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Christ the King wins with interim coach

It may not matter whether Bob Oliva or someone else is on the sideline coaching the Royals boys’ basketball team from Christ the King. With the head coach out with health issues and athletic director Joe Arbitello essentially at the helm, the Middle Village juggernaut demonstrated its considerable prowess in its initial two games, a 104-54 victory over Jamaica and a 72-40 triumph over Van Buren, both schools from the Public Schools Athletic League, in non-league contests.
Moreover, this basketball season could belong to Sean Johnson, a 6’2” junior small forward. Judging by the manner in which he played last Friday evening, opponents had better watch out.
Oliva has been home resting with some heart problems. There is no indication when he will return to coach this team. It’s still his program with his very capable assistants over the years - Artie Cox, Greg Lemko, Derrick Phelps and Gene Schatz - handling the varsity team together with Arbitello. In a sense, they are all associate head coaches.
“We are all here to do one thing: to win the city [Catholic school] championship,” Lemko said.
Playing under the five coaches who are running the show is somewhat different from competing under one leader - Oliva - players admit.
“There is more intensity with these coaches,” said junior forward Maurice Barrow, whose role is to rebound, score and play defense. “I didn’t play under Mr. Oliva [last year, but] I know that he’s different.”
“We use more defensive pressure than what Oliva [employed last season],” noted senior “off” guard Marion Smith. “Offensively, we all take an equal amount of shots.”
“We pressure the ball more,” Johnson agreed. “[But] all the things didn’t change with them at the helm. [Our style] is a continuation from last year.”
Lemko acknowledges that CTK’s strategy has changed a bit. Whereas the Oliva-coached Royals were slower-placed, the Arbitello committee has sparked a more up-tempo rhythm. Lemko appreciates the freedom he and the others have to run a higher-pressure Royals team.
“One thing Bob Oliva always said: ‘When you’re going to coach a team you have to coach a team the way you coach,” Lemko said. “Right now Bob is not here and we can’t coach the team the way Bob would coach a team.”
“Bob is an old-school guy, just like [Molloy coach] Jack Curran. He can get the team to play half-court man-to-man or to play zone for the whole time. With this style you don’t need to use a lot of players. … We would like to play 10 guys and an up-tempo style of game with a lot more pressure defense, rather than play half-court man-to-man. Our half-court man-to-man hasn’t suffered. It’s as good as it ever has been.”
The new style seems to have had a renewing effect on Johnson, who exploded for 29 points in the season’s opener and 25 in the second game to thrill the fans.
“Sean started off with an amazing two games,” Cox said. “He’s a prolific scorer and a relentless player.”
An all-city prospect, Johnson can hit from long range out, from the paint with lay-ups, and on dunks, always making it look easy when he puts the ball into the hoop. He can score from anywhere on the court. When he doesn’t score, he runs the show and passes off to his teammates. He is an all-around cager whom the college recruiters are watching.
At times, Johnson gets his passes from sophomore guard Corey Edwards, who is a “pass first” point guard. The latter can also drive in if need be. He is the team leader from the backcourt.
Teammate senior Waivelle Farmer sat out these first two games because of knee surgery. The 6’2” forward expects to put on a uniform in mid-to-late January. In the meantime, he sits and learns.
“This team is much more balanced than it was last year when Erving Walker and Ryan Pearson led the team,” Lemko said. “We’re very, very fast and very aggressive, and we’re in great shape. We have a great group of seniors.”
“We’re very athletic, young, not that big and play hard,” Cox said of his squad. “We’ll have a fun season with a lot of positive things happening. The future is bright here at CK. They play very well together.”

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