2003-03-15 / Sports

St. Camillus Fighting Irish March To Championship

By Ken Reeves

As the city braces for this week’s celebration of Irish heritage, the Saint Camillus Fighting Irish will embark on their own march toward hardwood immortality. Reaching the fonals for the fourth time in as many years, these swaggering hoopsters have proven their remarkable success and sustained excellence owes little to the fabled luck of the Irish. Through perseverance, dedication and a firm grasp of the team concept, these special young men have certainly earned their date with championship destiny.

As was the case in each of the past three seasons, Ozone Park juggernaut St. Mary’s Gate of Heaven poses a most formidable final hurdle between Camillus and their title hopes. The two powerhouses split two hotly contested regular season meetings, with each team holding serve on its home floor. This Saturday’s clash will be held at an undetermined neutral site. While the teams do harbor a begrudging respect for one another, a tangible layer of animosity undoubtedly lurks beneath the surface. Not since the glory days of Beverly Hills’ Brandon Walsh and Dylan McKay have we witnessed adolescent drama of such epic proportions.

Despite the skewered belief systems of myriad spoiled Yankee fans, championships don’t simply occur as a matter of course. Numerous variables and elements must mesh and punctuated by a series of movements and beat changes that create a beautifully unique hybrid of harmony and chaos. St. Camillus’ 2002-2003 odyssey has been no exception. From a grueling tryout that drew in excess of 50 aspirants, head man Sal LaLumia and his capable staff keenly assessed both talent and character in assembling the right mixture of Nike-clad ambassadors to properly represent the parish and continue the winning tradition. Indeed, their selections proved a smashing success on both counts. Here are the team members:

1) Brian Covington (Sr./Fwd)- One of only two remaining members from the 2001 championship team, Brian’s game has seen steady improvement. Dominant in the second half In semifinals which was critical in securing finals’ birth. He is a starter for John Adams High School and co-captain and emotional leader of the Irish.

2) Laquan Benjamin (Sr./G)- "Shaft" with a jumpshot! Silky smooth southpaw scoring maching would start for any high school team. Unlike phenom LeBron James, his penchant for throwback jerseys has not compromised his eligibility. Incessant ringing of Nextel illustrated an affinity for the "shorties" that never distracts him from business at hand.

3) Moses Degaffenreid (Jr./C)- As a spindly non-roster sophomore, Moses regularly attended 2001-2002 practice sessions in hopes landing a spot on the 2003 team. Mission accomplished! Coaches have salivated over both his tireless work ethic and wonderfully respectful attitude. Fueled by seemingly weekly growth spurts. "Big Mo" placed among the league rebounding leaders.

4) Omar Walker (Jr./G)- The dreadlocked point guard has displayed an uncanny knack for efficiently quarterbacking the Irish offense. "O-Dawg’s" long-range accuracy extends defenses and creates scoring opportunities for grateful teammates. Steady junior season will likely preface a breakout campaign in 2003-2004.

5) Ivan Johnson (Sr./F)- After an unimpressive tryout during which he showed little of his signature explosiveness, "I-Man" continued to attend practices and ultimately landed a roster spot only after the Irish were plagued by a midseason injury bug. His contributions were both immediate and significant. Gravity defying leaping ability has astounded teammates and demoralized earthbound opponents.

6) Vinny Smith (Sr./G) Xaverian hockey stud has blossomed in his third season for the green and white. Spot starter has provided consistent energy and surprising scoring punch off the Irish bench. Tight off the court friendship with super ref Michael Friedman has both stoked his intensity and improved his understanding of the game.

7) Robert Rucker (Jr./G) Relegated to supporting role this season, coaches will likely hand the reins to the speedy "R.R." next season. Striking resemblance to adolescent rapper "Lil Bow Wow" has earned him a legion of female fans. Adding a touch of polish to his game this summer will enable him to be more "….Like Mike."

8) Thomas O’ Connor (Sr./G)- A walking tribute to effort, persistence and team spirit, Co-captain "T.Oak" is beloved by both coaches and teammates alike. Despite limited minutes, has displayed a strong commitment to improvement as a basketball player. A surprise starter in semifinals, he helped set tone with a fearless defensive effort.

9) Jose Guiterrez (Sr./F)- Morosely quiet yet eminently coachable, "J.G" has logged significant minutes this season and proved himself to be a solid defender and capable scorer. Deceptive leaping ability will likely earn him considerable playing time versus Gate of Heaven.

10) Rory Cuddihy (Jr./G)- A strong testament to the benefits of a positive attitude, Rory survived the grueling fall tryouts with steely determination. A potential ball-handling wizard, Cuddihy will likely emerge from his rookie capaign brimming with confidence. When trusting his own ability, Cuddihy can shoot the ball as well as anyone.

Coaching Staff

Sal LaLumia- In his fourth season, the Bronx transplant has established himself as a prodigious C.Y.O. helsman. Has expertly and simultaneously massaged fragile teen egos and navigated the often stormy waters of parish politics.

Charles Nopper- An alumnus of the 2000 runners-up "C-Nop" has not shied away from the sometimes-unpleasant task of disciplining his charges. His zero tolerance policy during hard fought practice sessions serves as a potent reminder of his unquestioned toughness s a player.

Chris Doyle- In just his first season on the pine, the inspirational leader of the 2001 championship squad has made an indelible impression. Seems qualified to land the head job should LaLumia ever retire. Often flashes his championship "bling-bling" to motivate and inspire title hungry teens.


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