If it surprises you that basketball is now the salutatorian in the present-day American sports hierarchy, it shouldn't. The NFL, of course, would be making the closing valedictorian remarks at the annual graduation, if there ever was one, while baseball, hockey, motor sports, and others would sit in the audience either (a) wondering why their GPA was not high enough to earn such a distinction or (b) apathetically listening while conjuring up the post-ceremony dinner order. The most anxious audience member at this fictitious ceremony would have to be baseball. The sport asks itself, "How on earth did this orange roundball that used to struggle filling major indoor venues create such a nationwide hysteria, even though its two Championship participants hail from obscure media markets that end the suffix "-land" (Note: No truly awesome municipality ends in the suffix "-land." New York, Chicago, Nashville, Charleston,.......nope).
One could hypothesize it is the wonderful athleticism or the meteoric player shot-making feats that opened the door for basketball to become the second most popular in the national sports landscape. But when basketball takes the stage to make the opening salutatorian remarks at graduation, it becomes immediately evident what got it there. The guy has got personality!
The sport features unmasked participants who are celebrating every aspect of game play, while unleashing a fury of secret handshakes and other hi-jinks in the direction of fans, officials, and television cameras. The Mutumbo finger wag, the Lebron flex, the Jordan tongue/shoulder shrug/fist pump/everything - THAT is why we love basketball. Personality.
Baseball is a drag nowadays - like everything we hate, it takes too long. Football feeds our instant gratification society's hunger with the best backyard spread we could imagine, while basketball keeps us in shape in the off-season.
In Rockaway, we tend to like our personalities quite a bit as well. That is probably why everybody on the Peninsula has an unforgettable and oft incriminating nickname. In the same vein, it is no coincidence that we glorify our local basketball players as deity. This installment of the "Top 10 Basketball Players in Peninsula History" prominently features that element of personality which kept us coming back to the schoolyard to watch our local heroes, even as their legs began to fail them and the passage of time stripped them of their divine hoop aptitude.
#7 Billy Ryan 6'0 PG, Princeton (Archbishop Molloy). Ryan could have authored a series of books on roundball after wrapping a career under legendary "C" surnamed coaches Curran and Carill. Stands today as a top five assist getter in Tiger history and was a First Team All-League selection as a Senior. Ryan was drafted by the New Jersey Nets back in '84 when the NBA had as many selection rounds as a school-wide kickball competition (200th pick), making him the only local draftee in the modern era. Known for his commitment to hardwood democracy, Billy found many fast friends who enjoyed spending their time waiting for kick outs on the perimeter.
#6 Ryan McCormack 6'0 PG, Adelphi (Xavier H.S.) A bit early for the 2000-era prom that was the highly promotional world of AAU basketball, McCormack fell to the Division II level, much to the dismay of every coach that had to strategize against his venomous abilities in college. Whenever you can put the phrase "National Player of the Year" next to your name, you know that you belong among the elite. Led the Garden City University squad to an unblemished regular season in his senior year before shipping off to Italy's top division for a few Sunday dinner's worth of a professional career. Rumor has it current Michigan coach John Belein offered him a scholarship to Canisius before bolting to Richmond following his senior year at Xavier High. Something tells me if Belein could do it again, he would have had McCormack wheel his red wagon and cooler down to Virginia to crawl with the Spiders.
#5 Frank Walker 5'11 G, Hofstra (Christ the King) Forever ingrained in Rockaway folklore for his vaunted quickness off the dribble, Walker's position on this list spawned more debate in the past week than our upcoming Presidential election. Over the course of four years at Hofstra, Walker casually registered 1500 points while cementing himself as one of the Long Island school's greatest players of all time. In the right moment, he might tell you that the most fun he ever had playing was with the late 80's Connolly's dynasty in the St. Francis de Sales Men's Open Division. Possibly the best compliment I have ever heard regarding Frank's abilities, from a former summer blacktop opponent: "The worst moment of my life was in the huddle right before tipoff of a Summer Classics game, when a teammate told me I had to guard Walker."
#4 Clare Droesch 5'11 SG/SF, Boston College (Christ the King) Droesch, like Walker, matriculated from the Evil Empire on Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village. The teams she suited up with at Christ the King were every bit '96-'00 Yankees, winning 3 of 4 Federation State Titles (all comers) and sweeping a quartet of City Championships. The insatiable desire to win carried on through college, where she led an otherwise nondescript small Jesuit program to four NCAA Tournaments, a Big East team trophy, and multiple wins over Geno Auriemma's UCONN team. To put that final accolade in perspective, New York City has changed mayors the same number of times in the past 3 years as the Connecticut women has lost basketball games. Always tepid when addressing individual exploits, Clare managed four-digit career scoring tallies at both the prep and college level. Her game in two words? Ball player. At nearly the size of a college power forward, she possessed an unheard of career 40% 3PT percentage and had no issue bullying opponents with violent drives when the circumstances warranted.
Top 3 next week. Who ya' got?BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS