High School Basketball and The Westchester County Center: A Beautiful Thing

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It’s time for Westchester’s version of March Madness; beginning on Monday the Westchester County Center will be transformed into a basketball arena and by Sunday afternoon there will numerous Section I champions and lots of great stories to be told.

Unfortunately the White Plains Tigers won’t be represented at the County Center since both teams were ousted in the first round of the playoffs but there are a plethora of stories and themes on the hardwood that will keep all basketball fans on the edge of their seat this week.

Here is a short list of things I’m very excited to watch this coming week at the County Center followed by a few thoughts about playoff basketball in general.

Mount Vernon Boys Team

Any discussion about boys basketball in Westchester Country usually starts or ends with this school. This season the Knights have once again made a very strong statement why they’re the best.

Their record at the moment is 17-2. You can count on one hand the number of opponents who had been able to stay within 10 points of the Knights. Two times this season they have scored over 100 points in a game.

If you have no rooting interest for a particular team, check out Mount Vernon play. They have so many weapons I’m not sure the length of this article will do them justice if I would try to list them all. A team would have to play the game of their life to stop the Knights from capturing another Golden Ball

Ossining Girls Basketball and Saniya Chong

This team hasn’t lost a game this season. No team has come within 10 points of them. The closest final marginal of victory for Ossining during the 2011-2012 season is 16 points.

The major reason for Ossining’s domination is junior Saniya Chong. By her time her high school career is done after next year she could be one of the most talented athletes every to play ball in this area. She averages over 30 points a game and as recently as January 31st against Pearl River Chong poured in 49 points. One can only imagine how many points she will score at the County Center this week.  Ossining will play their semifinal game on Thursday afternoon against East Fishkill.

Sky Williams Tuckahoe Basketball Player

Let’s face it – Sky Williams is the best name of any current high school basketball player. Even though Tuckahoe is a small school they’re a hot bed for forming great basketball teams. Last season they fell one game short of getting to go to Glen Falls and having the chance to play for a state title. Williams earlier this season became the school’s all-time leading scorer and his scoring average for the last four games is 28 points.

By the way the Tigers as a team head to the County Center with a record of 19-0 and have scored over 100 points three times this season.

Expect the Unexpected

I just mentioned three teams that all share one thing in common. They’re No. 1 seeds in the respected brackets but as any knows who’s ever filled out a NCAA Division I basketball bracket is anything can happen and expect the unexpected.

One of the really beautiful things about the game of basketball that I fell in love with in the early 1980’s watching Dr. J., Bernard King and Chris Mullin play is that on any given night something out of the ordinary came take place in the basketball game that can change the fortunes of a team and an outcome of a game.

A player who you don’t expect can suddenly get hot and carry a team on his or her back to victory. Also a team with great team defense and rebounding can shut a highly offensive unit down very quickly. If a team can execute an efficient full-court press on a team that might not be ready for it the team with a stronger defense can make a long run in the post season.

Another component to keep in mind is not many high school teams are used to playing in front of big crowds like those in the County Center. Playing in front of a loud crowd can have some mental effects on a nervous basketball player. When you hear that crowd noise get louder your palms can begin to sweat more and suddenly that nice feel one might have on their jump shot might be altered if their grip on the ball doesn’t feel right.

The ultimate challenge in pressure in championship basketball is making free throws to win a game. Having hundreds or a thousand people screaming at you and you need to make that simple shot that you have practiced thousands of times. Shooting your free throws at a high percentage can easily be the difference between moving on in the postseason or going home.

So who are going to be the Cinderella teams this week? It’s very hard to say. On the boys side in Class A Poughkeepsie, an 11 seed, made it to the semifinals and on the girls side Class AA Carmel, a 10th seed, also made it to the County Center. At this point sometimes you can throw the seeds out the window because everyone knows there is no tomorrow if they lose.

If I were a head varsity basketball coach what would I want to stress to my players going to into the County Center? First thing: have fun. That’s why we play sports and games in the first place. Second don’t forget the fundamentals of the game, especially all the drills that stressed ball handling and defense throughout the season. The third thing I will tell my players is despite there being a lot more people in the County Center the dimensions of the court, height of the rim and rules of the game are still the same.

The final message I would tell my players in the locker room before hitting the hardwood at the Westchester County Center is a football coaching mantra from the former television show Friday Night Lights but I find it relates to any sport you play: “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose.”

Congrats to all the teams who made it to the County Center and good luck in your postseason journey as a team.

Peter Gerken is a Westchester County native and has published previously with The Patent Trader and the Bronxville Review Press. While attending Boston College he was the sports editor of the university’s newspaper, The Heights, and served as a staff writer for the Boston College sports publication Eagle Action. He can be reached at

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