12/21/13 12:00pm
12/21/2013 12:00 PM

DANIEL DE MATO FILE PHOTO | Austin Hooks of Greenport attacks the basket while Southold’s Matt McCarthy defends.

I once had a sportswriting assignment, when I was still in college, that required me to attend five 40-minute basketball games in the span of one long afternoon-evening. And I think there may have even been an overtime game thrown in there for good measure.

I was reminded of that long-ago assignment recently as I slogged my way through two long weeks of youth basketball games here on Long Island. It involved attending, not necessarily in order, a CYO basketball game in Smithtown, three CYO basketball games at Cutchogue East Elementary School, three more junior high school games at Cutchogue East, individual junior varsity and varsity games at Southold High School and two junior varsity and two varsity games at Greenport High School. (Note: There would have been two more CYO girls’ games at Cutchogue East during this same time period, but our granddaughter was temporarily forced to the sidelines due to illness.)

That’s 13 games in just under two weeks. And that’s not counting the various college and pro games I watched on television during this fortnight.

Yes, I’ve got basketball fever and I’ve got it bad.

There are two primary explanations for this apparently obsessive behavior. One is the fact that our granddaughter and grandson are both playing on CYO teams at the same time he’s playing on his junior high team. And then, of course, there’s the other explanation: I’m just a fan.

As you might imagine, there have been some highlights and some lowlights during this b-ball orgy. Among the highlights was the scoring duel between Southold High School’s and Greenport High School’s backcourt studs, Liam Walker and Gavin Dibble.

Also highly entertaining was watching Greenport’s two new coaches, Ev Corwin (varsity) and Ryan Creighton (junior varsity), coaching the first games of their careers. They both debuted with losses but quickly got into the win column, where presumably they’ll be spending a lot more time in the years to come.

Then there was the look of wonderment and unbridled joy on the face of one of our grandson’s teammates when he scored the first basket — much to his own apparent surprise — of his organized basketball life. And, in the same game, the 12-year-old Latrell Sprewell lookalike (complete with long braids hanging down his back) from Southampton who scored a basket after a balletic move that involved dribbling between his legs (twice, back and forth!) and behind his back. He, on the other hand, had the blasé look on his face that said, essentially, “Ain’t no big thing.”

The lowlights are few by comparison. They include, at the CYO and junior high level, long stretches where the frantic activity on the court looks more like the bumper car pavilion at Palisades Amusement Park than what James Naismith had in mind when he created the game. (Lots of crashes, few conversions.) Then there are the periodic bone-headed decisions like forcing up a shot when your team is nursing a two-point lead with 20 seconds remaining in the game. And sometimes I get the feeling that some of the coaches are seeing the game played for the first time, such is the deer-in-the-headlights look on their faces during much of the action. But those considerations are inconsequential in comparison to the speed and athleticism of this quintessentially American game.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good New Year!

[email protected]

05/28/13 12:49pm
05/28/2013 12:49 PM

NBA.COM COURTESY PHOTO | Shelter Island resident Peter Vecsey is in the National Basketball Hall of Fame as a sportswriter.

So far I have met three major sportswriters who call Shelter Island home. And almost a fourth.

Now, when I say major, I mean newspapers with large circulations. There’s Robert Lipsyte of the New York Times, John Feinstein of the Washington Post and Peter Vecsey of the New York Daily News and New York Post. The fourth? Several years ago my wife showed some houses to Mike Lupica of the Daily News but he finally decided to go to the Hamptons.

What I find noteworthy about all three is simply that these guys do not “kiss up” to any athlete. All three have had the guts to say what they want without the fear of losing their jobs. Since I already did a column on Lipsyte and Feinstein, this week it’s Peter Vecsey’s turn.

I’ve known Peter for quite a few years, but until this week, I never really sat down and had a conversation with him. I knew he wrote a basketball column for the Post because my friend Bruce Orr talked about him all the time.

As interesting as I found him, I had a hard time making him smile. I thought I said a few humorous things but this is a serious guy and laughing seemed out of the question. I almost dropped when he told me that his 25-year-old son Joseph made his living as a stand-up comedian. I figured he must have seen his dad laugh at least once and decided comedy was his calling. Joseph is appearing at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor this June. Keep an eye open, I think he will be good.

Vecsey also has a daughter, Taylor, 30, an editor at East Hampton Patch, and a son Michael, 46, who is a college professor. Peter referred to his wife Joan, a schoolteacher, as the heart and brains of the family. He said it was Joan’s connection to the Island as a young girl that brought them here.

Looking back, whatever Peter did, he must have done it right. Today, he and his family are living in one of the loveliest homes on Shelter Island. When I asked him why he retired from the Post, he said that even though the paper offered him a new contract, he left without even looking at it. I dropped the subject since he didn’t seem comfortable talking about it. But I had the feeling he’s getting a little itchy to get involved again, maybe with a book or another sports column. (I just hope he doesn’t take mine.)

When I spoke to him about his success, he immediately countered with his work ethic throughout those years. He was a boy from Queens who started working for the Daily News in high school and stayed 14 years before moving to the Post where he wrote for another 36 years. During those years, he usually had one or two other positions at the same time, usually with NBC or TNT.

Peter went to Hofstra University and then graduated from the Army Airborne School and became a Green Beret. Sportswriting is a family trade; his older brother George is a legendary sportswriter for the Times.

But Peter has become a legend himself. He’s in New York City’s Basketball Hall of Fame and has been honored by his alma mater, Archbishop Malloy High School, and Ruckers. But the jewel in his crown of honors came in 2009 when he was inducted in to the National Basketball Hall of Fame.

I will boldly say that this man knows the game of basketball.

He seemed proudest that in 1976 he was one of the first columnists to specialize in a sport, with the NBA as his domain. He was also famous for giving nicknames to the players — some they liked and some they didn’t. “Larry (Bird) Legend” liked his but Spencer Haywood wasn’t thrilled with “Spencer Deadwood.”

One secret to his longevity and success was that nobody was too sacred to be called out in his columns and criticized if Vecsey believed their performance or conduct warranted it.

Before this week, this is what I knew about Peter Vecsey: 16  years ago, Anne and I were in a strip mall restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona. While there, we ran into two couples from Hay Beach: Mike and Aileen Osofsky and Peter and Joan Vecsey. Imagine being a couple thousand miles from home and running into two couples from a neighborhood of about 50 people.

The second thing I remember was sitting next to Peter at Tom Lord’s funeral service. He said he had been trying to get his 90-year-old mother and 92-year-old Tom together. As only Tom would do, he finally told him that his mother was a very nice lady but he was really looking for someone a little younger.

The third thing I remember was a match I set up with two guys 25 years ago who played basketball at the Downtown Athletic Club and boasted they could beat any two players on Shelter Island. I was offended that their image of Shelter Island ballplayers was so low. The Downtown AC boys played two matches and lost them both. First to Jay Card and Chris Tracy and then to Jay Card again with Peter Vecsey. I never saw guys play so hard for pride and to win a dinner. Way to go, Shelter Island!

Today, Vecsey admires Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson, even though when Jackson was a player, they didn’t always get along. Jackson is also a certified minister and one of Vecsey’s nicknames for Jackson was “point God.” Since Mark was putting on a little weight, Vecsey said he looked like he ate too many communion wafers.

Well Mark, I hope you get to read this. Put down the communion wafers and listen. If Peter Vecsey goes before you do, he would like you to speak at his funeral service.

Bob DeStefano is a retired golf pro from Shelter Island. He writes a weekly sports column for the Shelter Island Reporter.

04/30/13 4:00pm
04/30/2013 4:00 PM

BILL LANDON PHOTO | Bishop McGann-Mercy senior Danielle Gehring has signed to play basketball for Chestnut Hill College (Penn.).

COLLEGE WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Gehring signs with D-II school Bishop McGann-Mercy senior Danielle Gehring signed a letter of intent to play for Chestnut Hill College, a Division II Catholic college in Germantown, Penn.

Gehring did not play basketball for McGann-Mercy her senior season. She instead opted to spend the season working out with the boys’ varsity team. She also took part in clinics, worked with basketball, speed and agility trainers and former professional players.

Gehring was McGann-Mercy’s most valuable player her junior season, averaging 12 points, 5 assists, 5 blocks and 3 3-pointers per game. She was an all-league selection.

Gehring and her younger sister, Caroline, will travel to Austria and Germany in June to represent the United States in an international basketball tournament. Her two older sisters play basketball for DeSales University, a Division III school that is a 45-minute drive away from Chestnut Hill.

Gehring said, “I visited Chestnut Hill and fell in love with the school.”

COLLEGE WOMEN’S GOLF: Accolades for Santacroce Marie Santacroce of Mattituck, a sophomore at Flagler College (Fla.), was recently named to the All-Peach Belt Conference First Team. Santacroce finished in fourth place in the conference and led Flagler in tournament scoring average this year. She was also named Flagler’s most valuable player. Santacroce ended the season with eight top-10 finishes, three top-five finishes and one first-place finish during season.

COLLEGE MEN’S TRACK AND FIELD: Clancy sets personal records SUNY/Oneonta sophomore Michael Clancy of Shoreham recorded two personal-best marks recently in the discus and hammer throw at the Upstate Track Classic. He took third place in the discus with a toss of 136 feet and fourth in the hammer throw with a distance of 150-2.

COLLEGE WOMEN’S TRACK AND FIELD: Two firsts for Riley UConn freshman Melodee Riley of Jamesport had a big weekend for the Huskies in an invitational meet at Brown University in Rhode Island. Riley took first place in both the long jump (5.41 meters) and the triple jump (11.90).

COLLEGE WOMEN’S ROWING: Orient rower helps league champions For the third time in as many seasons, William Smith College captured the Liberty League championship with a dominating performance on Fish Creek in Saratoga Springs. Libby Hughes of Orient competed on the varsity eight team that defeated St. Lawrence, RIT, Skidmore and Union for the title. In calm, flat conditions, William Smith’s varsity eight, ranked third in this week’s CRCA/USRowing poll, defended its league title with a 2,000-meter time of 6 minutes 44.0 seconds. It is the sixth overall league championship for the Herons.

For the third time this spring and the seventh time this year, the William Smith varsity eight was named the Liberty League Women’s Rowing Boat of the Week by the conference office.

BASEBALL: MLB pitch, hit, run competition A free Major League Baseball pitch, hit and run competition for area youths will be held May 11 at 4 p.m. at Tasker Park in Peconic. Boys and girls in four age divisions (7/8, 9/10, 11/12 and 13/14) will have the chance to advance through four levels of competition, including team championships at major league stadiums and the national finals at the 2013 MLB All-Star Game. The individual pitching, hitting and running champions, along with the all-around champions in each age and gender group at the local competition, will be awarded and advance to the sectional level of competition. All participants must bring a copy of their birth certificate and have a parent or guardian fill out a registration/waiver form prior to the start of the competition. For more information, call Brian Hansen at (631) 553-3940.

RUNNING: 5K for moms The For Our Moms 5K will be run on May 11 in Cutchogue. A fun run for kids will begin at 8:30 a.m., followed by a 5K run/walk at 8:45 a.m. Registration will start at 7:30 a.m. The pre-registration cost is $25. Day-of-the-race registration costs $30. The fun run fee is $10. To register, go to www.active.com. For more information, call (631) 680-9223. All proceeds from the event will benefit Danielle Fogarty’s Campaign for the Long Island Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

03/15/13 2:44pm
03/15/2013 2:44 PM
DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO | Matt Dibble of Greenport attacking the heart of the Southold defense and the basket during the third quarter.

DANIEL DE MATO FILE PHOTO | Matt Dibble of Greenport attacking the heart of the Southold defense during a varsity game earlier this year.

Four East End schools will team up tonight for a “Final Four” night at Greenport High School to compete for the North Fork championship title in a three-on-three basketball tournament.

Teams from Greenport, Southold, Mattituck and Shelter Island will all compete for the crown. Teams have five players per team, including at least one female, and cannot have more than three current basketball players.

Preliminary games were hosted at individual schools prior to the “Final Four” night.

The event also features a 3-point contest, a half-court contest and prizes. There’s a $3 admission fee and the event starts at 6:30 p.m. It is open to the public.

08/08/11 7:55am
08/08/2011 7:55 AM

GEORGETOWN COURTSY PHOTO | Jim Christy in his Hoyas playing days.

The basketball courts at Forest Park in Queens were not much different than many other basketball courts in New York City. They had four baskets (with no nets), a concrete playing surface, and a small wading pool was nearby where players could walk in to cool off a bit with water up to their ankles.

The features of the courts weren’t anything special, but it was a special place for longtime North Fork resident Jim Christy.

Forest Park was really where it all began for Christy’s successful basketball career. Located a couple of blocks from the Glendale home where he grew up, Christy spent countless hours there playing the game he loved. He was a Forest Park regular from the time he was 7 or 8 years old right up to the time he headed off to play for Georgetown University.

It was at Forest Park where Christy honed his game. Nothing was organized. It was almost all half-court pickup games of three on three or four on four. Rarely were full-court games played. The half-court games helped players develop the concept of proper spacing and moving without the ball, said Christy.

“You arrived [at the courts] at 8 in the morning and you might not get home until 5 or 6 at night,” he recalled.

The four baskets represented a tier system. “There was really one that you wanted to play on,” Christy said. “There was one basket where all the best players played. … Court No. 1 was where all the hot shots played.”

Forest Park had no referees, but plenty of life lessons for a young player. The incentive to win was strong. Players had to earn their playing time.

“The beauty of it was if you lost, you probably had to sit 45 minutes before you got back on the court,” Christy said. “That made for some very competitive games.”

Of course, Christy played elsewhere as a youth. As a high school student, he got to play against college players sometimes in Rockaway during the summer. He played in open gyms during the winter months and played in Catholic Youth Organization games on Friday nights and Sundays.

“The competition in the CYO was really outstanding,” he said, noting that all five starting players on one of his CYO teams all went on to play NCAA Division I basketball.

But Forest Park was Christy’s home court, his first basketball school, his home away from home.

“It was a great place,” Christy said. “It was so much fun. It was so much passion. … Everything mattered.”

Forest Park launched a playing career for Christy, who became an all-New York City player for St. Pascal Baylon High School in St. Albans, Queens. (He was selected as one of the top 100 high school players to have played in New York City by the New York Daily News about 10 years ago.)

Christy could shoot. He once scored 78 points in a game for St. Pascal. His late father, Tom, would keep track of his son’s shooting percentage by putting a penny in his left sweater pocket for every field-goal attempt that his son made and one in his right sweater pocket for every one he missed.

When it came time to think about where Christy would attend college, he had a discussion with his father about basketball being a means to an end, not an end in itself. As Christy saw it, his college choice was a no-brainer.

“Georgetown academically was the perfect fit,” he said. Plus, it was located in the nation’s capital, a major city, and not far from home.

The college game was much different back then. There was no shot clock, no three-point shot, and freshmen were not permitted to play for varsity teams. But Georgetown’s coach at the time, Tom O’Keefe, gave Christy a vote of confidence when he was a sophomore, telling him that the starting point guard job was his.

Thus began a tremendous college career. Christy played alongside teammates such as James Barry, the brother of former professional player Rick Barry; Paul Tagliabue, the former National Football League commissioner; and retired Gen. James Jones, who was a United States Marine Corps commandant.

By the time Christy graduated, he was the school’s No. 2 all-time leading scorer with 1,101 points (he has since dropped to 33rd on the list). Over the course of his time at Georgetown, he averaged 15.5 points per game, including 17.4 as a junior and 17.5 as a senior. His free-throw percentage of 81.6 percent ranks him second in school history.

It was during his senior year, Christy said, when the notion of a professional basketball career crossed his mind as pro teams expressed an interest in him. He evidently didn’t consider it for long, though. He responded to letters from the Baltimore Bullets and the New York Knicks, telling them he was not interested.

Nonetheless, the Knicks made Christy their 10th-round draft pick in 1964, after selecting Howard “Butch” Komives and Willis Reed in earlier rounds. But Christy never attended a Knicks camp. He had made plans to marry his wife, Betty, and raise a family after his college graduation. “Those were the areas that were much more important to me,” he said.

It was three years later when the American Basketball Association was formed, creating more opportunities for players. Regardless, Christy said the all-consuming, travelling life of a pro basketball player wasn’t for him.

“You wonder if things would have been different,” Christy said. “I don’t regret it for a moment. You wonder [about] the road not taken. I can’t imagine that it would be any better than the way things have been.”

Christy took a job in the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District in 1969. He never left the school district until his retirement as the director of guidance in 2003.

Christy, 69, who splits time between homes in Mattituck and The Three Villages, Fla., coached numerous sports at Mattituck. He remains the coach of the Tuckers’ girls varsity tennis team.

In 1975, Christy was inducted into the Georgetown Hall of Fame. Another big honor followed in 2007 when he was selected to Georgetown’s all-century team in conjunction with the school’s 100th anniversary, joining the likes of Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, Patrick Ewing, Michael Jackson, Reggie Williams, Charles Smith and Dikembe Mutombo. Christy and the 24 other all-century honorees were recognized during halftime of a Marquette-Georgetown game at the Verizon Center. The former players were announced one by one. When the spotlight was cast on Christy, he took his place among Georgetown’s best.

The event gave Christy the opportunity to meet players he had become fans of and get to know them as people.

“I was very impressed with who they are,” he said. “It’s really nice to know that you’re a part of that.”

“What it did was it kind of reminded me of what was four terrific years. It brings back some very good memories. I feel as if I am reconnected with the university.”

It all began at Forest Park. Christy said the last time he drove by the park “you could hear the bouncing of the ball. You could hear the kids playing. It wasn’t quite as many kids as I remember, but still a very active community.”

[email protected]

07/31/11 7:57am
07/31/2011 7:57 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | Today, Alicia Conquest is a teahcer at an inner-city school in West Philadelphia. Seventeen years ago, she was among the best girls basketball players in Suffolk County and a 6-foot rebounding machine.

Alicia Conquest played basketball Tuesday.

Now 35 years old and teaching in West Philadelphia, the former Longwood basketball great laced ‘em up for a friendly game with other members of the faculty at her school’s summer camp program.

When the game was over, another teacher walked up to her with a look of curiosity: “You played in college, didn’t you?”

It was that obvious.

More than a dozen years removed from her final season at Wagner College, where she finished her senior campaign among the nation’s top rebounders, Alicia Conquest can still play a little ball. And that’s no surprise to those who knew her way back when.

“She’s the best big I ever coached,” recalled former Longwood girls basketball coach Pierce Hayes, now the coach of the Lions boys team. “She played with an incredible intensity about her every single game.”

The 20 Greatest Athletes in area history is a Times/Review countdown series that will continue over the next 18 days. Each day, a different athlete will be unveiled leading up to the No. 1 athlete of all-time Aug. 17.

Standing 6-feet tall, with a naturally muscular and athletic physique, Conquest helped put the Longwood girls basketball team on the map in the early 1990s.

A rare four-year varsity player at a high school with more than 2,000 students, Conquest stood out even as a young player, averaging more than 11 points and 14 rebounds as a sophomore starter.

By the time she finished her junior campaign, she was an All-County and Newsday All-Long Island selection.

And the Longwood girls were seeing team success like never before. The Lions won their first-ever League I title that year, going 11-1 during the league season.

Players like co-captain Gladys Caro and sophomore Beth Raptis played a major role in getting Longwood to where it needed to be, but nobody denies it was Conquest who set the team apart from the rest of the pack.

“She dominated the boards and had an excellent drop step move down low, that was extremely hard to defend,” Caro remembered. “Her hard work down low made it easier for us guards, enabling us to quickly run out for the outlet pass, because we knew she would end up with the rebound.”

“Looking back, she had to have known that she was better than most, yet she never acted in that manner. She treated everyone, even people she didn’t know with respect.”

It was during that junior season that Conquest really began to build a reputation as someone who could put a team on her back.

The Lions were trailing by a bucket inside the final minute against Patchogue-Medford on Jan. 19, 1993 when Conquest scored off an offensive rebound to send the game into overtime. Later that season she’d hit the winning basket in the final moments of a victory over Floyd.

Longwood would go on to reach its first Class A County Final in ’92-93 after Conquest scored 19 points in a semifinal win over East Islip. She scored 17 of her points in the first half.

Conquest was simply a winner at everything she did athletically. While to this day basketball is still her favorite sport, she ultimately just loved to compete.

“I would have tried any sport,” she says.

She doesn’t even remember how one summer during her high school years she played goalie on an Olympic Festival handball team.

It was just one more way she could compete, another avenue to unleash some of that intensity.

In the fall, she’d play on the Longwood volleyball team. And after basketball season was over she’d throw shot put and discus on the track team.

She even won a gold medal in the discus at the Empire State Games after both her sophomore and junior years.

COURTESY PHOTO | Alicia Conquest was two-time all Long Island player and a USA Today All-USA honorable mention during her years at Longwood.

But it was basketball, the game her father John ­— a longtime administrator and assistant basketball coach at Bellport High School — taught her to play, that she always loved the most.

The Lions would fall to unbeaten Northport, 53-37, in the 1992-93 Class A title game. It was that heartbreaking loss that would set the stage for Conquest’s signature games of her high school career.

The Longwood center entered her senior campaign on a mission. After watching the Lions improve from 9-9 in her sophomore season to 16-5 as a junior, Conquest had revenge over Northport on her mind in her final season.

The Tigers were the premier girls basketball team in Suffolk County at the time. They had won the previous four Class A championships and six titles dating back to the 1985-86 season.

Having already dialed up her leadership role on the team with the implementation of “pride jogs,” runs Conquest came up with where the squad would do laps for 20 minutes after every single game, she took her senior captaincy particularly seriously, teammates remember.

“She always challenged herself to do more and be better,” remembers Erin Vilar, who played that season with Conquest. “On top of all of that, she always motivated and challenged us as teammates to do more. She was a captain in every sense of the word, a true leader.”

And it all paid off when Conquest got her chance to exact revenge on Northport in the second round of the Suffolk Shootout tournament.

The motivated senior scored 29 points and pulled down 18 rebounds in the game, which was hosted by Northport, and Longwood went on to win 67-53. It was the first time in almost five years the Tigers had lost to a Suffolk team and coach Hayes said at the time it was the school’s biggest win ever.

But Conquest saved her best for the last game of the tournament.

On Dec. 29, 1993, the Lions entered halftime of the Shootout final down by 12 points to Sachem. Not just satisfied with a win over Northport the night before, Conquest let her coach know she wouldn’t let this one get away.

“She came to me at halftime and said ‘Coach, don’t worry about it,’ ” Hayes would tell Newsday.

She wasn’t kidding.

Led by an unrelenting Conquest, the Lions held Sachem to just six points in the fourth quarter. When the final buzzer sounded, she had scored a school record 35 points and grabbed 22 rebounds, leading Longwood to a 63-56 win and tournament title.

“She just wasn’t going to let us lose that night,” Hayes recalled in an interview this week.

The Lions would go on to finish the league season with their second straight title and an 11-1 record. But Conquest’s high school career would be cut short of where she’d hoped it would end when the Lions were shocked by No. 7 Commack in the quarterfinals of the Class A playoffs.

Conquest led all Suffolk players with 22.5 points and 18 rebounds per game her senior season. She would finish her high school career as Longwood’s all-time leading scorer with 1,029 points, a record that stood five seasons until being broken by another four-year starter, Cheri Eleazer. Conquest was just the 42nd Long Island girls basketball player to ever score 1,000 points.

COURTESY PHOTO | Coaches and teammates of Alicia Conquest (top row, second from left) all described her as a special person who got the most out of her abilities and inspired others to do the same.

The fact that she scored so many points, despite always being the center of attention on the court, still amazes her teammates.

“We played against some tough teams and she would sometimes have double or even triple coverage,” Vilar recalled. “She never let that get to her. She always remained dignified and focused. A true athlete.”

Added Caro: “Average was never good enough. She practiced harder, and loved the game more than anyone else I knew. She was a true leader on the court, both in games and at practices.”

Conquest made her second All-Long Island team in 1994 and was a USA Today All-American honorable mention that year.

Not just a great performer in sports, she would graduate her senior class ranked No. 16 out of 600 students.

As she looked to take both her athletics and academics to the next level, Conquest turned down a Big East offer from Providence and instead enrolled at Wagner, a Division I program playing in the Northeast Conference.

Before heading to college, Conquest realized she needed to develop her game to revolve around her natural strengths. Never a great jump shooter, Conquest could still be an elite scorer in high school.

But at the college level, she knew her ability to rebound is where she could help her team most.

It was John Conquest who taught his daughter to go after it with everything she had for every moment on the court.

Rebounding was his game, and he made sure she played the game the same way.

“He would tell me that if the ball was there for me to grab, I better go get it,” Alicia recalled.

“She just loved to play defense,” Hayes said. “She loved to rebound. She realized that’s where her strengths were and she developed her game that way.”

It didn’t take long before former Wagner head coach Pam Roecker, who called Alicia “one of a kind” in an e-mail this week, noticed that her freshman forward could make a difference on her Seahawks team.

By the fourth game of the season, Roecker had already inserted Conquest into the starting lineup. By February she was already averaging more than 10 rebounds per game, tops in the NEC and 27th in the nation.

Asked to explain her phenom’s ability to rebound the basketball in a Newsday interview, Roecker said: “She makes up her mind that she wants the basketball more than anyone else.”

It was a pattern that would continue throughout Conquest’s career, even as knee injuries began to slow her down some by her junior season.

To this day, Conquest is fifth all-time in rebounding at Wagner and her 1,106 rebounds rank her higher than any Seahawks player in the past two decades. She averaged more than 10 rebounds a game in all four years there.

The Wagner teams Conquest played on in her junior and senior seasons won a total of 35 games, and both campaigns rank in the top 10 for winning percentage in Seahawks program history.

Conquest would finish her senior year as an All-NEC player and the nation’s sixth best rebounder.

Remarkably, Conquest continued to participate in track and field during her time at Wagner. Even though it was only considered her second sport, she won the 1996 NEC shot put and discus titles, and she briefly held the school’s shot put record.

Being a two-sport performer didn’t slow her down any in the classroom, as she was the valedictorian of the Wagner College Class of 1999.

Even today, Alicia Conquest-Bulgin is still receiving honors.

In 2008, she was inducted into the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame.

And just last February she was honored with a State Farm “Teacher as Hero” award, for her work teaching Spanish at West Philadelphia’s School of the Future — a collaborative educational project between the Philadelphia school system and Microsoft.

In nominating her, principal Rosalind Chivis called Conquest, who also runs the school’s Saturday detention program and serves as athletic director, “the best kind of educator you could have.”

Fittingly, she coaches the same three sports at School of the Future as she played in high school. In the Fall, she leads the girls volleyball team, in the winter she helps coach girls hoops, and in the spring she works with the track team’s shot putters.

And she’s enjoying some success in the coaching ranks. The school’s basketball team reached the playoffs for the first time this season, and her prized thrower hit one of the best marks for a sophomore in Pennsylvania state history.

Still, coaching has been a challenge for Conquest.

Leading a group of inner-city youths leaves her with a difficult task her coaches didn’t have to deal with as much. She says she spends as much time trying to get her kids to focus and stay positive than she does instructing.

“Their home life and the environment they’re growing up in is very different,” she said. “It’s been challenging. I can’t coach with the same intensity my coaches had. I have to water it down for my kids.”

Toning it down is something Conquest says she’s had to do a lot more of lately. She jokes that she can’t even be as competitive when playing games at home as she was on the basketball court.

“My husband doesn’t like to lose and I don’t like to hurt feelings,” she said with a laugh.

But that competitive fire still burns from time to time.

When asked if she dominated this week’s faculty game at School of the Future, she wasn’t shy.

“Ohhhh, yeahhh,” she said with a flair. “Not scoring, but rebounding.”

Some things just never change.

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07/31/11 7:56am

UCLA COURTESY PHOTO | Nicole Kaczmarski had one incredible year at Longwood High School, before moving on to Christ the King, Sachem and eventually UCLA.

Alicia Conquest is largely considered the greatest Longwood High School girls basketball player.

Cheri Eleazer is the school’s all-time leading scorer.

But neither of those All-Long Island players would hold those distinctions if another former Lions star played each of her high school seasons at the school.

Fifteen years later, people forget that Nicole Kaczmarski, considered by many to be Suffolk’s all-time greatest girls basketball player, actually played her freshman season at Longwood.

“What a season that was,” recalls former Longwood girls basketball coach Pierce Hayes, now the coach of the Lions boys team. “We played in packed gyms everywhere we went.”

Kaczmarski made a huge splash leading Sachem High School to a state championship in her eighth grade season of 1994-95, when at just 13 years old the 5-5 point guard was named Suffolk Player of the Year.

Late in the season rumors began to circulate that the phenom, whose father Peter had won custody of her in a divorce dispute, would be playing elsewhere the following year.

Most reports had Kaczmarski heading to city power Christ the King that fall. But Newsday would later report that after Peter couldn’t sell his home in Middle Island, Kaczmarski, who shot up to 5-9 that offseason, would play for Longwood instead “because there was no place else for her to go.”

Kaz, as she was known, would end up leading Longwood to a 10-2 league record and a three-way tie for the league title. She combined with Eleazer that season — on a team that featured just one senior — to form an incredible freshman duo.

But when Longwood was shocked 46-38 by No. 7 Walt Whitman in the quarterfinals of the Class A playoffs on Feb. 25, 1996, Kaczmarski had played her final game with the Lions.

Despite never attending classes at the high school — back then Longwood ninth graders went to junior high — Kaczmarski was an All-Long Island selection for the second time and a USA Today All-American honorable mention in ’95-96. But come summer time, it was announced that she would finally make the jump to Christ the King.

It was a great single season with the Lions. Kaz scored 390 points, second-best on Long Island, and averaged 21.7 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists as Longwood went 16-4. She scored in double figures in all 20 games and hit 35 3-pointers that season.

It was during her time with the Lions that “Kazmania” began to take hold. Coach Hayes told Newsday in February 1995 that he had received letters about his freshman star from more than 50 schools.

“She was probably the most talented basketball player I have ever seen at that age,” Hayes recalled in an interview last week. “It was because of how hard she worked at it. She would stay after practice and work on her jump shot for hours when she was only a ninth grader. She released perfectly, it was almost like a textbook jump shot.”

Kaz would play only briefly for Christ the King before transferring back to Sachem, where she would finish her storied career with a then-Long Island record 2,583 points. She was the Gatorade National Player of the Year her senior season of 1998-99, a season that saw her named to every high school All-American team.

Hayes says he doesn’t think much about what could have been.

“It is what it is,” he said. “I’ll always remember her as a great kid.”

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07/29/11 7:57am
07/29/2011 7:57 AM

SUFFOLK TIMES FILE PHOTOS | Ryan Creighton (left) and Al Edwards led the Greenport boys basketball teams to league titles in separate decades, both becoming Suffolk's all-time leading scorer along the way.

Al Edwards and Ryan Creighton.

Ryan Creighton and Al Edwards.

The names are inextricably linked in Greenport High School boys basketball history. Not only are they the Porters’ top two all-time scorers, but they shared the golden era of Greenport basketball when the Porters reached the New York State final four — something they had never done before — three years in a row. With Edwards as coach and Creighton as star player, they shared the glory of capturing the small village’s imagination by bringing Greenport’s name to the basketball world beyond Long Island.

The 20 Greatest Athletes in area history is a Times/Review countdown series that will take place over the next three weeks. Each day, a different athlete will be unveiled leading up to the No. 1 athlete of all-time Aug. 17.

As players, Edwards, 57, and Creighton, 21, shared notable similarities. For one thing, both were record scorers for the Porters.

Edwards set a Suffolk County scoring record. He became the first Suffolk player to score 2,000 points over a four-year high school varsity career. By the time his career in Greenport ended in 1972, he had 2,117 points next to his name on the all-time ledger — and that was before the three-point shot was introduced to high school basketball. That record stood for 17 years until Kenny Wood of East Hampton broke it during the 1988-89 season. Edwards’ name on New York State’s all-time scoring list is above those of notable players such as Albert King, Lew Alcindor (now known as all-time leading NBA scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Christian Laettner and Elton Brand.

Edwards’ school record stood until Creighton came along. Over five varsity seasons, concluding in 2008-09, Creighton collected 2,799 points, making him Long Island’s all-time leading scorer and No. 2 on the state’s all-time list behind Lance Stephenson of Abraham Lincoln (2,946 points), who like Creighton played in high school from 2004-09.

READ THE SUFFOLK TIMES STORY FROM WHEN EDWARDS BROKE THE RECORD

Edwards and Creighton could play any position on the floor. They both were relied upon by their teammates to lead the way. They could both dominate a game. They both handled their fame on the basketball court with humility. They both put winning over individual achievement, as considerable as some of those individual achievements were.

And then there were differences.

Edwards, a 6-foot center for the Porters who later grew a couple of inches, went on to play NCAA Division I ball for East Carolina on a full basketball scholarship. The 6-2 Creighton, who probably played more as a power forward than anything else, played seven games for Franklin Pierce University (N.H.) before leaving the NCAA Division II school, saying he had no desire to play basketball any longer.

They played in different eras, in different gyms, and had different ideas about shooting.

SUFFOLK TIMES FILE PHOTO | Al Edwards broke the Suffolk County scoring mark in the final game of his junior season, an 80-68 playoff loss to Islip. He'd finish the game with 25 points and the season with 1,522 for his career.

Edwards liked to shoot. Playing in Greenport’s tiny old gym with its short court, Edwards’ shooting range was described as being from two steps over the mid-court line and in. He wasn’t shy about pulling the trigger.

His younger brother, Dave Edwards, recounts times when he and teammate Tom Shedrick were open under the basket, desperately waving their arms for a pass, only to see Edwards pull up for a jump shot — and hit it.

“Sometimes I’d get mad at him, but he hit the shot,” said Dave Edwards, whose voice sounds disarmingly like his brother’s. “I said I had to get the ball before he’d get it. If he got the ball, he’d shoot.”

And usually score.

Chuckling at the notion and sounding as if it were the first time he had ever entertained the thought, Dave Edwards said, “I can’t really even say that Allen had a bad game.”

The basketball beginning for Al Edwards included playing as a youngster in the backyard and with friends at the park. Sometimes they played on dirt courts. “After rain, your hands would be all muddy,” he recalled. “We had a good time.”

Early on, Edwards played for the St. Agnes Catholic Youth Organization team in Greenport and for the junior high school team. He said the game came naturally to him and he enjoyed it. “You just go out and you play and have a good old time,” he said.

Edwards was also an all-league defensive back/split end for the Porters, the No. 2 runner on the cross-country team and a jumper for the track and field team. But his future was in basketball.

Edwards became the centerpiece of talented Greenport basketball teams coached by Dude Manwaring that won two league championships. He averaged 30 points per game as a freshman and went on to lead the county in scoring for three seasons.

It was an exciting time for the Porters. They were the talk of the town. Spectators packed into Greenport’s cramped gym. Tickets were in high demand. Fans wanted to see the show that featured Edwards, the sharpshooter, and the fastbreaking Porters, who routinely scored in triple digits.

Some might call the newer, larger gym at Greenport High School the gym that Al Edwards built, but he never played for the Porters in that gym, in which his framed No. 33 jersey hangs.

AL EDWARDS COURTESY PHOTO | A Suffolk Times account of the game when Al Edwards became Suffolk' all-time leading scorer notes Edwards had a sad look about him, since his Porters were trailing when he set the mark.

Grainy black-and-white photos of Edwards in action in the early 1970s don’t relay the athleticism and fluidity of his game. With tremendous leaping ability, he could soar for rebounds and guard taller opponents.

“He had that Dr. J. move where he had hang time and he could float in the air and he could whip his arms around and put it right in the basket,” said Shedrick, a friend and former teammate who has known Edwards since they were in kindergarten.

Shedrick said Edwards was better than any of the players among Greenport’s opponents, which included future NBA players Toby Knight of Port Jefferson and Mitch Kupchack of Brentwood. “Al would always stand out against the best in the county,” he said.

All the while, Edwards kept his cool. Teammates said they have never seen him angry on the basketball court.

When given the opportunity to shoot, Edwards didn’t hesitate. “I was the type of player who was hungry for points,” he said.
He also had an insatiable hunger for winning.

“Winning was his big thing,” Shedrick said. “He was totally focused on winning. Winning meant the most to him.”

Edwards said the biggest satisfaction he got was being around good people and winning. “I don’t think the points were that big of a deal,” he said.

East Carolina backed up its interest in Edwards, a New York Daily News all-American, with the offer of a full ride. Edwards accepted. He played four seasons for the Pirates, captaining the team his senior year.

It was a college career that was nearly cut short. During his freshman year, Edwards came home for the Thanksgiving break and thought about not returning to East Carolina. He was homesick. But his parents, Sarah and Charlie, as well as Manwaring, talked him out of it.

Edwards went on to play four seasons for East Carolina. His last two were the most productive, averaging 5.7 points per game as a junior and 10.7 as a senior.

Edwards studied special education. After college, he landed a job at BOCES I (now called Eastern Suffolk BOCES) in Westhampton, a job he holds to this day. The Greenport resident teaches physical education for special needs students.

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Al Edwards took over for his former coach at Greenport, where he has paced the floor for more than 30 years now.

Edwards also got into coaching in Greenport. He served briefly as an assistant to Manwaring before becoming the Porters’ varsity coach in 1979, a post he still holds 32 years later.

As a coach, Edwards has made his mark. Records are incomplete, but a review of The Suffolk Times’ archives found Edwards to have won at least 321 games and lost at least 238. That takes into account a 19-3 season in 2000-01 when the Porters were later found to have used an ineligible player, and those 19 wins were declared forfeits.

Edwards even got to coach his grandson, Dantré Langhorne, who graduated this year after scoring over 1,400 career points for the Porters.

Reflecting on a lifetime in a sport he loves, Edwards, who was among those in the first class inducted into the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame, remarked, “I was always surrounded by good people.”

And good players.

That would include Ryan Creighton. If there was a criticism of Creighton, it was that he didn’t shoot enough.

A consummate team player with all-around skills, Creighton was the Porters’ central figure over five varsity seasons, ending in 2009. Ironically for a player whose game couldn’t be defined by scoring alone, Creighton left Greenport as Long Island’s all-time scoring king, claiming the record that Kenny Wood had taken from Edwards 20 years earlier.

But really, it might have been everything else Creighton did on the basketball court besides score that elevated him above others. As one coach put it, Creighton was about “we, we, we, not me, me, me.”

A phenomenal passer, he got teammates involved in the game. It was not uncommon for a first quarter to end with Creighton having taken no more than a few shots and netted a few points. But when his team needed him to score in crunch time, he usually came through. By game’s end, he would have around 30 points next to his name.

“I was pretty much just out there having fun,” he said.

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Ryan Creighton scoring a basket in his final game as a Greenport Porter.

Creighton scored a lot of points, but he could have scored more if not for his unselfishness. Sometimes he sat out a quarter or more of games that were blowouts.

His uncle, Rodney Shelby, an assistant coach for the Porters, was one of many who appreciated Creighton for his selfless play.

“Everybody knows he had a tremendous career, but what people don’t really know about Ryan is that he was a very unselfish player,” Shelby said. “I know for a fact that he could have scored close to 3,000 points if he was a selfish player. He was always about the team, and that’s what I liked best about him.”

In addition to points, Creighton also produced in all the other facets of the game. For a couple of seasons he led the Porters in assists, rebounds and steals in addition to points. Appreciated by coaches and fans for his humble attitude as well as his work ethic, Creighton seemed unfazed by his fame and was described as an ideal teammate. Mattituck Tuckers Coach Paul Ellwood once observed that Creighton works just as hard as the last player on the bench.

“I was glad he was on my team,” said Al Edwards, who ranks Creighton among the best players he has coached, along with Jamie Latney, George Jackson and Gerald Crenshaw, Creighton’s cousin. “He didn’t have a whole lot to say. He said a lot of words with his actions.”

Creighton joined the varsity team as a starting eighth-grader and immediately proved that he was up to the challenge. Physically mature at a young age, Creighton had the strength to overpower opponents under the boards, the speed to race down the floor, the athleticism to hop for rebounds, and a long shooting range.

Still, Creighton had to grow up fast. He made a big jump the summer before his eighth-grade year, playing for an Amateur Athletic Union team and raising the level of his game. “I was playing basketball nonstop, and I was constantly playing top competition,” he said.

It was good preparation. Creighton went on to become a dominant player.

After watching Creighton become only the second Greenport player to break the 2,000-point mark with a dunk against his team in February 2008, Smithtown Christian Crusaders Coach Bill Casey said: “In all honesty, I think he’s one of the best basketball players I’ve ever seen, because he’s not selfish. He’s a great player. He has all the tools — rebounding, passing, three-point shooting — yet if you watch him during a game and he’s driving down [the court] … he’ll dish it off to a teammate who’s more open. A class act.”

More milestones followed.

After passing Al Edwards to become Greenport’s all-time scoring leader, Creighton found another place for himself in the record books late in his senior season. In his final game in the Greenport gym, he scored 25 points in a win over the Shelter Island Indians.

That gave the former Greenport ballboy the Long Island scoring record and bumped him ahead of former NBA player Kenny Anderson on the state list.

READ THE SUFFOLK TIMES STORY FROM WHEN CREIGHTON BROKE THE RECORD

In retrospect, Creighton acknowledged that he may appreciate the accomplishment more as years pass. “At the time it was just a scoring record,” he said.

Creighton was the go-to player during the Porters’ golden years. Prior to Creighton, the Porters had never won a regional championship, never reached the state final four. With Creighton, they went to Glens Falls three years in a row for the Class D final four. Each time, though, ended in disappointment for him and his teammates. In 2007, the Porters, making their first appearance in a state semifinal, were trounced by the Charles G. Finney Falcons in a game that Creighton had a hard time making his mark in.

That only made the Porters more determined the following season, which ended for them with a three-point loss to the Chateaugay Bulldogs in a state semifinal. Then, in March 2009, a great high school career ended. Playing in the state final in the Glens Falls Civic Center, the Porters saw their dream of a first state title crushed with a four-point loss to the South Kortright Rams. The thing Creighton said he wanted the most — a state title — had eluded him.

“It was just over, done,” the four-time all-state player said. “No more chances. That was it.”

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Ryan Creighton is consoledby his mother, Angela Smith, after playing his final high school game. He'd end up No. 2 on the list of all-time leading scorers in New York State history.

A photo that ran in The Suffolk Times captured the moment splendidly, showing an emotional Creighton being consoled by his smiling mother, Angela Smith.

During Creighton’s five seasons with the Porters, they went 86-20 and advanced at least as far as to a regional final each year.

But his basketball-playing days weren’t over. Creighton, the only male four-time winner in the 26-year history of Times/Review Newsgroup’s athlete of the year awards, went on to accept a full basketball scholarship from Franklin Pierce.

Creighton looked like a good fit for Franklin Pierce, but his connection to the Ravens didn’t last long. After starting all seven games that he played for Franklin Pierce, Creighton provided stunning news when he decided to leave the school during his freshman season. He said he was burned out. “I really don’t have the desire to play basketball any more,” he said.

Creighton’s departure from Franklin Pierce prompted puzzlement and speculation. Asked recently if he has given up on playing college basketball, Creighton, who currently lives in Riverhead and does security work for a ferry company, replied, “To be honest, I really have no idea.”

Over the course of his career, Creighton was in the spotlight, under the microscope. His game performance was studied. When he left school, it made news.

Recently asked how he felt about being under such scrutiny, Creighton answered: “At times, I was just like enough is enough. Anybody who knows me, I’m not really a talkative guy like that.”

What may come as a surprise to some is that basketball isn’t Creighton’s favorite sport; football is. He played halfback and outside linebacker for the Porters in his freshman and junior years.

“He could have been, in my eyes, a better football player, than he was a basketball player,” said Shelby.

But what he did on the basketball court — and how he did it — will be talked about in Greenport for many years to come.

“I’m definitely proud of Ryan with his basketball career,” Shelby said. “I believe he handled it with grace and dignity. One of the most disappointing things to him was that he didn’t win a state championship, but definitely Ryan made me proud.”

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This photo published in the March 12, 1971 edition of The Suffolk Times shows Greenport basketball great, and current Porters coach, Al Edwards breaking the Suffolk County scoring mark.

This excerpt is from a story originally published in the March 12, 1971 edition of The Suffolk Times, days after Al Edwards set the Suffolk County boys basketball scoring record:

Allen Edwards, league leading scorer for Suffolk County, has set a new record with a total of 1,522 points.

Edwards, a junior, has nowhere to go but up and is sure to provide the impetus for another league winning season in ’72. The line-up next year consists of Bob Chute at center; Jim Stulsky and Edwards at forward; and Dave Edwards and Tom Shedrick in the back court.

According to team manager Marc Wiederlight, himself a senior, next year Greenport will be even better and could go all the way.

A great Greenport basketball team, undefeated in league play, went down to defeat 80-68 before a taller Islip team in the second round of the playoffs.

Islip got off to a quick 10-0 lead, and the Porters just couldn’t come back., though they played a good game.

The highlight came in the second quarter, when Edwards broke the county’s scoring record set by Bob Miller of Shelter Island in 1969. The game was stopped and the crowd gave Edwards a standing ovation.

As he was presented with the basketball, the radio announcer commented that despite this great honor, Edwards didn’t look too happy because his team was behind. Everyone who know Edwards agrees his maon concern was Greenport’s winning first, and then breaking the league scoring record.

Edwards played a great game, getting 17 rebounds against Islip’s Gustafson, who is 6-foot-6. Edwards was Greenport’s top scorer with 25 points.

The program mentioned that “when you see Allen Edwards, you will be watching the first junior to come into a tourney with over 500 points scored during the regular season.” That record is 573, to be exact, for Edwards.