Kayleen Cubbal, Andrew Petyak and Ron Ponioewasz Jr.
New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
Malik Hooker and ... Kobe?
As in Bryant?
Yes, indeed, the New Castle High forward is being compared to the Los Angeles Lakers star following a rim-jarring dunk Tuesday night in the PIAA Class AAAA semifinals against Lower Merion.
Hooker’s monster jam was featured on ESPN’s SportsCenter as the No. 5 Play of the Day following the game.
“One of my friends texted me about it,” Hooker said. “I think some of them were more happy than I was.”
An article about Hooker from Yahoo! Sports’ Cameron Smith followed yesterday. It compared Hooker’s dunk at Williamsport High to one that Bryant orchestrated during his playing days with the Aces (http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/highschool-prep-rally/pa-star-throws-down-kobe-bryant-slam-playoff-151934269.html)
“My favorite player is LeBron James, but I like the comparison,” Hooker said. “Not a lot of people can say they’ve been compared to an NBA star. It made me feel really good.”
Hooker, a junior, dazzled the packed house. He penetrated from the top of the key, wove his way past three defenders and put an exclamation point on the play with a one-handed leap to the rim.
The dunk gave the ’Canes a 21-11 advantage with six minutes remaining in the first half. Hooker finished with a team-high 19 points, although the team went on to lose 67-63.
Hooker is a multi-sport star for the ’Canes. Along with being a major player for the New Castle basketball team, he runs track and is a wide receiver for the football team. The buzz surrounding Hooker after the dunk should only fuel his already strong prospect status.
“I think it’s great,” Hooker said of the national spotlight. “It draws more attention to college coaches.”
To see Hooker’s dunk for yourself, CLICK HERE.
PUMPING THEM UP
Ralph Blundo had one final meeting with his team prior to the game, which lasted just over five minutes and covered strategy and a final inspirational talk.
“Unmatchable intensity. UNMATCHABLE. UNMATCHABLE INTENSITY,” Blundo insisted. “Better than anything we’ve done all year, and it’s been tremendous, all year long,” is what he described.
Blundo punctuated the speech with, “Their (Lower Merion’s) time is over, now. It’s our time, now.”
TIME TO REFLECT
Blundo spoke to his squad minutes for about four minutes following the heartbreaking loss.
Blundo, who completed his third season at the helm, opened by saying, “I know for a fact, I wanted to coach you guys for four more days. I think I wanted that more than I wanted a state championship.
“I don’t care if I was playing the Los Angeles Lakers, you are the guys I want to be on the floor with, fighting with.”
The ’Canes just finished a 29-1 season, complete with a second straight WPIAL championship. They broke the program’s single-season consecutive win mark and became the first school in WPIAL history to win back-to-back district titles in different classifications as well as running the table two straight seasons to claim the crown.
Said Blundo to the squad about realizing the accomplishments they have achieved, “It’s going to take some time. But you may never realize what you’ve done for this community. What was needed the most. You don’t understand because you’re young. You did it when it was needed the most. You gave them life. You gave them life. I could never tell you how much I love you guys. How much you mean to me. I’m so proud of you. For three years, that name on the front of that shirt meant more to every one of you than the name on the back.”
Blundo acknowledged the accolades his team achieved will take some time for the players to soak in.
“They brought a town alive,” Blundo said. “It’s really not what they did for themselves or the coaching staff or the school. They brought a town alive.
“As a kid, you don’t understand that and you’re not going to understand that until you’re older. I don’t realize it completely, but we will. In basketball, there’s not a week between each game. It’s game, prep, prep, play. There’s no time to think. While everyone else was enjoying this run, we were just preparing and competing. Now, these guys will get to sit back and say hey, we really did something special.”
HE SAID IT
After speaking to the team, Blundo addressed the media. He further praised the group as a whole.
“The bottom line is, no one understands that this is the greatest group of teammates ever to put on a New Castle uniform,” Blundo said. “I value that a thousand more times than anything else. They are fabulous, fabulous, selfless teammates. Day in and day out, they fought as hard as they could possibly fight. You don’t get to where we’re at with anything else.
“There’s not a greater group of teammates anywhere. That’s what I’m most proud of. They were great in that regard all the way to the very end.”
New Castle loses seniors Shawn Anderson, Brandon Domenick, Antonio Rudolph and Jesse Salzano to graduation. They were just sophomores when Blundo took over after Mark Stanley resigned.
“They were the trailblazers of this program,” Blundo said. “They were the guys, as a group, Jesse, Brandon, Shawn and Tone, who really created this whole thing. Their leadership is something I can’t explain.
“Through the course of time here, it became more of their leadership and less about me. That’s how teams grow. That’s how teams get really good, because they get it. I’m going to miss those guys.”
QUITE A FIELD
New Castle’s Tipoff Tournament boasted a strong field of Beaver Falls, West Middlesex and Perry Traditional Academy.
Three of those teams — the ’Canes, Beaver Falls and West Middlesex — reached the state semifinals and Perry qualified for the state playoffs (Quad-A), but lost in the opening round to Hampton. Beaver Falls ousted West Middlesex in the Class AA semifinals.
The two teams on the court weren’t the only ones in a highly contested battle.
Cheering sections for both New Castle and Lower Merion were making their voices heard.
Some ’Canes fans dressed in camouflage, anticipating the impending war between the two teams, while others sported the team colors of red and black. New Castle’s student body roared cheers of “Let’s Go ’Canes,” and “We are NC!”
The student section for the Aces wasn’t to be outdone. Wearing black shirts, the Lower Merion fans made it their mission to shout over the majority New Castle crowd.
Taunts back and forth were abundant. One side would vocalize a cheer, the other would respond, “We Can’t Hear You!”
MAKING THE TRIP
The long distance travel award undoubtedly went to Albert Richards, who flew in from Las Vegas for the game.
Albert, a New Castle High graduate and former champion of the New Castle News Golf Tournament, is an uncle of ’Canes star guard Anthony Richards and a brother to assistant coach David Richards. He listens to all of the games on his computer, according to his son, Al, and said if the team made it to the semifinals of the state playoffs he was would be there rooting it on. He also made a trip home in January to watch the ’Canes play.
New Wilmington resident Charlene Macri says she was devastated that she was forced to miss a game for one of the few times this year — but happy at what could have ended more badly than it did.
She was on her way to catch a fan bus on Butler Avenue when she was involved in an automobile accident on the east side of town.
She was driven to the hospital by family and, although she said she is sore, her injuries will heal.
Macri is a former New Castle High girls star and a sister of former ’Canes boys standout Phil Macri.
Anderson, a forward, will go down as one of the best scorers in New Castle history.
After a 17-point effort against Lower Merion, he ended his career with 1,496 points, which ranks second all-time for the ’Canes behind David Young, who tallied 1,845 in three seasons with the team.
Anderson bypassed former teammate Corey Eggleston’s mark of 1,458 earlier this season and ranks 17th overall for boys players in Lawrence County.
What makes Anderson’s feat even more impressive is that he played in just eight games as a freshman, recording a lone point.
He ended the season with 606 points, good enough for a 20.2 points a game average.
Anderson will be attend Navy in the fall where he is expected to make the transition to guard.
Two new 3-point kings were crowned this season.
Richards and Domenick passed former star Eddie Pagley’s school record set in 1999 of 181 3-pointers.
Domenick ends his high school career on top of the charts with 205 total 3s. However, Richards, only a junior, is primed to take the throne from Domenick next season, trailing by just two at 203.
Richards paced the team with 81 3-pointers on the season. Domenick followed with 69.