Mercedes Dukes fell in love with basketball at a young age and was a star at Monsignor Scanlan High School. Now, her journey has come full circle as she was recently named head coach at her alma mater.
Dukes, 36, spent the past eight years as the assistant coach at the Throggs Neck school and is ready to take the reigns. On May 28, she was officially tabbed head coach.
The promotion came as a surprise and she had no idea that Coach Tom Catalanotto was stepping down.
“We had a beautiful relationship,” she said regarding Catalanotto. “I didn’t see it coming. My goal is to give it my all and not let anyone down. I’m excited to be able to represent my alma mater in the highest position possible.”
While Dukes starred at Scanlan and at St. John’s University between 2002 and 2006, her journey began many years ago in Shorehaven.
Her first love was hoops and she followed in the footsteps of her brother, Jaquan, 41. She became a diehard Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan fan because of him.
While she grew up near Soundview, a rough area, her mom, Velina, an educator for 40 years, always kept her on the right path.
“She always made sure we tried to do the right things,” Dukes explained.
Dukes did whatever Jaquan did. Five years apart, she looked up to him. He played football and so did she. She learned to throw and catch, but the court was where she belonged.
“I always wanted to be just like my brother,” she remarked. “Anything he did I wanted to do.”
As Dukes came out of middle school she was one of the most sought-after incoming freshmen in the city. Big time basketball schools like Christ the King Regional in Brooklyn and Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens clamored after her, but she wanted to stay close to home.
So, she settled on Scanlan and thrived there. Coach Chuck and Keelin helped her mature on and off the court.
“They had a great influence on me,” Dukes commented. “Both of these gentlemen gave me the opportunity to be the first freshman to play on varsity.”
When it came time for college she again had offers from top schools, but chose to stay local with St. John’s. Being able to play in Madison Square Garden was a surreal feeling, she recalled.
“As a kid from NYC, that was everyone’s goals and dreams,” she said.
After playing basketball in Puerto Rico for a couple years, she has spent the last decade coaching.
At first it was an adjustment, but she soon realized if she applied her point guard mentality to coaching, she could connect with the girls.
“Being a player is totally different from being a coach,” she said. “Once I understood the dynamics of coaching I started to see how similar they [basketball and coaching] really are.”
Dukes felt her time as a player, assistant coach and tutelage from Catalanotto have prepared for her next chapter in life.
“I want to continue his legacy,” she said. “You can definitely say this is full circle for me.”