Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.
By David Cordova
This month, we are starting a series called, “Coming Into The Season,” in which every week, we will chronicle some of the best players in the tri-state area and beyond. This second installment is about Andre Curbelo and Zed Key, both of whom recently led the nationally-ranked Long Island Lutheran Crusaders to a New York State Federation championship last season and are signed to Illinois and Ohio State, respectively.
Last season, the Long Island Lutheran Crusaders were the best team in New York State by far. They finished the season, 25-2, was rated No. 1 in the state and finished No. 9 in the country in the USA Today national poll. From the starters to the bench, the Crusaders were dangerous all year round.
Two players were the key to their success. Those players are seniors Andre Curbelo and Zed Key, both whom are natural leaders on the court. Curbelo, a 6-foot point guard and Key, a 6-foot-8 forward were the ones that held down the Crusaders on the perimeter and in the post, respectively. It is their hard work and talented play that helped them get to where they are and where they are going moving forward.
When asked about what motivates them to be successful on the court, both had some great answers.
Key replied, “Definitely my parents, just to see how much time they put in, bringing me to tournaments, just to make them proud all the time.”
Curbelo replied, “I think it’s wanting more, trying to get to the League, following my dreams, college, getting a state championship, accomplishing new things, it makes me work harder every day and that’s why where I’m at. I’m just hungrier after every game, every practice, I think that’s a key to success.”
Key hails from Brentwood, Long Island and Curbelo, a native of Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, both come different worlds. But what unites them is the game of basketball.
“The culture in that town is not that crazy, but as [far] as Puerto Rico, the entire island, people like basketball, a lot of people are working out, like every day. They’re hungry, just like me. Some of them, don’t want to make that step and come here, because it’s not that basketball is bad over there, [but] if you want to it into college and play in the NBA, those kids got to come here [the United States], so they can get more exposure,” said Curbelo about the culture of basketball in his beloved island of Puerto Rico.
“It’s not really that bad like people think it is,” says Key of being from Brentwood, “You just got to know who to hang out with. If you hang out with the wrong crowd, then you get involved with the gangs, the drugs and the drinking, so you just got to know who your friends are.”
Key and Curbelo have both been playing for the New York Jayhawks for the past few years on the Adidas circuit and have seen their recruiting rise from unknown to top-flight prospects.
“They’ve opened up doors for me. If I had never played with them, I wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in now, with all of the colleges, even this camp [NBPA Top 100] Camp, it just made things possible,” said Key about playing for the Jayhawks.
“[The] Jayhawks is a great program, and Jayhawks is kind of like LuHi, it’s like a culture program, they want the best for you on and off the court. They teach you stuff on and off the court, like life lessons, and stuff like that, ‘cause Jay [David] is a great person. Jay is like my dad, he wants the best for me, he’s always on me, not in a bad way, but he wants the best for me, so he’s got to stay on top of me, when I do little things wrong. Sometimes, he lets me rock, because he knows that I can handle it, but sometimes he comes over and gives me his idea, and I just process and keep living my life, so [the] Jayhawks and LuHi are kind of like the same thing. They want the best for you on and off the court,” said Curbelo about his time with the Jayhawks.
However, both of them entered Long Island Lutheran at different times. Curbelo came in as a freshman and Key came in last season as a junior transfer from his local school, Brentwood High School, where he was an All-Long Island selection.
In the case of Curbelo, coming into a new world in his early teens was a culture shock, but today he believes that it is the best move that he has ever made.
“That was really hard, that was a hard process. With basketball in Puerto Rico, I was just used to getting 40 [points] a game, like this may sound corny or cocky, or whatever, but like I was the best according to other people and stuff. So I didn’t want to work hard, as hard as I should’ve been [working], and when I came here, it was hard, because I wasn’t used to working hard, and that’s what we do, we’re a close team, we work hard all the time. We want to get better all the time, so that transition was pretty hard,” said Curbelo.
On his time at his local public high school, Key replied, “It was interesting, because my freshman year, I played on varsity and it went okay, and then my sophomore year, some stuff happened with the coaches and some teammates, and I was like, ‘It’s time to go and transfer to LuHi, for academics and basketball,’ and it paid off, because we won the states.”
Last season, in leading the Crusaders to the state championship, Curbelo averaged 15.5 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and four steals per game and Key averaged 12 points and 10 rebounds per game. Last season’s squad was very dominant with their national schedule, even beating New York State teams by a large margin during the state Federation tournament in Glens Falls.
When asked about how they felt about last season, Curbelo and Key both had positive and joyful thoughts.
“Absolutely, absolutely. Just coming in and knowing my role, and just accepting it, working every day and it got us a state championship,” said Key when asked if it was everything he had hoped for.
“That was great, man. Freshman year, I was on the team, and we didn’t get it. Sophomore year, everybody knows what happened, and then junior year, I said I wasn’t going to lose, I said I wasn’t leaving that place without the state chip,” said Curbelo about last season. “And I think we fought really hard and played really well. We played with our hearts, we gave everything, and I think because of what happened those last two years, it just made us more hungrier and like more angry, to win that state chip, because that’s what we wanted and we accomplished our goal, and that was to win the state championship and finish 25-2.”
What is certain, is that both players share a brotherhood and a unity within one another on and off the court. When it’s time to get to work, both are on each other’s cases. But when they have their down time, there’s jokes and laughter.
When asked about playing with the other, both had some great things to say about the other.
“I love playing with him,” said Key about Curbelo, “He’s really crafty, [a] high-energy guy that will always find you at the right spots, he’s really fun to play with.”
“Zed is a great kid, I love playing with him,” said Curbelo about Key. “Off the court, we have a weird relationship, but he knows I love him [like a brother], and I want the best for him, and just playing with him on the court is just, it’s amazing, like he’s improved a lot since I first [started] playing with him, when I was 14, he’s going to do great things this year. I’m really proud of him and I wish him the best, [moving forward], and I love playing with him, and I want him to continue to improve, and I’m going to continue to be on his tail every time in practice. I want the best for him, and that’s my job [to stay on him], and I’ve got to help out the coaches with that, so playing with him, I just love it.”
This year, Key and Curbelo have helped LuHi start off right with a quick win in their first game against St. Dominic’s (Oyster Bay) this past week and the Crusaders are still ranked in the top-10 in the USA Today high school national rankings.
But next year, both will still be brothers, but also competitors against each other in the same conference, Key has signed with Ohio State and Curbelo has signed with Illinois. Next year, they will face off two to three times a year in the Big Ten Conference.
What will never die is the love and friendship that they have together. It all started with a basketball and it led to championships and scholarships. If there is one thing that Andre Curbelo and Zed Key, two kids from two different worlds, have achieved together, it is this: success.