Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint
By David Cordova
When playing in New York City – the five boroughs, that is – prospective youths are always headed to schools that play in the PSAL (Public Schools Athletic League) and the CHSAA (Catholic High Schools Athletic Association). However, if you’re one of those kids that get to play in the NYSAIS (New York State Association of Independent Schools), that’s also a good place for talented players to show their stuff.
In the case of Max Ragusa, it’s an opportunity for kids to make a name for themselves and help their schools become recognized. A 6-foot point guard at Poly Prep Country Day School in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, New York, he is one of the city’s best players in the class of 2022.
As a ninth-grader, many kids are playing on their freshman or junior varsity teams. If you’re an exceptional player, then you go straight to the varsity team. Such was the case for Ragusa, as he is the ultimate competitor on the court.
When asked what motivates him to be successful on the court, he replied, “Obviously, my family motivates me, ‘cause they’ve been helping me get to where I am today at Poly Prep, giving me the right tools and all that guidance and I don’t want to let anybody down. So, my family motivates me and I just motivate myself every day, because I know that, using basketball, I can get a free education, that’s really what drives me every day.”
Ragusa is originally from the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, but currently lives in the downtown area, where the Barclays Center is also at. For those who may not be familiar with what the Barclays Center is, it’s the arena that houses the Brooklyn Nets of the NBA.
When asked about being from Brooklyn and the basketball culture in it, he replied, “Being from Brooklyn, it just gives me that toughness. Growing up playing in parks, I just knew how to earn it, it’s never given to me. Playing with older guys from [the age of] 10-11, it just gives me that grittiness, that toughness, that’s that Brooklyn spirit.”
On playing in the playground, he replied, “Playing in the parks, it just gives me that extra edge when I travel around the country, because I know how to go out and get it and just give it my all. It’s all that hard work and determination that you get from the grittiness of the park.”
When on the court, Ragusa’s favorite number is No. 5. There’s a huge reason for that, one that few people know about. “I wear No. 5 because I want to be a five-star point guard one day,” he replied, “And I have five people that I credit my success today to, which would be my mom, my dad, my grandmother, my uncle and my mentor, Lewis Watkins.”
When asked about what Watkins, who is also his coach with the New York Jayhawks and also an assistant coach at powerhouse South Shore High School, has done to help him, Ragusa replied, “He’s just giving me the tools to success, he helps me work out every day, he just gives me advice on and off the court, academically, physically, and he’s always there for me & always will be.”
On playing for the Jayhawks, a Queens-baed AAU program that plays on the Adidas Gauntlet circuit, he replied, “This will be my second year playing with the Jayhawks, playing 16U with them. Last year, I started off playing eighth-grade with them, and I transitioned into the spring playing 15U with them, and they just helped propel my game to a national level, playing in the Adidas circuit and being able to show scouts and college coaches what I can do on that national level. And in short amount of time, I gained a lot of acclaim, and gotten my name around New York City and across the country.”
On the subject of attending Poly Prep, it is a preppy, private school which costs more than $40,000 annually to attend per year, and gives students a greater alternative to public and Catholic schools.
When asked about the opportunity of attending Poly Prep and what it did for him athletically and educationally, Ragusa replied, “Educationally, it’s challenging, you know, you come into a class of like 10 people, it’s really focused towards you. Teachers give you a lot of attention to focus and extra help, if you need it, and that is in respect to the demanding work that we get, but it also provides a good balance of athletics, because we have a lot of free period, and time after school and then the weight room and then again the gym, so there’s a lot of accessibility, well, there’s a lot of freedom with what we want to do with our time, whether it be meeting with our teachers or getting in the weight room and getting that extra time in. I think that Poly provides that good balance for us.”
A lot of Ragusa’s peers in the PSAL and the CHSAA will probably say that he doesn’t play anybody, but when asked what he would say to that type of criticism, he replied, “I’d just say that, I don’t think that’s neccessarily true, I think there’s a lot of talent in the private school league that’s just foreshadowed by the Catholic school league and the public school league and I’d also say that once I get to the spring circuit, there’s no hiding, summer basketball, there’s no hiding. I play against those same guys that go to public school and Catholic school all summer and spring, so I just get a good balance and feel of the Catholic school guys and the public school guys.”
This season, he led the Blue Devils to a 16-6 record and a berth in the NYSAIS semifinals, where they lost to the eventual champions, Lawrence Woodmere Academy. For his efforts, he was named first-team All-NYSAIS and All-Ivy Prep League.
When asked about his freshman season, he replied, “The past season was really great, coming in as a freshman, I was the starting point guard for Poly, and we had a successful year, we lost in the semis to Lawrence Woodmere, with Aidan [Ighieon] going to Louisville, that was a tough game, but I was a leader as a freshman, I averaged 20 points and six assists, and I just felt like they trusted in me and believed in me, and that really helped my confidence grow.”
As far as colleges are concerned, he took an unofficial visit to Providence earlier in the year, and has already gained an offer from Coppin State. But he has one school that he definitely would like to play for in the future. “UCLA,” said Ragusa, “I just like the way they play, the point guard that they have is going to the League this year, Jaylen Hands, and I’ve been following them for a very long time, since they had Lonzo Ball. I was supposed to take a visit there last summer, when I went to California, but I jist like that California environment, so hopefully one day, if I get to go there, that would be great, but wherever the cards may fall whenever I get the chance of picking whatever college, I’ll just pick the best fit for me.”
This summer, when he’s not on the AAU scene, Ragusa plans to play in local tournaments such as the Conrad McRae Youth League in Park Slope, Brooklyn and the Lincoln Park Classic in South Ozone Park, Queens, and lastly, he plans to play in the third annual New York vs. New York tournament this year, which is sponsored by Nike, and in which teams comprised of six of the best tournaments under the Swoosh umbrella will compete for the rights as the best Nike tournament in New York City.
For the next three years, he has an opportunity to make his mark. But college coaches should get to know the name, Max Ragusa. He’s a promising prospect that will definitely be a good addition to whichever school he decides to attend in the future.
“You’ll be able to see me showcase my point guard ability and how I feel like I’ve been putting in the work day in and day out to show that I’m one of the top point guards in the country, and that’s what I feel like my future has in store for me,” he said.