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Cardozo takes charge

The boys’ basketball team from Benjamin Cardozo arrived at Thomas A. Edison High School immersed in a surprisingly unhurried calm Monday evening, especially for a team whose PSAL Queens ‘AA’ fate was probably about to be decided within a span of two hours.
The Judges arrived at 5:04 for a 5:00 game. They got dressed, they shot around for a few minutes, and they kept their composure right until the very end, when they measured the hurdle they had just overcome and celebrated their 74-52 victory. They will likely be champions of the Queens ‘AA’ regular season.
Cardozo and Edison approached their February 2 matchup as the unquestioned best of the borough. They had each suffered only a one loss; Edison lost the last time the borough juggernauts faced each other, and Cardozo lost on January 30 to Forest Hills. Those disappointments notwithstanding, the Judges and Inventors had emerged unscathed from the “big four” rivalries that included Forest Hills and Campus Magnet.
Their dominance readily leaves one to believe that the two games remaining in each team’s season - for Cardozo, it’s Flushing and Van Buren; for Edison, it’s Long Island City and Van Buren - will end in W’s, leaving Cardozo atop the division after finishing second last year to Campus Magnet. Then come the Queens borough and New York City playoffs, where Cardozo and Edison respectively earned the borough’s best finishes in 2008.
First there was a game to be played in Jamaica on Monday, a game in which Cardozo seemed permanently governed by superior strategy. Like the game in which Cardozo beat Campus Magnet 63-52 on January 5, this one largely came down to defense. Junior forward Ryan Rhoomes and junior forward Dwayne Brunson were planted under the net and proved too much for most of Edison’s scorers to handle.
“I’d like to think that we’ve got the two best big men, juniors, in the city,” Cardozo head coach Ronald Naclerio said. “They’re playing Division I defense.”
Edison junior forward Osamuede Egharevba, averaging 13 points this season, was limited to seven. Senior guard Stephon Hodges, averaging 11, scored only five. And junior forward Stephen Nwaukoni, who usually scores 10, was held to nothing more than one successful free throw.
“We had his tendencies down,” Naclerio, always armed with a thick scouting report, said of Hodges.
The difference lay in how each team approached its play in the lane because Nwaukoni and Edison senior guard Isiah Stokley applied plenty of defense themselves.
While Cardozo approached the painted area by executing slick passes and beating Nwaukoni and Stokley with superior manpower and movement, Edison repeatedly settled for one-on-one drives, or to passing to the outside and taking low-percentage shots.
The Inventors - and Stokley in particular, even though he ended up scoring 26 - kept shooting low percentage treys all game long, and they nearly always missed.
The only player on either team, in fact, who appeared remotely comfortable from the three-point arc was Cardozo sophomore guard Shelton Mickell, who hit three consecutive three-pointers and scored 17 points in all. Representing a scoring outlet that has been largely unavailable to the Judges all season long, he looks to be an important component of Cardozo’s offense over the next two years.
“Shelton’s a great kid,” Naclerio said. “I think he’s gonna be one hell of a player. … You can see [his] confidence grow.”
Cardozo’s Rhoomes and Brunson, meanwhile, proved to be a potent offensive tandem from short-range, respectively scoring 21 and 12. Junior guard Reynaldo Walters scored 12 and tallied seven assists.
Cardozo led 37-24 at the half, and already the considerable buzz at the Edison gym, stimulated early on by the Inventors’ distinguished cheerleading team, was largely drained. Adding insult to injury was a dramatic third quarter steal and dunk by Dwayne Brunson, who followed by stuffing Stokley on the Inventors’ ensuing possession.
Coach Naclerio’s game-long barks at his players kept the pedal to the metal but perhaps now he can rest knowing that his team is primed to continue its perennially impressive form in 2009, in spite of some preseason doubts.
“I coach driven by worry, because I know [a decline] might happen,” he said. “Losing this game, I don’t know how we would have come back tomorrow.”

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