By Joseph Staszewski
Benjamin Cardozo has basked for a week in its city championship glory. But it is back to business with a showdown against Christ the King in the state Federation tournament approaching.
“It feels great, but we’re not finished yet,” senior forward Francisco Williams said. “We still want to go to states and take it all.”
Williams, teammate Rashond Salnave and Coach Ron Naclerio described the week after winning the school’s first PSAL Class AA title since 1999 as one of the best of their lives. Naclerio got a standing ovation at Hooters when he joined the team for a post-game meal.
He’s been stopped on the street to pose for photos with fans and received congratulations from New York Knicks General Manager Steve Mills and legendary St. John’s University Coach Lou Carnesecca.
It all really sunk in the first day back at school.
“I’m walking around with the trophy and every kid was stopping me, kids I don’t even know, kids that I don’t even know knew there was a basketball team,” Naclerio said.
Salnave, who has been replaying his championship-wining free throws in his head daily, said he had a random student drop his books in class to run and shake his hand. A bus driver on the Q27 congratulated Williams.
“It’s been crazy,” Williams said. “They have showed us a lot of love in here. It’s been unbelievable.”
Naclerio is still admittedly on the championship high, but said he will have his team prepared to take on the defending state Federation champion Royals in the semifinals at 11:45 a.m. this Friday at the Times Union Center in Albany. The two teams last played during the regular season in 2009, a 57-54 Royals victory at the New Heights Holiday Hoops Festival.
CK will create matchup problems with sophomore Rawle Alkins, junior forward Travis Atson and especially hulking 6-foot-10 center Adonis Delarosa, who is a more polished version of what the Judges prepared to face in Wings center Jessie Govan.
“He’s the biggest player in New York City,” Naclerio said of Delarosa. “They have a couple of other guys who worry me.”
The Judges (30-2) counter with do-it-all senior guard Marzuq Jimoh and senior forward Carl Balthazar and a super sophomore of their own in Salnave. He scored 31 points in a 69-64 quarterfinal victory over South Shore and hit the game winning free throws at the Barclays Center in the title game. Salnave has been anointed the city’s next great guard and has begun living up to the hype.
“He wanted to leave Cardozo as a senior living the dream,” Naclerio said. “He’s a sophomore and he is living the dream.”
Cardozo, however, isn’t content with just being PSAL city champions. It would like to add one more crown to its dream season even with all the hoopla around the team.
“The team, we are focused,” Salnave said. “Every time we get in the gym, everybody else is walking around going, ‘Oh, look at the champs this, champs that.’ Yea we are the champs of New York [City], but we still want that New York state title. We just want to keep reminding ourselves.”