On paper, Ron Naclerio had the most talented team in Queens and one of the best in the city. But then, one by one, he saw starters Cameron Tyler, Vic Morris and Skyler Khaleel go down to injury and academic problems.
And yet, there they were, the Cardozo boys’ basketball team, playing in the PSAL Class ‘A’ semifinals against defending champion Lincoln at St. John’s University.
Somehow Naclerio, a 22-year veteran on Cardozo’s bench, kept his team together and focused when there were ample opportunities for the talented Judges to call it quits. To us, that’s reason alone to name him TimesLedger PSAL Coach of the Year.
Tyler, one of the top shooting guards in the city, missed the first nine games of the year to a broken wrist. No problem. The Judges just retooled and, led by guards Morris, Nick Flagg and Duane Johnson, went 8-1.
It appeared the team was on a collision course with Beach Channel for the Queens Borough Championship, but after Cardozo beat Newtown and August Martin, it was ruled that Morris had played despite being academically ineligible, and the Judges were forced to forfeit the two wins.
As if that weren’t bad enough, Khaleel, the team’s lone low-post threat, went down with a season-ending knee injury before Cardozo’s second-round playoff game against Urban Peace.
But Naclerio, a Bayside resident and son of the late Dr. Emil Naclerio, a world-renowned heart and lung surgeon who helped save the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when the civil rights leader was stabbed in 1958, rallied the Judges again.
After defeating Urban Peace, Cardozo found a way to down a huge Gompers team in the quarterfinals to advance to the PSAL semis, where top-seeded Lincoln awaited.
Naclerio is one of the most prepared coaches in the PSAL and proved it with 12 pages of comprehensive notes about Lincoln before the semifinal clash. If a basketball bounced in Queens yesterday, odds are Naclerio knows who bounced it and can give you a scouting report on him or her.
Although he bleeds basketball orange, Naclerio was actually an accomplished collegiate baseball player at St. John’s. He still holds the school’s record for stolen bases in a season, leading the nation with 46 in 1979. He was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 17th round of the 1979 Major League Baseball Draft, but his diamond dreams were cut short three years later after a series of ankle injuries.