By Joseph Staszewski
If Rawle Alkins is forced to leave the New York City basketball scene, he plans on doing it on top this weekend.
The Christ the King junior guard will try to help the program become the first to win three straight state Federation Class AA boys’ basketball titles starting with a March 27 match-up with rival Long Island Lutheran at UAlbany.
The Royals’ final game in Albany could be his last at CK. Alkins may have to go to prep school if he is not granted further eligibility from the state Federation for his senior year. 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 allows a high school student only four years of eligibility unless granted a waiver.
“If I don’t come back, it was fun,” Alkins said. “It was fun while it lasted.”
The Canarsie native wants to return to play at Christ the King. He is told very little about the situation as the school prepares to present its full case after the season. He thinks it would be less of an issue if he were not a star player. His family would love for him to stay close to home instead of heading to a boarding school.
“It’s very tough for the family,” said his mother, Derline Zephir. “Right now I am just praying for the best. I really want him to come back to CK, but it is very tough.”
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. 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,” Zephir said. “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 members in a three-story house in Brooklyn. There are no basketball handlers in sight.
His father left when he was 7. The two speak, but not often. The support group Alkins has around him keeps him grounded and humble.
“It’s like they took a 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 to join. 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.
The glare of the spotlight has become a comfort zone for Alkins that only further radiates his star power and genuineness. It has become so through heeding his mother’s advice.
“She tells me all the time this stuff is suppose 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 as a freshman and early on as a sophomore. 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 year 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 last year he has enjoyed 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.”
Alkins also isn’t afraid of what the future holds whether it is at Christ the King or somewhere else next season. If he doesn’t leave, he already has left an indelible mark as a player and person.
“Wherever he goes, he is going to be a star,” Arbitello said. “People aren’t going to forget about him.”