By Joseph Staszewski
Benjamin Cardozo has no plans for leaving the mountain top after winning the school’s first PSAL Class AA city title since 1999.
To get there again the Judges will rely on one of the five boroughs’ best backcourts, but will need contributions from a host of players who didn’t see a lot of minutes during last year’s championship run. Judges coach Ron Naclerio has used that as motivation for this group.
“I say listen, ‘The thrill of victory was great last year, just think about what it would be like to get the thrill of victory if you were on the court for 20-30 minutes this year,’” Naclerio said.
If Cardozo is going to raise the banner again, it will need to lean heavily on its backcourt led by Rashond Salnave. The highly recruited junior was an All-Queens First Team selection by the TimesLedger Newspapers last season. Salnave averaged 18 points per contest and hit the winning free throws in the title game.
Backcourt mate Elijah McNeely, a senior, also returns and will be asked to score more after the gradation of Marzuq Jimoh.
Amir Tutt and Tareq Cobourn are also expected to contribute. Junior varsity call up Jalen Burgess should add scoring off the bench. The biggest addition is Archbishop Molloy transfer Aaron Walker. The super athletic junior guard could help form quite a trio with Salnave and McNeely.
“It is going to be hard for teams to guard us,” Salnave said.
The Judges will not be as big as they were up front last season with the graduations of Carl Balthazar and Francisco Williams.
Senior forward Armando Dunn, who is 6-foot-5, will be asked to shoulder much of the responsibly in the paint. Malcolm Hendricks and Tarik Howard add frontcourt depth. Dunn is ready to do whatever it takes to keep his team on top.
“I’m going to be that glue guy, the guy that scraps and does the dirty work, anything to help my team win,” he said.
Cardozo’s returning players understand this season will be different in the sense that the target is on it from the start.
It doesn’t want any team to take away its crown and will try to take it a step further. The Judges’ overtime loss to eventual state Federation champion Christ the King in the semifinals still sticks with the returning players.
Cardozo plays the Royals Jan. 11 in Middle Village and would love a March rematch.
“We want to run into them as much as we can,” Salnave said.
That means winning the PSAL first.
The Judges are by no means a team resting on its laurels with so many players wanting to taste what it is like to lead their school to a crown and just be a part of a championship team.
“I was a role player last year,” Dunn said. “Now I have to step up and all the other guys who didn’t play as much, we have to step up. It makes the job a little bit harder, but we are trying to work hard and get another city championship.”