at ACD, he went to work at refining this aspect of his game.

Dort shot the rock with confidence in Vegas last season, showcasing a quicker lease and new touch. It worked to Brookwood Elite 's favor, as he connected on 13-of-21 from beyond the confines of the arc.

Dort, not one to have many distractions outside of basketball, has placed the same emphasis on incorporating a dependable mid-range touch and 18-20 footer in his arsenal.

"Lou is an elite level athlete--vertically explosive, strong, and laterally quick," said Brad Traina, who helped finely tune Dort's game at Conrad Academy.

"He can guard a point guard and finish in the lane and through defenders. He's currently a high-major basketball talent. His ceiling will be determined by how consistent he is able to shoot the ball from deep and mid range at the college and pro level, where there will be 7-footers waiting for him at the rim."

Windback Wednesday: To See One KP coached game is to have seen them all

October 2014:

To see one Kenny Pretlow-coached game is to have seen them all.

He saunters into the gym with a hat matching his shirt, a prideful portent of his Brooklyn-bred flair.

When game time arrives, Pretlow morphs into a methodical madman.

 Arguably the most entertaining, furiously relentless sideline coach in New York City, Pretlow simply can't help himself.

"When you step on the court for Coach, you have to play and have the mindset that you're the best player out there," said Matt Scott, the dynamic 6-foot-3 guard who averaged 28.4 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 6.3 assists under Pretlow at Brooklyn Law and Tech in 2013-14.

Even fall league games have become akin to bloodsport for the demonstrative and hyperactive Pretlow.

He frees no ref of the traditional earful. He grants no player a free pass. Pretlow stops at nothing to glue home a point. Even if it means gym-stopping jawing and high-pitched mini-rants, Pretlow's disciplinarian-esque tactics are ready to erupt at any millisecond.

"His halftime speeches are all high-energy, all motivational, all deep," said Juan Ramos, a high-scoring off guard at Law & Tech last season.

"When he's pissed, you'll know it. That's when he closes the door and he's on you to box out. He's on you to play better defense. It's all just to get you better. Coach Pretlow, he wants to see you working and improving. Constantly."

Pretlow stands pigeon-toed, leaning to his left, laser-focused on every facet of the game.

 Having aggressively stalked the sidelines the last 20 years, a gym-to-gym journey-ride that's rendered him a household Brooklyn name, city game knowledge cascades from Pretlow's lips at a Tom Konchalski-like rate.

"He sees everything, I mean everything," Scott said.

"If you're not doing something right, if you're not working as hard as possible, you're going to hear about it. It's like he's so in shape and never tired on the sidelines. He's out there making sure everyone is doing their job. If you're not doing your job, he's screaming."

Pretlow's motivational tactics know no limitations.

"KP gives the best halftime and the post-game speeches, really acting out the parts and making analogies the kids can get," said Jets head coach Michael Levy, a Pretlow understudy who likens him to a basketball father figure.

"One of my all-time favorites is when he was getting on our point guard to be tougher with the ball. He said the kid was like 'Mr. Softee Ice Cream Truck.' Then, KP pretended to be driving a truck while humming the Mr. Softee theme song. It gave us all a good laugh, but more importantly our point guard understood the analogy. Needless to say, he toughened up."

Scott feels the Law & Tech program is indebted to Pretlow.

From readying his team with a daunting out-of-conference schedule to the high-horsepower flow of his practices to his around-the-clock scouting, Pretlow has helped alter the program's basketball culture.

Don't let those sideline eruptions and terse mentor-to-pupil chew-outs fool you. Pretlow is demanding and confrontational, albeit there's so much more to his DNA as a coach and nurturer of young minds.

"KP is a father figure to these kids," Levy said.

"Behind the scenes, he really is compassionate and truly loves his players. He pushes them to expand their minds beyond just basketball. He encourages them to read books, to do mind-stimulating activities. It is a beautiful thing to watch as he truly molds these boys into men."

Now taking over for Dwayne "Tiny" Morton at perennially potent Lincoln High, which has produced countless Division-I players and professionals (see Marbury, Stephon or Stephenson, Lance for more information), Pretlow had a handle on the city game earlier than most.

No one can ever understand the full extent of Pretlow's basketball odyssey.

What began as a childhood hobby has become a livelihood for the seasoned coach.


Raised in the rough-and-rugged Farragut Projects, highly-competitive games existed anywhere from a stone's throw to a Subway ride away.

Pretlow and his closest friends made daily treks to the parks.

They plied their trade at the Bushwick Projects, Riverside Park, Lafayette Gardens, and occasionally courts in the crime-infested, drug-addled Marcy Projects.

"I just played ball, that's what I did. Marcy used to be a little rough because if you won, they might chase you home," Pretlow said.

And while Pretlow has many amusing anecdotes from his childhood, few paths have been similar.

How's this for growing up fast: Raised by a schoolteacher mother and a Jehova's witness father, Pretlow knew how to read and write by the time he was three.

Partly at his mother's ability to pull strings at the elementary school and partly at his passing of a placement test, Pretlow entered the first grade at age three.

 He was a level ahead of his class in seventh grade.

 Circumventing eighth grade altogether, Pretlow went straight to ninth grade.

He fathered a son before he graduated high school.

Pretlow graduated from the prestigious Brooklyn Tech at 15 going on 16.

And still today, mysteries regarding the timeline of the newly-minted Railsplitters coach remain unanswered.

"I'm sorry, but I don't give out my age," Pretlow deadpanned.

With his mother stressing academics and his father driven by a Godly view of life, basketball was Pretlow's lone escape from all the structure.

He made the varsity at Brooklyn Tech as a sophomore.

 It triggered fits of disappointment in his father.

Arriving home from his first-ever varsity practice, Pretlow recalls his father scoffing at his freshly-laundered jersey.

 He immediately demanded Pretlow quit.

 That was it.

"He felt that his standing, as a member of his church, was that I wasn't allowed to have as much freedom as the other kids," Pretlow explained.

"He felt me being on the team and traveling around would influence me in the wrong way. We butted heads a lot."

Student Of The Street Game 

Though Pretlow's high school career was over before it started, his affinity for the game wouldn't wither. He kept the ball bouncing on the AAU circuit.

Pretlow become a mainstay in various streetball tournaments, playing under Rudolph Anderson at Big Red basketball. He played in leagues with the NY Housing Authority and St. John's recreation.

Tournaments such as Citywide, Yesteryear, and Each One Teach One became rituals.

A true student of the game, Pretlow's gym-to-gym journey intensified as basketball became New York's unrivaled pastime.

High-level prospects were scattered all across the city.

Pretlow was quick to cite Walter "The Truth" Berry and Stan Diamond as two of the most transcendent players of his heyday.

"Streetball back then wasn't as explosive as it is now, but you had guys that could play. You go up to Gaucho Roundball and you'd see Kenny Smith and Mark Jackson, you would see the Flemings. Bobby Hurley used to come down from Jersey. To me, it was more competition," explained Pretlow.

"Wheelchair Classics were huge back in them days. You had every borough, and the top player from every borough playing. The Bronx guys used to come down, you had Pearl, you had Kenny Hutchinson."

Pretlow's first coaching gig occurred merely by accident.

He was 19 years old, playing at Big Red tournament with a group of local neighborhood guys he assembled.

 Their coach failed to show and the tournament director had no time for it.

"Finally, the guy running the tournament asks, 'who's the oldest? I said 'me.' He said 'you coach.'

Pretlow walked away intrigued. He immersed himself in the city's traditional breeding grounds, coaching and evaluating talent.

Rather than prolonging his academic success at college campuses, Pretlow got his undergraduate degree in the hothouse gyms across the five boroughs.

He became involved with Riverside, which had waves of the city's top-flight talent.

"I went up to Riverside exclusively, I wasn't under anybody," Pretlow said.

"I had the eighth grade team. I had a great team. Keydren Clark, Jason Wingate, Ricky Soliver, some of my favorite players. We won about 60 straight games before we lost. Then, the next year they promoted me to 16s. (Riverside) did the most for me. They gave me the best opportunity."

A new opportunity opened up at Bishop Loughlin High School.

After coaching the J.V. for seven years, Pretlow felt he was ready-made as a varsity head coach.

The tune changed when the legendary Ted Gustus, a Canarsie product and shooting guru, swooped in.

Pretlow coached and learned under Gustus, who re-charged the pulse at Nazareth High during Pretlow's high school days.

Three years later, the varsity job again opened up. Pretlow felt he had the inside track on inheriting the keys to the kingdom.

Loughlin passed up on him.

"To this day, I think they made a mistake," Pretlow said.

Two nights after learning he didn't get the job, Pretlow received a phone call from Morton.

"I heard about how they screwed you around over there," Pretlow recalls Morton saying.

The former LIU-Brooklyn guard, Morton then pitched the opportunity of working under him at Lincoln.

A new era unfolded.

Lincoln Life

It happened every game without fail.

Lincoln's extravagant 6-foot-5 guard Isaiah Whitehead finds sky-rising 6-foot-6 lefty Desi Rodriguez drifting around the key.

 Like a quarterback lobbing up a fireball to his go-to receiver, Whitehead floats up a lob pass near the basket.

Rodriguez levitates above two defenders, plucks the ball with both hands and crams an emphatic dunk.

The sizzling 1-2 punch of Whitehead and Rodriguez, now at Seton Hall, piloted Lincoln past Thomas Jefferson in the PSAL 'AA' championship at Madison Square Garden.

Whitehead is the latest in a lineage of guards, elite company which includes Lance "Born Ready" Stephenson, Sebastian Telfair, and Stephon Marbury.

While Morton tends to harvest new and top-shelf talent,  grooming the supplemental pieces allowed Lincoln basketball to prosper.

"One of the things I learned under Tiny was that he developed the whole team," said Pretlow.

"There might be a lot of times guys think about who was there and what kind of talent was there. You knew, Bassy (Sebastian Telfair) was the guy. But it was (former St.John's guard) Eugene Lawrence who was the MVP in the Garden that year (2004). Lance's year ('09), Justin Greene had a 24-point performance in the Garden. Even Desi wound up being MVP in the Garden during Whitehead's championship. Tiny really got the most of his secondary players. He made sure that the whole team was being developed. Not just the one guy that we knew."

Pretlow said the Railsplitters' identity won't change.

Preparation-wise and in regard to X's and O's, he expects a similar system with a similar end product.

Acclimatizing to a youth movement and various new faces, Pretlow understands there's a long and arduous road ahead.

"We'll still be doing a lot of what Tiny did. He built the program," Pretlow said.

"I'm not going to just come in there and say 'hey, this is how we're going to do things.' I'm still going to follow the blueprint that he set. It's not really that big of a difference."

Pretlow will sustain his close ties with Morton, now at Seton Hall.

 Morton helped Lincoln become Brooklyn's most prominent program. He's also been a scrutinized figure. Recruiting allegations surfaced throughout Telfair's senior season in '03-04, inviting swirling controversy.

 Pretlow recognizes what Morton has done for the community.

"Tiny doesn't get enough credit," Pretlow said.

"You go down to Coney Island and you see people all over wearing Under Armour hoodies, Under Armour jackets. He really has given back in a major way."

The Last Scott

Few coaches in the city possess the same clout as Pretlow, who doubles as a referee.

Few have as short a leash.

 Even if his top scorer is engineering a personal 7-0 run, one turnover or  ill-advised shot results in an instant benching.

While Pretlow coached extraterrestrial scorers such as Keydran Clark (NCAA's leading scorer during a storied stay at St. Peter's) and prep-to-pro phenoms such as Telfair, his four-year assignment empowering the aforementioned Scott (now a freshman guard at Niagara) may just be his masterwork.

Scott arrived at Law & Tech, previously ACORN, with the physique of Gumby and a lack of confidence.

Scott was a quiet kid who displayed flashes. Yet he was often deferring too much for his own good.

 Pretlow discovered a potential pull-up specialist in Scott, a left handed shooter possessing enough scoring acumen to thrive at the 'A' level.

During a four-year transformation, Scott went from a demure freshman to a Division-I ready senior leader.

Pretlow hounded him, holding him to a sky-high standard every step of the way.

"His first year on varsity, I called him a 'Scared Sophomore," Pretlow recalled.

"As a junior, I challenged (Scott) by saying, 'you don't want to take the big shots. You don't want this pressure.'"

Pretlow noticed a monumental change in Scott, the summer leading into his senior season.

With the Jets' pre-season competition ramped up, Scott was constantly putting up 24, 25, and 26-point performances.

 His stock exploded when he dropped 32 on Thomas Jefferson in a summer league game.

Scott's buckets binge continued through the long grind of winter, as he knifed through double teams with relative ease.

He was getting to the rim and slithering through tight spaces. He was leaning on his pull-up game and creating for his teammates.

Scott announced his arrival when poured in 43 points during a non-league game against Monsignor Scanlan.

 Pretlow discovered a mentality change in his go-to guy the week prior to the season.

 The convincing moment occurred in the locker room, before practice.

 "Coach, I want to be a Division-I player," Scott said, the determination and sincerity etched across his face.

At his Pretlow's urging to attack the rim more, Scott evolved into one of the city's elite scoring guards.

A rare breed in today's scene, Scott did not play AAU. He spent more time in the gym while committing to endurance and running workouts.

Though a late bloomer on the recruiting agora, a process which saw him wait and wait and wait for a Division-1 offer, Scott's stock erupted during the stretch run.

He poured in 22 and 32 respectively, as the Jets navigated a murderer's row back-to-back against Lincoln and Christ The King.

"His whole confidence level changed when he understood, 'I really can't be guarded,'" Pretlow said.

"I was so happy for that kid. I know the work he put in that summer, 400-500 jump shots a day. His confidence level was just off the chains."

While Scott evolved into the alpha dog Pretlow and Levy envisioned him as, Ramos developed the hot hand.

The Jets' supplement to Scott, Ramos authored a shooting spree that helped lift Law & Tech out of the tunnels of 'A' obscurity.

Brooklyn/Bronx Brotherhood

Pretlow's competitive friendship with Wings Academy basketball coach Billy Turnage is a testament to his unbridled passion for the city game.

The two tend to chop it up for hours and hours and hours.

"We talk on the phone like girls," as Pretlow admitted.

 Everything from a press break to the best pure shooter of their heyday incites a thorough dissection and heated debate.

Their friendship has done nothing to dampen the competitive spirit between the rival coaches.

Pretlow is constantly trying to one-up his buddy, and vice versa.

Both coaches will school each other on the outcome of each game and chastise or commend each other's game plain.

They'll each point out a deficiency as quickly as they'll heap praise on each other.

There's no bullshitting between the two of them, no phoniness.

 Not a sliver of sugarcoating after a deflating or soul-sucking loss.

This is a brotherhood built on honesty and support and competitive nature.

Pretlow was sprawled across the couch of his Brooklyn home the other night, when an interview with Derek Jeter caught his attention.

 Jeter, on his farewell tour, told a sea of reporters that he speaks with Michael Jordan every so often.

As Jeter noted that Jordan often reminds him that he's got six rings to Jeter's five, Pretlow had to laugh.

"That's why I always tell Billy, I got eight rings--you ain't got none," Pretlow said.

The trash talk and creative taunting never tails off.

The Wings coach has heard one of Pretlow's favorite punchlines time and time again.

"I just called the Garden," Pretlow deadpans to Turnage.

"They said there will be no WINGS served in the PSAL championship."

Windback Wednesday: When Lance and SK Were Kings

July 2009:

Several months ago, a friend brought to my attention some growing hearsay.

 Mick Cronin and Cincinnati reached out to Lincoln High School’s decorated 6-foot-6 guard Lance "Born Ready" Stephenson.

 I thought to myself...The chances are about as likely as Ron Jeremy being warped in a dry spell in the mid-eighties...No way!

I thought it was the fabrication of a blog report or word around the blazing Coney Island beach fire moving at a furious pace. I didn't consider it. Some website that consistently sparks anonymous sources or rumors of this ilk is trying to stir the pot. It had to be…

Stephenson, well-built guard, unparalleled competitor, and unrivaled scoring threat across the city was pursued by a bevy of the nation's top-flight schools a year ago. For a plethora of reasons, he was the last high-end recruit standing.

He was left with only a few feasible options.

His recruiting tailed off, his image punctured by a media that seemed to have him pegged as a high-risk, uncertain-reward caliber of recruit.

A few months and a whirlwind of high school hallway rumors later, my buddy's words proved prophetic.

The sea of analysts are no longer aggressively examining the wunderkind's college options. They are, however, curious as to whether he will be eligible and make good on his commitment to the Bearcats.

There's no longer whispers about Stephenson bolting for Europe, a move hype artists and bloggers swore would happen.

It's hard to believe one the country's elite, extraterrestrial ballers is heading to a program entrenched in the Big East’s lower percentile.

Then again, Stephenson's recruiting process was constantly marred by controversy. More rumors than a damn Perez Hilton blog--many of which indicated subversive maneauvers from crooked Division-I coaches --surfaced, triggering a manifesto of hate on the young gun following the righteous steps of Sebastian Telfair and Starbury.

Stephenson is laughing his way to the Big East now, ducking the long arm of the NCAA clearinghouse in the process.

With the NCAA in private investigator mode--cracking down on high-majors like UConn, Memphis, and the now baller-barren USC--the circus may be heading to the Ohio River before we know it.

On the other side of the coin, the 6-foot-6 guard from Brooklyn could help revive an ailing program.

The Bearcats will look in increase the scoring role of blossoming young forward in sophomore Yancy Gates (10.6 PPG, 48% FG). Gates could be a dependable beneficiary of Stephenson's flashy dishes inside.

If the controversial Stephenson can circumvent the ever-growing NCAA investigation process and shed oft-noticed attitude issues, a Bearcat resurgence may be in the cards.

It all adds some buzz in a conference oversaturated with the nation's top-tier guards.


Another key newcomer for the Bearcats is White Plains' Sean Kilpatrick, who spent a post-graduate year over at Notre Dame Prep, a widely-recognized basketball factory.  The general perception is Kilpatrick may red-shirt this season due to the overabundance of guards on the roster.

It was at White Plains that Kilpatrick finally become cognizant of the threat he poses for defenders.

Under Spencer Mayfield's we-before-me, no-nonsense style, Kilpatrick bought into the seasoned coach’s defensive-minded focus.
Kilpatrick spent a post-grad year at Notre Dame Prep in effort to get stronger and prepare for the rigors of the collegiate experience academically.

While at Notre Dame Prep, Coach Ryan Hurd was quick to cite the all-around improvement in “SK,” pointing out his passion in bettering his teammates and creating shots for guys like James Southerland and Johnny Lacy.

Kilpatrick shot less and passed more at Notre Dame Prep. He began handing out dimes like a frat house hands out jungle juice and his ability to create enhanced his all-around skill-set 

"At first, I wasn't really crazy about doing an extra year," said Kilpatrick, rockin' a Yankees fitted hat before a thick entourage of family, friends, and an aviser at the National Invitational in Providence in November.

"You know thinking about it now, doing a prep year, it's not a bad idea."

Monday, February 20, 2017

Frenchman Fortier Embraces The Challenge

Class of 2017 off guard Thomas Fortier now has all the integral ingredients necessary for the collegiate level. As he continues to refine elements of his game and tune up his body, the French import's sheer passion and determination for the game is evident.

 It's evident at how he carries himself. It's evident by how quickly his eyes light up, a la mini fireballs, when you mention his NCAA possibilities next year. It's evident when you see him launching a fusillade of feathery medium range jumpers all across the gym, hours after practice has already concluded.

 It's evident in his commitment to the unrequired work, his running and lifting in the after hours and use of the facility five miles up the road at University of Central Florida.

Fortier came to America to weigh his stock on the NCAA basketball market. From the looks of it, this stretch run at Conrad Academy will determine just where his multi-tooled game lands him next season. Ultimately, he will complete what he set out to do and have a scholarship waiting in the wings.

 A well-built 6-foot-3 and 190-pound guard, Fortier has decent 3-point range and a burgeoning catch-and-stick game. He snatches more rebounds than most guards his size. He plays with a ferocity and pushes himself to the maximum of his capabilities every chance he gets.

 He's the quintessential "Mr. Hustle" as times, sprawling onto the floor to secure a loose ball. He has the personal qualities and penchant for the unrequired work. These factors alone tend to rend players of this ilk appealing at the ensuing level.

Fortier's shot, release, corner 3-point shot, and nose for the rim were most notable during a 96-74 victory over Faith Baptist at home earlier this month.

During this particular performance, Fortier was firing up shots from well beyond the confines of the arc.

He was taking Division-I level shots. He was sidestepping defenders off the dribble and getting his shot off amid the draping hands of defenders. He was making heady one bounce pass to astonishingly open teammates underneath the rim.

He looked ready-made for the next level.

 Fortier was proving just how much his range has improved. A kid who has improved by the leaps and bounds measures that Fortier has is always a direct result of the rigors that come with the year round prep commitment.

Working in maniac like fashion to develop a deep shot. Finding a sniper in the offensive operating guard has enhanced his all-around game.

The Faith Baptist victory wasn't just an SIAA conference win, it gave the team a psychological lift as well. You see (at this point in the season) Conrad had morphed into the walking wounded. They were forced to come out with a short-handed, injury-depleted lineup that day.

Cognizant that he must shoulder the offensive load,  Fortier's bought into the challenge.

While Fortier had several strong drives to the rim and swift interior dishes, he was a stabilizing force on the defensive end as well. Performances of this type allow us to envision Fortier as a commendable glue guy and dependable scoring option at the ensuing NCAA level.

And those "immeasurable intangibles" those factors which you can't seem to gauge but hold much importance at the next level? Fortier has that too.

 Fortier is a full package of leader. He patterns his day around improving his strength through weight training and also finding the time to fire up an endless supply of medium range jumpers before concentrating on his beyond the arc game.

 Laser-focused and never one to back down from a challenge, a day in the confines of Conrad Academy's HS gym is what he dreamed of while in France. There, he was flanked by players on the same plane as him.

Guys who were highly-decorated basketball players in France, but saw a long and daunting journey ahead of him. Fortier, like other French student-athletes who trekked to Conrad, had the foresight to play some high-caliber college basketball before pursuing a professional career. After all, a good percentage of NCAA Division-1 players who don't play in the NBA end up plying their trade overseas.

 Fortier is humble, modest, and extremely hard-working. He takes it upon himself to get his teammates involved before anything else.

 He's an advocate of swinging the ball around and displaying patience in the half-court set, which typically works to head coach Brad Traina's advantage.

Possessing an impressive IQ for such a young kid, Fortier is adept at shooting high percentage shots and making plays under amplified pressure.

Fortier's 26-point effort during the aforementioned Faith Baptist game included various runs and momentum surges was promising. From an outsider looking in, it was the quintessential coming out party for him. The coaching staff  had seen the spurts and flashes in practice, but with a short-handed lineup, this was the true test of his character. A game of this magnitude would determine his role moving forward.

"Brad basically works with me everyday to make sure I'm giving the most efficient account of myself as possible. Brad trains us in a way that were all in shape and versatile enough to be interchangeable pieces. He's an American, but he played professionally in Europe as well. He knows which are the key qualities in both continents, so he tries to combine it and teach us. Brad has always implored us to play as a team and has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to selfishness and me-first outlook. I wouldn't want to play for any other coach, to be honest."

 Immediately after proving himself as a versatile scorer, Fortier continued to be a steady scoring presence and stabilizing force on both sides of the court.

"Thomas is as humble and as low-maintenance a kid as I've had in about 10 maybe 15 years," head coach Shaun Wiseman said.

 "He came in here with a European game and a desire to make his teammates beneficiaries of his presence, but now he's transferred his style to a supplementary scorer type. He can stroke it from beyond the arc, he can get into the teeth of the defense and finish, he can use his size and strength to create difficult shots and looks at the rim for opponents. He really did a great job in finding out which aspects of his game would align to our American style here and to his credit, he's worked his tail off in shaping himself into a college caliber player. Some University next year is inheriting an absolute workhorse, that's for sure."

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Uno En Uno with: Anfernee King

ZS: In high school, you had a pretty significant two-man foundation alongside Jordan Harris (now at Georgia) while at Donalsville. In going the prep route, you've got a very different make-up with guys all across the court contributing and a balanced offense. How have you adjusted?

AK: Being that we have a number of different guys that can score, I don't need to score as much. It's helped me change my identity to more of a defensive guy and a creator with the ball in my hands. I don't have as much pressure on myself to score so I've been able to concentrate more on shooting the rock and taking the right shots. I don't need to go out and look for my shot every night, I have the freedom to create for my teammates and use my defensive aggression to create buckets.

ZS: As a multi-sport athlete going up, what made you choose basketball over football?

AK: Don't get me wrong, I loved football. I played running back, cornerback, wide receiver, some safety different positions and loved the competition. Basketball just had more of an appeal to me and I felt it was the path I wanted to pursue for my future. I truly love the game more than anything else and it's where my passion is so that's what I based my decision on.

ZS: Which components of your game have grown and evolved in taking the post-graduate year?

AK: My shot selection and my shooting has been the biggest difference and also my involvement on the defensive end. Also right now, I'm trying to develop a consistent pull-up game and have the pull-up 3-pointer as a key piece to my overall package. Also I'm getting stronger and getting better at finishing around the rim. Being in the gym more and having more of a responsibility to work at it everyday has helped me improve steadily.

ZS: Given the recent roster changes you guys have undergone, how has your role increased on this team?

AK: Right now, everybody sees the chance to contribute and score the ball because we have a pretty balanced offense where we can have a different guy be 'the man' every night. Guys are stepping up at the right times and we're playing as a team, so we continue to challenge each other and bring our game up a notch.

ZS: How has both the prep environment and coach (Brad) Traina helped cultivate a new work ethic in you?

AK: Coach Brad reminds us every day how hard we have to work and goes out and exemplifies it himself. He stays on us in a way that makes us work harder and not only respect the grind but love it and stay committed as well. Being here at Conrad it becomes your life, you don't got much of a choice.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Sloan Shines In Return To Taylor County

Richard Gatewood and David Sloan were back at Taylor County High School on Sunday afternoon.

One year later, however, the tandem was not helping TCHS earn a third consecutive berth in the state tournament as one would initially envision.

Key figures in Taylor County’s ascension to Kentucky High School hoops prominence, Gatewood and Sloan instead were on on opposite sides of the court.

Sloan scored 16 points in helping his Conrad Academy (FL) team stamp an 82-61 victory over Gatewood-coached 22 Feet (S.C.) during the Grind Session’s Heartland Hooparama.

 Luguentz Dort, one of the nation’s most underrated Class of 2018 prospects, bulldozed his way to a game-high 36 points to lead Conrad.

 "It was definitely our best defensive effort of the year," Conrad head coach Shaun Wiseman said.

"I was pleased with the toughness and tenacity they showed on defense throughout the second half. The fans gave David a great ovation and it was clear they were happy to see him back there. It was a nice reunion for both those guys, David and Coach Gatewood. Obviously both guys had pretty big contributions at Taylor County and the fan base showed they were appreciative of it and their chapter in the school's basketball history here."

 Gatewood, as you may recall, is the coach who helped revitalize the Taylor County basketball brand with a rigorous 12-month program and ramped up non-conference schedule.

 Sloan, the high-scoring 5-foot-11 point guard, starred alongside Quentin Goodin (Xavier). Both were treated to an emotional ovation from the crowd.

Many in the Taylor County Community tried to persuade Gatewood not to leave for 22 Feet Academy, expressing disappointment.

Sloan also had a fair share of people in his ear, imploring him not to leave the situation he had helped create at perennial contender Taylor County.

In a perfect world, both would have stayed and relished the basketball-crazed community and massive fan support.

Gatewood, who aspires to eventually break into the college coaching world, was offered a position at 22 Feet that suited him both financially and as a career move.

Sloan transferred to Ballard directly after the season’s end, citing a desire to be with his family and play before his home city in Louisville as a senior. His abrupt transfer was met with stern action by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.

After a long and arduous process, the KHSAA ultimately ruled Sloan ineligible. Faced with the prospect of having to sit out his senior year, Sloan transferred to the Conrad Academy in Orlando.

At Conrad, Sloan had the opportunity to play alongside 6-foot-11 Austin Wiley (now at Auburn). He’s risen into a major presence as the team’s quarterback and supplementary scoring piece to the flashy 6-foot-4, 215-pound man-child Dort.

Sloan initially received interest from programs such as Louisville, Florida, and Tennessee. Now he’s shaping into a mid-major recruit who has the potential to be a steal at a program such as Florida Gulf Coast, IUPUI, or Bradley.

Sloan continued to stake his claim as one of the country’s more unheralded still-available Class of 2017 recruits Saturday, scoring 32 points in TCA’s loss to Hillcrest (AZ).  

Saturday, February 4, 2017

In Buying Into Team Component, TCA Red Has Thrived

Their roster may not possess heavily recruited star power or surefire Division-I appeal as others throughout Florida. They may not have the acclaimed, high-rising guard or the five-star recruit or the 7-foot rim protector who has drawn national attention and media coverage and fanfare.

Yet TCA Red has become a sleeper this season, a surprisingly effective guard-heavy core which has ripped off eight straight wins. Ryan Rodriguez has helped forge a piecemeal collection of guys from across the world into an overall developed unit. This team has a unique blend of bench depth and balance, with all 13 guys playing meaningful minutes and getting a piece of the action in high-pressure moments.

While unfortunate aspects such as selfishness and disinterest tend to sully teams in the prep environment, TCA Red has suddenly become illustrative of the team component.

 Rarely in this atmosphere, where guys who have never played together before must get acclimated and play a slapdash, condensed schedule from November to March, do you witness this quality of togetherness. 

Placing extra emphasis on effort and sustainable defensive aggression, there are times when they play above and beyond their perceived competitive level.

Down the roster and off the bench, each and every individual buys. Because of it, the squad has exceeded the less than lefty expectations it entertained at the season’s start.

On Thursday, a layer of poise and late-game savvy cemented a pair of come-from-behind victories. 

Against Champions Academy in Fort Lauderdale, Karn Goraya hit back-to-back tie-breaking 3-pointers and later connected on an eight-foot floater that proved to be the go-ahead bucket.

The team wound up gutting out a wild, 76-73 victory. Champions would ultimately  squander a 16-point first half lead, one in which they appeared to have a considerable upper hand.

Conrad showed crunch time grit in a previous win against SCORE Academy. TJ Gittens, a 6-foot guard out of Houston, splashed a go-ahead 3-pointer.

Gittens later sank a pair of free throws with 11 seconds left, solidifying a win after falling behind by as many as 13 in the first half. Goraya’s presence was pivotal in this one as well, as he hit a trio of timely treys during a key stretch. Mathis Sellin had a critical tip-in which helped Conrad stay alive during those edgy late-game sequences.

A well-built 6-foot-2 guard out of Reno, N.V., Goraya may have been a casualty of the inexact science that is high school recruiting.

A consistent scorer and 3-point shooter, Goraya has put together several 30+ point scoring onslaughts this season.

With his scoring acumen and the fact that he won’t have to make the same transition strength-wise as most freshmen, his coaches see Division-I potential in him. If he does get passed up on, there’s still the possibility of becoming a primary piece at a reputable Division-II program.

There are options with Conor Seville, a scrappy guard/forward who can play multiple positions and provide interior scoring and rebounds. Running parallel to the team’s ascent has been the much improved play of Shaq Doctrine, who has evolved into a shooter while providing another leg of scoring.

 The aforementioned Sellin has become active on the glass and around the rim, while Lenny Maguir has been a serviceable combination guard with contributions on both sides of the court. Adrien Audoin has shown glimpses lately, as he's another versatile threat with a soft touch and a penchant for crashing the boards consistently.

While Gittens and Goraya lead by example in the backcourt, there is notable depth in that category. Rodriguez has also made sure to hold each player to a high standard, holding a quick leash and a natural intolerance for defensive lapses. In a variety of cases, prep school can be an experiment turned disaster.

 Consider that everyone is looking for a scholarship, which often results in stats-padding and jealousy and division. There is also cases of guys adjusting on the fly who just don't commit to the team concept. Since prep programs of this ilk don't have a great deal of time together and do have scholarship-thirsting, me-first individualists, some of these post-graduate programs are rendered a place where team basketball goes to die.

These issues have never occurred with TCA Red, which has the look of a tight-knit team that will gladly sacrifice individual desires for team success.