Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.
By David Cordova
When one thinks of the Christ the King basketball program, they think of a program that has been successful for a very long time, and a team that continues to win year after year. The program from the school in the Middle Village section of Queens, has long been a very dominant program throughout the CHSAA and also its Brooklyn/Queens diocesan league.
But this year, due to injuries, the Royals were the underdog. And through it all, they can now call themselves something else: champions. Last week, they knocked off Archbishop Stepinac, 61-56, in a rematch of last year’s title game, which was also at Fordham University.
This year has been a year of sorts for Christ the King, as they compiled a 19-10 record and played a national schedule, which included trips to the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the Metro Classic at Kean University in Union, New Jersey, and last but not least, a national TV appearance at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Massachusetts.
“It’s a tremendous accomplishment for me, I’m just at a loss for words when it comes to as far as where this team was and where they are right now,” said head coach Joe Arbitello.
Last Sunday’s championship win gave Arbitello his sixth championship in 11 seasons at the helm at Christ the King, and tied him for most CHSAA championships in history with Maurice “Mo” Hicks, who coached at the now-defunct Rice High School in Harlem from 1994-2010.
When asked about the historical feat, he replied, “It’s only a dream, man. I said this to somebody the other day. In my first 10 years, I wanted to play in two city championships and at least win one. I would’ve felt that I was really successful if I could’ve did that.”
This season, they went without Moussa Cisse, the 6-foot-10 sophomore center, who is rated as the No. 8 player nationally in the Class of 2021 by ESPN, due to knee injuries. He came back in the Brooklyn/Queens diocesan semifinal against Xaverian on February 18th, and never looked back. Throughout these last five games, he has been his usual dominant self and will bode well for the Royals as they advance to the New York State Federation tournament.
Because they were without Cisse, Christ the King had to rely mainly on 6-foot-5 senior Nathaniel Curry and 6-foot-6 senior Jared Harrison-Hunte, both of whom are football players that have doubled as enforcers in the low-post for the Royals, due to their physical strength this season.
Another shocking blow to the Royals this season was the loss of 6-foot-3 junior shooting guard Quaran McPherson, who was one of the CHSAA’s top scorers until a knee injury on January 13thagainst Bishop Loughlin sidelined him for the rest of the season.
To compensate for the absence of McPherson, the Royals relied heavily on the backcourt of 6-foot-2 junior shooting guard Ryan Myers and 5-foot-10 sophomore point guard Sterling Jones, a scoring tandem that gave opposing teams, due to their guard play, fits and were reminiscent of the old backcourt of Malik Boothe and Erving Walker, Christ the King alums who graduated in 2007 and 2008, respectively and went on to play Division I college basketball at St. John’s and Florida.
Other guards who heavily contributed to the Royals success were 6-foot junior Nicholas Molina, 6-foot-3 senior Malik Lacewell and 6-foot-1 junior Lovell Smith, who all did their part in ensuring that Christ the King continued their successful run.
When asked about what he did to make the contributors step up in practice, Arbitello replied, “You know, I’m not a big message guy. They just step on the floor and they’re supposed to perform. If I have to send that message to them, they’re not going to be on my team. [If] you step on the court, one through fifteen, you better be able to do something, or you’re not going to be part of us, so there’s no message, it’s just what I expect from them.”
When asked if Cisse’s return helped Christ the King gain confidence during the playoffs, Arbitello replied, “C’mon, we’ve got to be blind to basketball if we didn’t know that this kid is the reason that they’re winning this game today.That’s not [entirely] the reason, but it’s the reason we’re getting to the next level.”
Now, what awaits the Royals is a berth in the New York State Federation Tournament at the Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls, where they will play the New York State public school champion, West Genessee, on Friday, March 22nd.
In the event that they win that semifinal game, they will get the chance to meet the winner of the other semifinal game between South Shore, the PSAL champion, or Long Island Lutheran, the private school champion and the No. 8 team in the USA Today national poll, on Saturday, March 23rd. If they were to play South Shore, it would be a rematch of Dcember 9th, in which the Vikings knocked off the Royals, 75-54, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn when both teams in the Battle in the Apple Classic.
But all in all, it’s been a very successful season for Christ the King, and this week, they intend to complete their season with even more hardware in the form of the New York State Federation championship, which would be their first since 2014.
Time is of the essence, and Christ the King plans to make that Royal finish.