St. Raymond High School has lost eight Division I-caliber boys basketball players in the past two years — six since this summer — an alarming rate for one of the Catholic league’s trademark programs.
St. Ray’s is hardly the only New York City program to lose players. Dozens have exited the Big Apple in the past two years. But this many quality players never have bolted one team in such a short time span in recent memory.
What’s the reason?
Several of the players and sources close to them pointed to coach Oliver Antigua. An incident between Antigua and former player Kevin Parrom set off the chain reaction of players leaving. In May 2008, Parrom punched Antigua in the face during an altercation at a team meeting.
Parrom was expelled. Days later, he and teammate Omari Lawrence landed at South Kent School (Conn.).
“That was the turning point in the program,” Parrom told The Post this week.
It also wasn’t the first time Antigua had a run-in with a player. As an assistant coach at the University of Pittsburgh in 1999, Antigua got into a fight with Attila Cosby, who was thrown off the team.
Marquis Barnett, who left St. Ray’s for Cardozo, claimed Antigua was inconsistent when dealing with players, and Jose Rodriguez, now with fellow former Raven Joey DeLaRosa at Trinity International in Las Vegas, said the coach was often rude and showed little interest in his players off the court. One parent, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was a distinct distance that separated Antigua and his players.
“All coaches have different personalities,” Parrom said. “Antigua is not a horrible guy. He’s kind of up and down. One day he can be good and the next day he’s somebody else.”
Barnett said after last season Antigua told him not to show up for open gym sessions at the school and subsequent team camps, without a reason given. DeLaRosa claims Antigua steered him toward the Long Island Lightning, an AAU program the coach was affiliated with, despite the player’s allegiance to New Heights.
“It can be viewed as a risk [for AAU programs] to send your kids to St. Raymond’s,” New Heights athletic director Kimani Young told The Post.
Earlier this month, Arizona-bound Sidiki Johnson transferred to St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey. Senior guards Steve Whittingham (New Rochelle) and Harold McBride (Bradenton Prep Academy and Impact Basketball in Sarasota, Fla.) also have left.
Antigua did not return multiple phone calls and voice messages left by The Post.
Others blame the current climate of high school basketball, where the grass always seems greener elsewhere. Recruiting guru Tom Konchalski said Antigua is the same demanding yet fair coach who guided St. Ray’s to consecutive CHSAA Class A intersectional championships after taking over for Gary DeCesare in 2002.
Drexel junior Gerald Colds, who helped the Ravens to the intersectional title game as a senior, said he never had any trouble with Antigua. He credited the coach and program with making him the player he is today.
“There’s a lemming-like trend,” Konchalski said. “When the kids left last year — Omari and Kevin — that put the idea in the head of the other kids. They are looking for the perfect situation.”
The closest similarity to this situation would be Xaverian. The Clippers lost five players – including Maryland freshman forward James Padgett (Lincoln) and Rutgers sophomore guard Pat Jackson (Boys & Girls) – in 2007. Legendary coach Jack Alesi handled it as well as he could – by dedicating himself to the players that decided to stay.
“Your first reaction is everything from being overly defensive to angry, but you have to consider it by a case-by-case basis, and you have to really look at why it happened,” he said. “The two mistakes you can make is to blame them and blame yourself.”
“For us, it was either we sell out or we just continue to stay the course,” Alesi later said. “It turned out fine for us.”
The Ravens can only hope for a similar result. In sophomore guards Kerwin Okoro and Daniel Dingle, there are building blocks for the future.
St. Raymond used to be as attractive as any destination in the CHSAA, right there with perennial national powers Rice and Christ the King. Where does the program go from here?
Athletic director Ron Patnosh made one thing certain: Antigua’s job is safe.
“He’s the coach,” Patnosh said. “We’re going to have a good young team and we just have to rebuild.”
©2009 Community News Group