By Joseph Staszewski
Cory Semper knows what it’s like to challenge Benjamin Cardozo for Queens boys’ basketball supremacy in the PSAL during his five seasons coaching at Bayside, where he won the borough title last season.
Now he will try to do it from a little further away as his High School for Construction team faces the Judges Jan. 3 at home and Jan. 7 on the road with first place in the Queens AA division on the line.
“Hopefully, we can continue the rivalry,” Semper said. “The thing is we are not across the street from each other anymore. We are a couple of miles away. It’s not an in-Bayside rivalry. It’s like Atlantic Ave. vs. Springfield Boulevard.”
What it will also be are two new teams playing to see where they stand. Construction is in its first season in the ‘AA’ and features three transfers in senior Marlon Alcindor (St. John’s Prep), Justyn Gardner (Monsignor McClancy) and junior guard Justin Wright-Forman from Christ the King. Alcindor and Wright-Forman are averaging 20 points per game in league play and Gardner is averaging a double-double per contest.
“He’s exciting to watch,” Semper said of Wright-Forman. “When he get out in transition, he can do things that other kids can’t.”
Cardozo returns just three players from last year’s squad, none of whom saw significant minutes. It is relying on players called up from a junior varsity team that lost in the city championship game to Thomas Jefferson.
“With young kids you have to let them go through the basketball wars,” Dozo Coach Ron Naclerio said. “So far so good.”
Both coaches say their squads, which are undefeated in league play, are ahead of where they thought they’d be right now. Semper said his kids have jelled quickly and returning players, like forward Mykel Isaac Kinard and Wesley Nelson, have adjusted to the step up on competition.
“The guys are looking for each other,” Semper said. “I got a group of guys that really like each other.”
Naclerio thinks his kids playing together often during the offseason helped accelerate their learning process. His club’s depth has also been a big factor. Sophomore guard Rashond Salnave hasn’t disappointed, averaging 17.8 points per contest, but has gotten help. Forwards Francisco Williams and Carl Edoua Balthazar have both produced along with seniors Kristian Mondesir and Marzuq. Sophomore’s Tarik Howard and Amir Tutt have also impressed early on.
“We go about 10 deep and on any even day we’ve had four or five kids play well,” Naclerio said.
Both coaches are eager to see how their teams perform in the big games, with Dozo also facing rival Bayside on the road Jan. 6.
“I think the excitement, the atmosphere and the nerves are going to be there for the first quarter,” Semper said. “Then both teams are going to play as hard as they can.”
Cardozo has won the last 11 division crowns, including a tie with Bayside in 2012. Naclerio hopes things stay that way as teams like Edison, Forest Hills, Bayside and now Construction have tried to unseat them.
“I’m just hoping that if I’m still doing this for the next 10 to 15 years, every time when they talk about teams in Queens that they still consider us the king and there is going to be some Queens [team] trying to knock us off.”