Photo courtesy of Jhanayah Flack.
By David Cordova
In every basketball hub in the country, there are a lot of young hoopsters that have one dream or goal aside from making the NBA. That goal is to play Division I basketball at a four-year college. But there is one deterrent that plays a factor in keeping players from achieving that very goal. Academics.
For one reason or another, dismal grades take away from some student-athletes being able to play on national television or in the biggest and best venues straight from high school. However, there is one way they can get another opportunity to get to that level. They have to do two years of junior college. By doing that, they have a good chance of getting an associate’s degree and also being able to get to the school of their dreams.
But first things first, they must maintain a high level of play and also must be in good academic standing and must have a good character. One program that specializes in all of these traits is none other than the Panthers of Borough of Manhattan College in Midtown New York.
BMCC, as the school is most commonly referred to, is a school with an enrollment of over 26,000 students and brings in people from all over the five boroughs of New York City. However, it also has a pretty good basketball program.
“Our main mission is to get our guys in and out, get them graduated, and get them to the four-year level,” said Panthers head coach, Tommy Guerin on the mission of the program. “Along that road, we really want them to come in and work on their game for two years. You know, a New York City Catholic school or public school, even with the MPL (Multiple Pathways League), there’s a lot of very good basketball players who go under-recruited. It’s just the way it is. We really try to make our living off of finding guys who we think can play either at the Division I or Division II level, who just need a little refining in their game and maybe their academics, and thenhopefully two years with us sets them on the tight path.”
Guerin, now in his third season as head coach at BMCC, has had some good success in the last couple of seasons. After going 13-13 in his first season, he led the Panthers to a 21-9 record and the CUNYAC title and was named the CUNYAC Coach of the Year.
When asked about his pitch to city kids that plan on playing college basketball, he replied, “Well, with the CUNY Excelsior Scholarship, guys can basically go to school for free now. So coming here, you know, you’re not paying tuition for two years, and you get to stay home and play in front of your parents and friends for another two years. I know a lot of guys, they’re in a rush to get away from home and then they always end up coming back and it’s always fun to play in front of your family and after that, four-year college is always going to be there and we make sure our guys get exposure. We’re always sending out tapes to Division I and Division II schools, we’ll do everything we can to make sure our guys get the exposure that maybe they didn’t get in high school, just due to how many teams there are in the city.”
Nowadays, there are many players that get infatuated with the idea of going to a prep school. But then again, the legitimate, accredited prep schools cost anywhere between $40,000-70,000, which is the equivalent of college tuition. Then there are the “fake” prep schools, which are unaccredited and charge players less than $20,000 and have players not going to classes and just playing basketball.
The best way to offset all of those stresses is to go to college straight out of high school and be on the fast track to getting a college degree and work towards keeping a scholarship by doing a redshirt year or at least two years at a junior college.
On the subject of the pros and cons of prep school, Guerin replied, “It depends on the player. You know, prep school is great for some people. JUCO is for another breed of kids, I guess. Cause the thing with prep school is, you know, if it works out it’s great. But there’s many kids who spend a year at prep and for whatever reason, it wasn’t what they expected. Maybe playing time, financial reasons. We get a lot of kids who go away to prep for a year and then come back. You know, if you go and play junior college basketball, you’re in college, which is the goal. I know a lot of kids want to go to the NBA, they want to play overseas, and that’s obviously a goal of our guys, but no matter what, you’re already in college, you’re already taking college classes. Within four years, your going to be out in the work force, whether that’s playing professionally, or in the business world, you’re already starting your career. Prep, you kind of, you know, you’re putting it off for a year, basically, and we don’t think prep schools are going to get kids any more exposure than we will. I know it’s the hot thing right now, but you know, for got guys that want to get their lives going, we think we’re the better option.”
On the BMCC program, Guerin added: “You know, we tell kids, we’re a Division III program in name only. We don’t treat this like a Division III program, you know, we have myself and five assistants who are constantly recruiting, are constantly in here working with the guys. We played a Division II junior college, we were up 34 in the second half. We beat the No. 1 ranked team in Division III [JUCO] earlier in the season, so we think we have this program going in the right path, and we’re really just looking for it to grow. We know BMCC’s name is getting out there, but it’s not as well-known as we’d like it to be. We still walk into gyms, not everybody knows who we are yet, so we’re really trying to change that.”
So far, the Panthers are 17-7 overall and 5-3 in the CUNYAC. As early as the week of December 4th, they were ranked as high as No. 2 in the NJCAA national poll for Division III for three consecutive weeks. And then in the month of January, they were ranked at No. 4 for three consecutive weeks. In the time span of six consecutive weeks of being ranked, the Panthers went 17-1. Since then, the Panthers have lost six straight games, but due to their outstanding play are still the favorites to repeat as CUNYAC champions.
When asked about the recent success of the program, Guerin replied, “Yeah, it’s been fantastic. Last year, a lot of people don’t know, we won 21 games, won our conference championship, so we’ve had a lot of success in the past, but our name is starting to get out there a little bit more. We’re looking to get back to where we think we belong, and that’s the No. 1 spot.”
The Panthers currently have four standouts on the team, such as 6-foot-1 sophomore point guard Quran Dublin, 6-foot-6 sophomore center Ashan Adams, 6-foot-7 forward Viktor Kovacevic and 5-foot-10 shooting guard Alex Humphreys, all of whom are scoring in double figures. There was a fifth standout in Terrell Fullerton, who averaged 23.4 points in 15 games this season before academic issues aided in his departure from the team.
On the subject of Dublin, the leading scorer with 24.1 points per game, Guerin added: “It starts and ends with Quran Dublin. Q has been unbelievable for us, he broke our school’s all-time scoring mark in November of his sophomore year, and has reached 1,000 points. I get it that a lot of people will throw that D-III thing out there, but that kid could score on anyone, so he’s as good a basketball player as he is, he’s a better person. It’s been a joy to coach that kid.”
On Kovacevic, he added: “Can really handle the ball like a guard and shoot it.”
On Adams, he added: “A big man that really hits the glass.”
On the overall team, he added: “It’s really a team effort, we love our guys, we’re so proud of the team we have now, I’m glad that Q and Terrell, I think, have elevated our program to where we want it to be.”
When asked if he felt this year’s team has the talent necessary to take it further than the Region 15 tournament and into the NJCAA Nationals, Guerin replied, “Yeah, absolutely. What a lot of people don’t realize is that our region is the toughest region in the country. The No. 1 team in the country is in our region, and so is the preseason No. 2, so it’s going to be a dog fight to get out of the region, but hopefully, once we do, we know we’re prepared to face anybody in the country, and winning a national championship is our goal and anything less isn’t satisfying.”
With the CUNYAC Tournament going on next week on their home court, it is time to get ready for the playoffs. But this season has been very successful for the Panthers, and they plan to keep this train rolling. And if they go very far in the playoffs, and into the national tournament, it could help make the program attractive to more players around the city who are suffering from lack of grades or exposure.
When asked what’s next for the program, Guerin replied, “You know, hopefully, it sounds so cliché, but it really is one game at a time, and once you start looking past teams in this region, you’re going to get knocked off, so yeah, we have long-term aspirations and goals to win a national championship and to bring that [trophy] home to Manhattan, but we’re really focused on next Tuesday right now.”