St. Raymond’s basketball coach Oliver Antigua is excited about his team this year, the senior-laden backcourt, Arizona-bound rising junior Sidiki Johnson, and budding sophomore stars Nkereuwem Okoro and Daniel Dingle.
But it’s hard to ignore who is not returning to the Ravens this season: Three of the team’s better players have decided to transfer out of the Bronx school.
Juniors Jose Rodriguez, a 6-foot-5 wing, and Joey DeLaRosa, a 6-foot-11 forward, left St. Raymond’s to play for Impact Basketball Academy and attend Trinity International in Las Vegas. Impact is run by Joe Abunassar, who has trained several NBA stars, including Al Harrington, Sebastian Telfair, Kevin Garnett and Chauncey Billups.
They join guard Harold McBride, who, according to Antigua, is looking to play point guard for two seasons at a prep school.
“It was a real tough decision because I was leaving my whole family in New York,” Rodriguez told The Post from Vegas. “I had nothing against the program at St. Raymond’s. I had a good relationship with Coach Antigua and I liked the program, but I believed if I came to Vegas I would be more focused on my grades, [and] I get worked out better because my coach here trains NBA pros.”
Antigua said he knew of McBride’s intention to transfer earlier in the summer, but he wasn’t expecting Rodriguez and DeLaRosa’s departure.
“I was surprised that they took that route because all through the two-year process we’ve done nothing but try and help them academically and improve individually as players,” Antigua said. “I think obviously there was some tampering going on by some outside sources who are trying to get their hands on these kids and use them to their benefit.”
According to Antigua, Rodriguez and DeLaRosa were going to be major players for a St. Raymond’s team that lost to Bishop Loughlin in the CHSAA Class AA quarterfinals last season.
Instead they both left for the bright lights of Las Vegas with the promise of more individual attention, both academically and on the basketball court.
“I don’t have nothing else to do besides school and basketball,” DeLaRosa said. “After school I have practice and then I have two hours of study hall every day.”
Rodriguez has received interest from mid-majors including Hofstra, Manhattan and Marist, and DeLaRosa is being recruited by Big East programs Pittsburgh, St. John’s and Providence, as well as Xavier and UMass.
DeLaRosa, who was academically ineligible for the second half of last season, said it was a difficult decision to leave.
“Don’t get me wrong, St. Raymond’s is a good program and I speak very highly about them,” DeLaRosa said. “They developed a lot of good players in the past and will continue to develop a lot of good players in the future.”
Last year, two other Division I prospects, Kevin Parrom and Omari Lawrence, transferred following a dispute with Antigua.
Parrom, a 6-foot-5 small Arizona-bound small forward, was arrested after a fight with Antigua in the St. Raymond’s locker room in May 2008, and Lawrence, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard who will play at St. John’s this year, soon followed his friend out the door.
Antigua said he isn’t concerned about the perception of a mass exodus from St. Raymond’s. In recent years, other CHSAA programs like Xaverian and Bishop Loughlin have been hit hard by transfers.
“I don’t think it’s isolated to just my program. It’s happening all across the city,” he said. “This has been happening for years because the culture has changed and people are less committed to playing a team sport and [instead are] worried about individual needs. If it was golf, you can do what you want. People are making decisions in a team sport about what’s best for the individual.”
Despite losing three potential impact players, Antigua is optimistic about the upcoming season. He has a veteran backcourt with lockdown defender Jatone Bias-Pierce and fellow senior guard Steve Whittingham; a star in Johnson, a 6-foot-8 forward who had a stellar summer; sophomore forwards Okoro and Dingle; Chelsea transfer Devin Brooks, who Antigua called a “Big East-caliber guard;” and what the coach called a solid incoming class.
“This is not a place for everybody to want to come and play,” Antigua said. “You have to be unselfish, you have to be disciplined, you have to go to school. There’s certain things we require from our student-athletes and some of these guys are having a tough time making the adjustment.”
©2009 Community News Group