Archbishop Stepinac Embarks On Outstanding Season & Looks To Make Strong Playoff Run

Photo courtesy of Moving Pictures

By David Cordova

The basketball scene in Westchester County is pretty good, but most of the high school programs in the area are public schools that play for sectional and state titles.

However, there is a Catholic school in White Plains that has put out some good talent over the years. The name of the institution is Archbishop Stepinac High School. Over the years, the school on 950 Mamaroneck Avenue has produced more than 60 Division I players in the program’s history, including coaches such as Tim Quartlebaum (Kansas), Tim O’Toole (California) and Steve Masiello (Manhattan).

Other players that came out of there were Marty Conlon, who led Providence to an NCAA Final Four run in 1987 and spent 10 seasons in the NBA. Then there was Tony Taylor (George Washington), Melquan Bolding (Fairleigh Dickinson) and Josh James (Monmouth).

Xavier Wilson goes up for a layup. (Photo courtesy of Moving Pictures)

The Crusaders have won four city championships in school history in 1960, 1991, 1993 and 2010. But all of those titles were won in the CHSAA “A” or the “B” Division. In the present day, the program is in the “AA” Division.

Leading the charge is Patrick Massaroni, who is in his third season at the helm and has guided them to a 22-5 overall record this year.

“We said going into the playoffs that we wanted to have a six-step process, it takes six games to win the whole thing,” said Massaroni. “Three in the Archdiocese and three in the city playoffs and we’re two-for-two so far. We set one goal at the beginning of the year, to win the city championship and it’s another step forward in doing that.”

Joel Soriano alters a defenders’ shot. (Photo courtesy of Moving Pictures)

But then again, before you get to the athletic part, here’s what Stepinac offers the kids academically. “School wise, we’re top-50 in the country, all-boys Catholic school, over 800 kids, right outside of New York City, in Westchester County, in the suburbs. Overall, Stepinac will build you as a young man to get better on and off the court, both academically and athletically. In the end, student-athlete first and then we move forward to develop young men and use our technology-based curriculum, we have no textbooks, all technology-based and getting them better to leave Stepinac as better men.” said Massaroni on the school’s academic prowess.

In regards to basketball, the Crusaders have been top-notch, as they went 18-11 last season and made an appearance in the CHSAA semifinals for the first time since 1986. Before this season, the most wins the school has ever had in a season was 20, which has been eclipsed during the CHSAA Archdiocesan playoffs.

So far, this season has been very successful as they won the Under Armour Torrey Pines Holiday Classic in San Diego, California over the Christmas holidays and have also had a 13-4 record in the CHSAA Bronx/Westchester division.

R.J. Davis calmly looks at the ball as it is inbounded to him. (Photo courtesy of Moving Pictures)

They also played in two big games against their CHSAA rivals in Iona Prep. Both games were played in major venues this year, due to the gyms not being large enough for the overwhelming demand.

The first matchup against the Gaels was on January 5th at the Westchester County Center in White Plains, a place considered by many in the area to be sort of a hoops cathedral amongst high school programs. In front of raucous crowd of 3,300 people, the Crusaders won a very close game, 82-78.

The rematch took place a month later, on February 3rd, this time at Iona College in New Rochelle, with 2,600 people on standby. The second game went to the Gaels, as they would exact their revenge on the Crusaders, going out with the win, 75-67.

Davis, Minaya, Wilson and Soriano on the bench. (Photo courtesy of Moving Pictures)

Both teams would meet up a couple of weeks later in the semifinals of the CHSAA Archdiocesan playoffs on February 20th at Mount St. Michael Academy in the Bronx, where the Crusaders would run the Gaels out of the gym, winning by a 17-point margin, 75-58.

Stepinac would then go on to beat Cardinal Hayes in the CHSAA Archdiocesan finals, 78-62, on February 24th at Mount St. Michael. But then again, there’s a bigger goal at hand. “We’ve had a special year, but we still have a long way to go and that’s the mindset of this team,” said Massaroni of the success of the Crusaders.

In regards to those two big rivalry games at the County Center and the Hynes Athletic Center on Iona College’s campus, Massaroni replied, “It’s awesome. When we put together the game at the County Center, our guys were excited, we announced it in September. But to get 3,200 people in a gym for a high school basketball game is pretty special. It’s stuff you see out in Indiana and stuff. And to come out that night victorious was a great night for us. And then to go back a month later and play them at Iona College and they did a great job of securing that venue and playing in front of 2,600 fans, we played great for three quarters and let one slip up. It’s such a big rivalry in any sport, the best in Westchester and one of the best in the Catholic high school league, for sure. And we came out on top, two out of three.”

Stepinac players in the huddle. (Photo courtesy of Moving Pictures)

The players leading the charge on the court are 6-foot-5 senior swingman Alan Griffin (18.2 points per game), 5-foot-11 sophomore guard R.J. Davis (20.3 points per game), 6-foot-4 freshman guard Adrian Griffin, Jr. (11.3 points per game), 6-foot-7 senior forward Xavier Wilson (8 points per game), 6-foot-10 junior center Joel Soriano (5.5 points per game), 6-foot-2 junior guard Eddie Sanchez (4.4. points) and 6-foot junior guard Eduardo Minaya (10.6 points per game).

On Alan Griffin: “6-5 wing, who’s really under-the-radar in terms of his recruitment right now. You know, St. John’s came in late, then you have the likes of Xavier, Illinois, Minnesota, Rutgers showing him interest and that’s the level he deserves to be at.”

Coach Massaroni and Alan Griffin at the press conference following the loss to Iona Prep on February 3rd. (Photo courtesy of Moving Pictures)

On Davis: “A very talented point guard, he’s averaging over 20 [points] a game, over six assists, who has six Division I offers right now.”

On Adrian Griffin, Jr: “Just a spark for us off the bench, who has a ton of potential  as well.”

In regards to the teams as a whole, “You got our three guys, and then our pub and that’s the team.”

Due to the fact that they dominated in the Archdiocesan playoffs, Stepinac has received a double bye into the CHSAA city playoffs, in which they will play the winner of the Holy Cross-St. Raymond game in the quarterfinals on March 4th at Fordham University in the Bronx.

When asked if the rivalry games with Iona Prep will continue at the big venues, Massaroni replied, “It’s in discussion, we’ll see at our league meeting in May, we’ll propose it to Iona and we’ll talk about doing both again, because the magnitude of the rivalry has gotten so big, we’re going to look into bigger venues for sure.”

The Stepinac Crusaders in a timeout huddle as Coach Massaroni draws up a play. (Photo courtesy of Moving Pictures)

With the assortment of talent on the Crusaders’ roster, there’s no telling that this team has the talent to win it all. With Soriano and Wilson in the frontcourt, the elder Griffin at the three and a great quartet of guards in the backcourt, it’s possible that the Crusaders could make it as far as the city semifinals on March 7th at St. John’s University in Queens or the city championship game on March 11th at Fordham.

When asked what’s next for the future of the program, Massaroni replied, “We’re going to continue to keep this thing going. We’re going to continue to play a national schedule, we’re going to continue to develop young men, we’re going to continue to produce high-level students who play the game at any level of basketball, whether it’s Division I, II or III. We’re here and we’re a fit for those type of kids.”

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