By Joseph Staszewski
Rawle Alkins emerges from the Christ the King locker room following a playoff win with a throng of reporters behind him and a pack of young fans awaiting him at the top of the steps inside Fordham University’s Rose Hill gymnasium. The Christ the King junior boys’ basketball star takes photos with the kids as they continually ask him where he will attend college. Before starting his interview, Alkins sporting glasses like Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbook, laughs and smiles brightly from ear to ear as he politely shrugs off their repeated attempts for an answer.
The once intimidating glare of the spotlight has become a comfort zone for Alkins that only further radiates his star power and genuineness. The Canarsie native handles all that comes with being New York City’s best hoops player by just heeding his mother’s advice.
“She tells me all the time this stuff is supposed to happen, to act like I’ve been there before,” Alkins said. “That is why when I get all these accolades I act like it is nothing. I just try to act like I belong there.”
He is a natural at it all now, once he let his personality shine through. That was far from the case when he was a freshman and early on in his sophomore year. Alkins scored 14 points in the Royals’ city title victory two years ago and his first-on camera interview didn’t go well. His nerves caused him to not smile, to freeze up and stutter. He took some friendly heat from the team’s seniors and never looked forward to interviews the rest of that season.
“My freshman and sophomore years I was kind of running away from the camera,” Alkins said. “Being a high school basketball star you have to get use to this type of stuff.”
The 6-foot-5, 205-pound Alkins is a superb scorer, rebounder and one of the city’s best defenders. He became the first CK player to win three straight CHSAA Intersectional ‘AA’ titles and earned MVP honors in the process. Alkins is hoping for a state Federation three-peat this weekend. He is a 1,000-point scorer and averaged 20 points per game this season, tying him for second in the league. Alkins scored a season-high of 37 against Archbishop Stepinac and also recorded the first triple-double in school history for a boys’ player this year.
Basketball comes easy to him, Success in the classroom and in the spotlight was a more difficult task.
Basketball was taken away from him as a freshman when CK coach Joe Arbitello decided his grades weren’t up to standards. Instead of being on the court, Alkins could only watch practice from the window of Arbitello’s office as he sat doing his school work with coach Killian Reilly. It wasn’t an easy time
“He wanted to go so badly and play,” said his mother, Derline Zephir. “I know. I’ve seen him work so hard to catch up. It was really hard, but he did it…His line is, ‘Mom I have to do better because somebody else is doing better than me.’”
Alkins leans heavily on his mom and his cousin Rodney. He lives with her and seven other family member in a three-story house in Brooklyn. There are no basketball handlers in sight.
His father left when he was 7 years. The two speak, but not often. The support group Alkins has around him keeps him grounded and humble.
“It’s like they took white board and he is so innocent,” Arbitello said. “He has no sense of entitlement. He doesn’t think he should be with the crown around his head and all the newspapers should be talking to him.”
But they are and it won’t stop for the foreseeable future. Two years from now he will have his pick of joining some of the nation’s top college hoops programs. Alkins, an avid NBA fan, knew very little about college basketball before entering high school. He once mistook former Fordham coach Tom Pecora for Kentucky’s John Calipari, according to Arbitello.
Alkins and his family are hopeful he will be eligible to finish his career at CK next year. He may have to go to prep school if he is not granted further eligibility from the state Federation. Alkins lived with his cousins in Florida for two years and played in eight varsity games off the bench as an eighth grader for Palm Beach Central high school before moving back to Brooklyn. New York State rules allow a high school student to play for only four years unless granted a waiver.
Alkins is told very little about the situation as the school prepares to present his case after the season. He thinks it would be less of an issue if he were not a star player.
“If I don’t come back, it was fun,” Alkins said. “It was fun while it lasted.”
Fun is exactly what he has been having the last two years with every aspect of being Rawle Alkins – the hoops, the hype and the homework. If basketball doesn’t work out, he plans on giving acting a try. His transformation from shy prospect to beaming star couldn’t make his mother any happier or prouder.
“He feels comfortable with himself,” Zephir said. “He is comfortable with everyone. He’s not afraid.”
It comes as no surprise to Arbitello. He knew Alkins was more than a special player when he did not complain or transfer like many others would have when challenged to improve off the court as well.
“He really just wants to be great in every aspect of the word, not just basketball, as a person, as a student. everything you could possibly think about,” Arbitello said. “Now you are seeing the end result.”