Cardozo coach finds redemption in Judges’ victory at PSAL final

By Joseph Staszewski

Ron Naclerio wept uncontrollably at the final horn of Benjamin Cardozo’s first PSAL city championship since 1999.

They were tears of joy and a release of all the negative emotions that had nearly consumed the legendary boys’ basketball coach since a blown 10-point halftime lead to Boys & Girls in the 2010 final.

“For a high school coach, this is the greatest feeling in the world,” Naclerio said.

His players promised him this moment and to give him at least one title to ease his pain. Senior center Francisco Williams told the meticulous and eccentric headman as a freshman that the Judges would take home a crown, and star sophomore guard Rashond Salnave had a similar message just before the championship game. Naclerio brushed off their predictions.

“I know how hard it is,” he said.

An emotionally spent Naclerio reminded everyone of the difficulty in his post-game press conference with an opening statement that lasted nine minutes. In 2010, it was a five-point loss to the Kangaroos. A year later, his team missed nine of 11 foul shots in the last two minutes of a quarterfinal loss to Abraham Lincoln. Star forward Jermaine Lawrence, who Naclerio “loved like a son,” unexpectedly transferred from Cardozo in 2012. It’s something Naclerio still isn’t fully over.

“The team thought I was going to quit,” he said.

Last season he wasn’t on the sidelines for Cardozo’s overtime loss to Jefferson in the quarterfinals after being suspended for throwing the Queens borough championship runner-up plaque. He questioned if the Judges could win this year with No. 2 Wings and No. 1 Lincoln ready to stand in their way before other teams knocked the Brooklyn powerhouses out of the way. His players did the rest.

“Have I slipped as a coach?” Naclerio said. “I don’t think I’ve slipped, I just can’t do it as much. It was getting to the point where they brought me out of it.”

Salnave scored 16 points and made two free throws with 2.8 seconds left in the final to deliver the crown. Williams had a game-high 21 points and Marzuq Jimoh added 11 and a key steal late. The Judges weren’t going to be denied, and Naclerio’s reaction made it even sweeter.

“To get him a city championship is like, ‘We did it. We did it for you.’ This is his first one in 15 years,” Jimoh said. “Nobody thought we could do it and we did it.”

Naclerio couldn’t watch the game-clinching free throws, but he soaked in all of the post-game celebration. He arrived the next day at Fordham University to scout Bishop Loughlin and Christ the King with a smile on his face as everyone he knew congratulated him. The Judges face the Royals in Albany next week.

Win or lose it won’t change his feelings and the rejuvenation he has undergone.

“I’m going to do everything I can, but it’s going to end,” Naclerio said of the basketball season. “But the memories and the love I have for these kids will never end.”

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