Photo courtesy of Kelvin Jones.
By David Cordova
Change is a necessary part of life. As much as the world would like things to stay the same forever, all good things must come to an end. However, this isn’t too say change can’t be a good thing either. In fact, it’s a wonderful thing to start anew.
Such is the case for Dwayne “Tiny” Morton, who is a legend amongst high school basketball coaches in New York City. For more than 30 years, the hallowed grounds of Abraham Lincoln High School in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn was a huge part of his life.
Back in 1986, as a sophomore, he helped lead the Railsplitters to a PSAL championship at the old Felt Forum inside Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, over Harlem’s Manhattan Center.
Just ten years later, in 1996, he became the head coach of his alma mater. He would go on to be one of the most respected coaches in the city as he would lead the Railsplitters to nine PSAL city championships and four New York State Federation championships. He sent countless players to Division I colleges and also sent three players to the NBA, one of whom is Lance Stephenson, who is currently playing for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Last season, the Lincoln Railsplitters were having a wonderful season in the ultra-competitive PSAL Brooklyn “AA” division. But then the rug was pulled out from under them, as a couple of players were suspended for the remainder of the season, due to PSAL rules and regulations. Lincoln would be ousted in the PSAL quarterfinals by Curtis High School of Staten Island on March 3rd.
Then in April, he made a move that many never saw coming. He made the transition to Nazareth Regional High School in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Nazareth is a school that is affiliated with the Catholic High Schools Athletic Association, most commonly known as the CHSAA, which is one of the premier high school leagues in America.
When asked what made him transition to the Catholic school scene after years of success on the public school scene, he replied, “[It’s] something different, new start, fresh start for me.”
The Nazareth Kingsmen play in the CHSAA A division and are also the defending champions, when they won the city championship, and went 21-6 under former head coach Todd Jamison before his retirement after the season.
When asked if the A division was a good way to start his tenure in the Catholic League, Morton, who also serves as the school’s athletic director, replied, “It’s not my decision. If it were my decision, we’d be AA.”
Although they aren’t currently a “AA” school, that doesn’t mean that their schedule isn’t befitting of one. Aside from their regular league schedule against teams such as LaSalle Academy, Xavier, St. Edmund Prep and Monsignor McClancy, the Kingsmen have played in some big events in the Northeast.
Around the Christmas holiday, they took a trek to Gladstone, New Jersey to play against The Patrick School, a powerhouse program in the Garden State, whom they lost by three, 63-60. A couple of days later, they would beat Eagle Academy in the Brooklyn Bridge Holiday Classic by a 10-point margin, 69-59. Then a few days later, they went down to Rocky River, North Carolina to play in the Hoodie’s House Classic tournament, where they went 1-2 against opponents such as Northside Christian, Charlotte Christian and Holly Springs.
The rest of their non-league schedule this season is very interesting as they will be playing at the Dan Finn Classic on January 19th at the Jersey City Armory against Marist High School of Bayonne, then at Kean University in Union, New Jersey against St. Benedict’s Prep on January 27th. Then on February 2nd, the Kingsmen will face a true test against a CHSAA “AA” opponent when they play Cardinal Hayes in the Bronx. And lastly on February 9th, will play Bishop Ahr in the Primetime Shootout in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
Currently, Nazareth is 9-4 on the season and 6-1 in CHSAA play. When asked about the program’s tough schedule, Morton replied, “We’re kind of young. But in my career of coaching, we always have a tough schedule like that, so it’s nothing different for me, it’s the norm.”
At the present time, there is plenty of youth in the fold. Of the eleven players on the roster, nine of them are sophomores. When asked if he has had a young team like this before, Morton replied, “No, definitely not. This team is unique.”
The players with plenty of promise are 5-foot-9 point guard Dontae Prescott, 6-foot-4 shooting guard Ziare Wells, 6-foot-3 shooting guard T.J. Morris, 5-foot-10 point guard Khalil Brantley, 6-foot-4 forward Camden Blount, 6-foot-4 forward Jaqai Murray, 6-foot-5 forward Ikenna Ude-Smith, 6-foot-5 forward Isaiah Spruill and 6-foot-7 forward Tymel Stevenson.
The upperclassmen on the team with the wealth of experience are 5-foot-8 junior guard Roderick Dawkins and 5-foot-10 senior guard Clinton Kinyeti. Both of them are the lone holdovers from last year’s championship squad in the Todd Jamison era.
All of the players are newcomers to the program, but they all have the talent to play college basketball in the future, whether it may be on the Division I or Division II levels.
When asked about the potent backcourt of Wells, Morris, Brantley and Prescott, he replied, “I love them all, but you’ve got to add Jaqai, you’ve gotta add Camden, and you’ve gotta add the two guys that was there last year. I’m not putting pressure on those young guys, pointing fingers, talking about four or five of them, you’ve got to talk about the entire team.”
Also when asked if they plan to duplicate the success that their predecessors achieved last season, he replied, “We’ve got the chance, we’ve got the talent. It’s going to be hard, but that’s our goal.”
Next year, in March 2020, if the Kingsmen were to advance to the New York State Federation tournament, which will be played at Fordham University in the Bronx, they would be able to play on the court three times that season, as the CHSAA plays their playoff games at Rose Hill Gym. To that, Morton added: “That’s always the goal.”
But then again, he plans to take baby steps. “Day by day,” he said.
As the young Nazareth program continues to jell, there is no telling how far they will go. It’s a new day in East Flatbush and a coach named Dwayne “Tiny” Morton is leading the charge.