Bronx AA boys’ basketball preview: it’s going to be a battle

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Bronx AA could possibly be the city’s toughest division. Wings returns its entire lineup, and then some, Kennedy has its backcourt back, plus its biggest lineup since 2000. Lehman, led by center Armand Thomas, may be the darkhorse. And don’t forget about Gompers and Eagle Academy, two of Class A’s best a season ago that have moved up to ‘AA.’ It should be a fun year in the Boogie Down.

“It’s going to be a battle,” Wings coach Billy Turnage said, “every night.”

Wings Academy Wings

Coach: Billy Turnage

2008 Record: 11-4, 2nd Place

Finish: Lost in PSAL Class AA Second Round

Key Returners: G Ronald Baker, G Mike Buffalo, G Dashaun Wiggins, F Krystian Foriest

Key Losses: None

Outlook: The Wings have more than enough scorers for their up-tempo attack, from versatile guards Baker, Buffalo and Wiggins to Foriest, the 6-foot-5 power forward. Turnage’s club will run and gun – their calling card – from start to finish. Turnage said he will go 10 deep once the youngsters get comfortable.

“There isn’t one guy I’m not contemplating playing,” the coach said.

The sky is the limit for Wings. This is the most talent, from top to bottom, Turnage has enjoyed in his three years. Remember, although Wings lost in the second round of last year’s city playoffs to Campus Magnet, it also won the Bronx crown as Wiggins, academically ineligible for the regular season, went off in the borough playoffs.

“We should win it all,” Baker said.

John F. Kennedy Knights

Coach: Johnny Mathis

2008 Record: 15-0, 1st Place

Finish: Lost in PSAL Class AA Quarterfinals

Key Returners: G Jeffrey Arzu, G Naquan Pierce

Key Losses: F Kadeem Nicholas, F Andre Davidson, C James Biggs

Outlook: Kennedy may have graduated Bronx AA’s best player in Nicholas, but it returns the starting backcourt of Pierce and Arzu, interchangeable guards who can score and run the point, and the Knights will boast their biggest frontcourt since the 2000 city championship club. Mathis has a bevy of big bodies to rotate from seniors Shane Spence to Kuashon Kibbler to Omari Seymour, all at least 6-foot-5.

“I think we’ll have a real good team,” Mathis said. “I think we’ll be Kennedy.”

He is also hopeful junior Jeffrey Short, a talented wing, and sophomore Tyshawn Dinkins, can develop into reliable scorers. Then there is 6-foot-9 junior center Felix Rojas, a work in progress who has shown plenty of potential.

“I think he’ll be a big factor in what we do,” Mathis said.

Gompers Panthers

Coach: Donial Rodriguez

2008 Record: 15-2, 1st Place in Bronx A East

Finish: Lost in PSAL Class A Semifinals

Key Returners: F Jason Henry, G David Love

Key Losses: G Orlando Minnot, F Jonathan Bermudez, G Marco Diaz

Outlook: Not only did Gompers graduate seven integral seniors, including its top scorers, but the Panthers also moved up to Bronx AA, one of the city’s toughest divisions. Rodriguez will need a lot of production out of Love, last year’s backup point guard, and Henry, the 6-foot-5 junior forward. He is also expecting junior guard Darin Dove, up from the JV, where he averaged 18 points per game, to break out as one of his top scorers.

“From the way he finished the JV season to the way he’s come back,” Rodriguez said, “to the way he showed up in September, it’s a huge improvement.”

Rodriguez, nor his players, are intimidated by the higher level of competition. In fact, the fourth-year coach is excited.

“I think we’re going to be successful,” he said. “We’ve got a good group of guys that are hungry and willing to listen. Practice has gone very well. We’re not afraid of the ‘AA.’”

Eagle Academy Eagles

Coach: Rodney Plummer

2008 Record: 17-0, 1st Place Bronx A West

Finish: Lost in ‘A’ Quarterfinals

Key Returners: F Fabian Blackwood, F Travon King, G Yusef Graves

Key Losses: F Antoine Gattling, C Tyquan Brown, G Chris Davis

Outlook: In its two seasons as a varsity program. Eagle Academy has not lost one regular game, going 33-0. Last season didn’t end well – the Eagles were upset by George Westinghouse in the ‘A’ quarterfinals – but Plummer pushed to get moved to Bronx AA anyway.

The third-year coach expects similar success and will run his same frenetic system of pressing and trapping. He has the horses, that’s for sure, with King, Graves, Blackwood and senior guard Darrell Hector back, and other talent coming up from the JV like junior guard Jeffrey Petway.

“The biggest change has really nothing to do with the division or who we play,” he said. “The biggest challenge is getting these guys on the same page so that we can be a cohesive unit. I don’t think the division matters. My philosophy is the ball is still round and the basket is the same height. I believe strongly if we do what we do we’ll not only compete with anybody, we’ll be successful against anybody.”

Lehman Tigers

Coach: Chuck Hicks

2008 Record: 8-7, 3rd Place

Finish: Lost in PSAL Class AA First Round

Key Returners: G Aaron Barnes, C Armand Thomas,

Key Losses: F Quran Lucas, G Derrick Fernandez, G Mohammed Ali

Outlook: Lehman may have the most dominant player in the division in 6-foot-7 center Armand (Big Baby) Thomas, a junior wide body who averaged 11 points and 17 rebounds per game last year. Blessed with soft hands, he can score with his back to the basket or face up defenders, not to mention he is a beast on the glass. Thomas isn’t alone, joined by Barnes, last year’s leading scorer, and newcomer Jerell Meriwether, a 6-foot-1 guard.

“We feel our team can compete for the division title,” Hicks said. “I think we’re much quicker and a lot more athletic that we’ve ever been.”

Truman Mustangs

Coach: Kenneth Edmonson

2008 Record: 6-9, T-4th Place

Finish: Missed Playoffs

Key Returners: F Brandon Stolz, G Vance Callahan

Key Losses: F Saquan Dunbar, G Marquis Foster

Outlook: Truman returns Stolz, Callahan, senior guard Jovan Allen and senior forward Michael Perez. Stolz was a factor on the glass and in the paint last winter, averaging 22 points and 13 rebounds last year. But scoring is on the backburner in Edmonson’s mind. The plan is pretty simple for the Mustangs: To win in Bronx AA, they must play defense. A whole lot of it.

“We’re in a tough division,” he said. “If you don’t play defense, you don’t win.”

James Monroe Eagles

Coach: Nigel Thompson

2008 Record: 6-9, T-4th

Finish: Missed Playoffs

Key Returners: None

Key Losses: F Marcus Razor, G Stanley Brooks, G Daniel Odiase

Outlook: The Eagles graduated their top seven scorers, so a lot of pressure will be put on the many newcomers. It could be a long year for Monroe.

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