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Defense key for Christ the King

Photo by William Thomas
By Joseph Staszewski

Joe Arbitello is usually the harshest critic of his Christ the King team’s defense. The Royals’ coach, however, had been happy with his club’s performance on that end floor despite trailing by seven at the half of the CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens boys’ basketball championship Friday night. He credited Bishop Loughlin’s talented offensive players with making tough shots.

“I said to my guys at halftime, I thought we were playing really good D,” Arbitello said.

His players did not.

The Royals took it to another level in the third quarter. They kept the Lions out of the paint, rebounded and turned misses into transition points. There were CK hands out on every shot and bodies between the Lions and the basket.

Christ the King held Loughlin to just eight third-quarter points and took a four-point lead into the fourth quarter it would never relinquish. Defense has been on the tip of the players’ tongues all year.

Rightfully so, as it was the main reason they won the CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens boys’ title 80-65 in Middle Village — the school’s fourth crown in the last five years.

The Royals wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“We wanted it more,” junior guard Andre Walker said. “Halftime we were down. We knew we had to come out hungry, so we clamped down on defense.”

It’s a passion that’s burned in them all season. It is what sets them apart to the tune of just one league loss and three defeats all year. The Christ the King seniors are still motivated by losing to Bishop Loughlin in last season’s diocesan semifinals and being stunned by Mount St. Michael in the intersectional quarterfinals last year. There was no trip to the federation tournament.

This group can take it to another level when they need to and want to get back there. Walker would like to see them play with that intensity all the time — a scary thought for opponents. Arbitello said it’s just the product of veterans refusing to lose.

“We took it to that senior level where we wanted to win this back,” said the coach, holding the championship trophy. “This became the most important thing to us. You know, you can’t coach that. That has to come from the players.”

It is easy to see how this group feeds off each other when role-playing junior Rawle Alkins turns a block into a coast-to-coast layup midway through the fourth quarter. Then 6-foot-10, 250-pound center Adonis Delarosa hustles to steal the ensuing inbound pass. It led to Jon Severe being fouled on a drive and Delarosa getting a slap on the behind in appreciation from Arbitello.

It’s hustle and heart plays like those that were the difference against Loughlin and will be the difference for however long the Royals’ playoff run goes.

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