By Joseph Staszewski
James Pitman knew he had something special in Markell French. The John Adam’s boys’ basketball coach didn’t exactly know the level of it until he moved him to the point guard spot in his second year on the varsity squad as a junior.
It allowed all of French’s best qualities to come though and shine. The 6-foot-4 French could always score, but this allowed him to create scoring chances for others and grab a leadership role that he thrived in and which enableded the team to grow around him.
“He’s extremely cooperative, extremely hard working, led by example, not the most vocal person, but somebody who could lead by example and the other players looked up to him,” Pitman said.
French became a quasi-assistant coach for the Spartans. Pitman would often go over practice plans and scouting reports with him to get his input so he could better relay them to his teammates.
“To be a point guard who is like the assistant coach on the court,” Pitman said, “that’s what I felt like I had in Markell.”
All of it paid off in the big way this season. French and the team had its finest campaign. He averaged 13.6 points per game, 7.3 rebounds and 7 assists in league play and helped the Spartans win the program’s first ever PSAL Class A city title as the No. 13 seed. He had 13 points, eight rebounds and nine assists in finals against McKee/Staten Island Tech.
Things only got better from there. John Adams traveled to Albany and continued its historic season in the New York State Federation tournament. It upset McKinley (Section 6) in the semifinal to become the first PSAL team to reach the title game since 2001 with French leading all scorers with 22 points.
“He performed really well in the playoffs.” Pitman said.
What came next still leaves a bad taste in French’s mouth. The Spartan fell a win shy of a crown, falling to Albany Academy in the final. French on a rare off-night had just six points. Still everyone in the school and the city took notice of what he and the team accomplished.
“All my classmates and teachers, they still supported us because they knew we did something really special for the school,” French said.
The love shown to him and his team continued when French was selected to be the PSAL’s Wingate Award winner, an honor given to the top senior in each sport. It is traditionally given to a player from a Class AA school, making it extra special for French.
”It’s gives me more pleasure,” he said. “This is a small school not really known for basketball. It feels better.”
French hope his success and the team’s title will change the way people view John Adams as a basketball school. He predicts more good things to come.