Photo courtesy of Johnnie Photography.
By David Cordova
The Catholic High Schools Athletic Association in New York City, is considered one of the premier leagues in the nation, due to the outstanding basketball that is played. Whenever you play a school in the CHSAA, you’ll get hard working players that play defense and will have discipline.
One school that embodies both of those qualities is none other than the Christ the King Royals. The team from the school located in Middle Village, Queens has been a powerhouse for more than 30 years and has produced countless college stars and NBA players such as Khalid Reeves, Erick Barkley, Speedy Claxton and Lamar Odom, to name a few.
Year in and year out, the Royals are usually amongst the city’s top teams and always play national competition.
But then again, everything starts with the head coach: Joe Arbitello. When asked what the mission of the Royals is, his reply was: “To get better every day. To make sure we get better every practice, every game.”
Arbitello, a 1995 graduate of the school, has fond feelings of his alma mater. “It’s great. I’m a Royal, man,” said Arbitello. “From the day I stepped in here in 1991 [as a high school freshman], 100%.”
These days, he’s the one molding the minds of these young men. He is now in his tenth season at the helm and has won five CHSAA city titles and three New York State Federation titles.
This year’s team at Christ the King are one of the best teams in the CHSAA and amongst the city. At the present time, they are 11-4 overall on the season and in sole possession of first place in the CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens Diocese division with a 6-2 record. In the state rankings, they are rated ninth.
When asked about his feelings about the season so far, Arbitello replied, “I think we’re finally figuring out how to play with each other. I think we’re really young, and people don’t realize that, so, you know, it’s going to be a growing process every game.”
There are two players that have stood out for Christ the King this year, literally and figuratively, in 6-foot-11 junior center Kofi Cockburn, who is rated the No. 34 player in the country in the Class of 2019 by ESPN and 6-foot-11 freshman forward Moussa Cisse.
Both Cisse and Cockburn are both players that are physical and abuse the rim with powerful dunks, but can also put the ball on the floor and dribble. “They’re different. Kofi is a bruiser, Moussa is a bruiser, too, but he’s athletic,” says Arbitello about his two front court men. “Kofi’s a little more polished on the block right now, so it’s good that it really comes up to me to coach them. Coaching two 7-footers is not the easiest thing in the world, ’cause I’ve won a lot of championships with guards.”
And speaking of guards, he has a really good trio of them in 5-foot-10 senior Tyson Walker, 6-foot-2 sophomore Ryan Meyers and 6-foot-3 sophomore Quaran McPherson. All three of them are excellent guards who can score and also pass the ball. Another player who is basically the sixth man of the team is 6-foot-3 junior guard Tavin Pierre-Phillip.
Of the quartet of guards, Arbitello replied, “Our guards are really good, solid core of guards.”
This season started off with a rough loss to last year’s CHSAA champions in Cardinal Hayes on December 1st, but they came back two days later, December 3rd, beating public school powerhouse Thomas Jefferson on the road, 83-76. Another big win for them this season was against Long Island Lutheran, which was another road game, on December 18th, as they won in a close battle, 57-55.
Although the Royals are young, they are now battle-tested. And they will need that experience as the playoffs come around. After going 1-2 at the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions in Springfield, Missouri, they came back and won against Mount St. Michael in a road game, 63-48, on January 18th.
A couple of big games are coming up for the Royals in the month of February, such as the ESPNU televised game in their home gym against CHSAA rivals Archbishop Molloy on February 2nd, the rematch against Molloy in the Briarwood section of Queens, the following week on February 9th, and a big matchup against Montverde Academy, the No. 1 team in the USA Today national high school poll on February 11th at the Metro Classic, an event that will be held at Kean University in Union, New Jersey.
When asked about having a big rivalry game at their game televised on ESPNU, Arbitello chose to remain focused on the next game at hand, “I have nothing to say about that, there are a lot of games in between that to worry about.”
Every game won’t be easy for the Royals from here on out, but what Christ the King plans on doing is everything they can in order to get back to the city title game, where they last made it in 2015, which they won.
But until then, the plan is simple. “To get better every game, that’s the goal every game, that’s the goal every year,” says Arbitello.