Hello everyone! This piece discusses my life, one year ago to the day. On March 16, 2019, as a high school senior, I was a part of my school’s basketball team that won the 2018–19 NYC Boys Division A championship. Here’s how everything unfolded.
Enjoy, and please, share it with your friends!
DISCLAIMER: To protect the identity of those mentioned in this piece, I will refer to them using first names only.
Ever been apart of a sports team where, before any contest, you were confident that your squad would come out a winner. That was this team for me.
Wonder how I made a team of that caliber? Well, my high school was unique in a basketball sense. You didn’t make the Frederick Douglass Academy Lions because you were talented, you made it because you were a good all-around person.
What do I mean by that? Having an 80 overall GPA. Attending EVERY team meeting, practice, and study hall. Being coachable (easier said than done), and most importantly, being a hard-worker.
If you could bring those factors together, you would make the team. Apart of the Lions for only my senior year, that explains how often things came together for me. During my first 3 years, I was considered a “part-time bullshit motherfucker”, according to my coach.
Speaking of the coach, let me introduce you to the team.
I was fortunate enough to be coached by one of my favorite people ever: Coach Patrick Mangan.
Coach Mangan’s personality embodies everything a basketball player is. He’s committed. An effective leader. Tough. Ambitious. Gritty. Passionate. Clever. Skillful. And a little bit crazy.
But most importantly, he has a heart. As a caucasian man coaching inner-city kids, some with no fathers or male figures, he’s a role model. I admire his work ethic. He’s the last person to leave late night Friday scrimmages, and the first person to arrive for early Saturday practices.
There are so many things I can say about that man, enough to fill up a book. I can honestly say, he changed my life.
Now, to the introductions. Your 2018–19 Frederick Douglass Academy Lions basketball team.
The starting lineup.
At the 1, our crafty left-handed guard, from the Dominican Republic, Derek. At the 2, our team captain, and most talented player, Abubakar. At the 3, our three-&-D wing, originally from Dominica, Jacob.
At the 4, our high-flyer and most athletic player, Johnathan. And the 5, originally from Mali, our shot-blocking menace Mohamed.
On to our bench.
There’s Elian, who brought our team together with his charisma. Ja Rule, a big and burly offensive talent. Alex, our tenacious and most committed player.
Jaden, the teammate I’m closest too. A gifted offensive player, and humorous locker room presence. Raheam, our gritty, sharpshooting guard from Dyckman.
And to round out the roster.
There’s Amar, our quick-footed lefty big. Bayame, a ferocious rebounder with underrated hops. Abdoul, a lanky wing with a jumper. Seydou, a bulldog guard with good IQ.
Then there’s me, Andy. I was the fan-favorite. A Brian Scalabrine-type. I didn’t play much, but when I did, the crowd erupted.
Now that you’ve met the Lions, on to March 16, 2019.
The day is warm. Perfect for a Saturday. I remember, prior to leaving my house, I said a lengthy prayer, and told myself that when I returned, it would be as a city champion. Corny, I know.
Making my way to Frederick Douglass Academy, we went through a light practice to prepare for the game.
Following the practice, the team made its way to LIU Brooklyn, the venue we were playing at. We checked in through PSAL officials, and walked in the gym, to a raucous crowd filled with Bronxites. South Bronx Prep had just defeated Fannie Lou Hamer for the 2018 — 19 NYC Boys Division B championship.
As the game concluded, our team located the visiting locker room to get dressed. Throughout the playoff run, our team wore warm-up shirts from a tournament we played in December. The final game, a 27-point loss to powerhouse Albany Academy, was our last defeat in three months. That team was on our shirts.
The ultimate goal as a team was to reach the New York State high school basketball championship. Who we knew would be waiting for us there? Albany Academy. The warm-up shirts signified the team we yearned to be.
Next, pregame warm-ups. We went through pregame stretches, plays, defensive strategies, and finally, a layup line.
While on the layup line, within my view I noticed someone in the crowd. About 3 years my senior, I would play basketball with him in my neighborhood. Such a challenge to guard. Smooth jumper, consistent finisher, tight handle. Defending him, he brought out the best in me. With my defense on him, I ultimately earned his respect.
He had been rooting for his alma mater, South Bronx Prep, the game before. On the layup line, we made eye contact. He recognized me and we made our way towards each other. We embraced and wished each other the best of luck. Before he departed, I told him “I’m just putting on for the hood.”
That conversation represented a full circle. About a year ago, playing basketball with this person, my future with this sport was up in the air. I wasn’t really on the school team. Most days, I would be in my neighborhood, minding my business, playing ball.
From that point on, I worked my behind off to cement my status on the Lions. Fed up with half-assing everything in life, I decided to take control of my destiny within this sport.
Now, here I am a year later. No longer a spectator, I’m on the court, representing my school on the biggest stage.
The game itself was a blur.
We went up against New Dorp High School. A hungry team eager to put the forgotten borough, Staten Island, on the map. They were well-coached, and played as a cohesive unit.
The first quarter saw the Lions end with a 15–9 advantage. We scored easy baskets and got to the free-throw line. Our length defensively gave New Dorp fits, resulting in their slow start.
The second quarter was a defensive slug-fest, as New Dorp won that quarter 8–7. Despite being outscored, our big man Mohamed ended the quarter with a put-back layup, and a huge block on the other end, giving our squad the momentum heading into halftime, up 22–17.
I can’t recall what coach Mangan’s halftime speech was about. However, I bet he said something like this: “I don’t care whether we win or lose, just be the hardest working team on the court.”
New Dorp was the better team in the third, tying the game at 24 apiece. Their leading scorers, Latrell Thompson & David Shkolniy, combined for 31 points, & we’re giving us fits all game.
FDA would then go on a mini-run, as each member of the starting unit scored. The lead is at 9 to begin the fourth. Were up 39–30.
Our run would carry over to the fourth quarter, as the lead ballooned to 12 in the final frame. Me and the guys on the bench expected an easy victory the rest of the way.
However, New Dorp’s trapping defense and timely steals would tie the game at 48 with 100 seconds remaining.
A put-back layup from Johnathan gave us a 50–48 lead.
On the next possession, after some hot potato around the court with the basketball, the ball landed in Derek’s hands. With a minute remaining in the game, Derek calls for isolation, completes a series of dribble moves, into a three-point shot over Shane Butler.
The shot was nothing but net. Watching the tape, it was a gutsy bucket. Not a good shot by coach Mangan standards. That dagger put us up 53–48, and in the lead for good.
We go on to win 59–51. I remember the shot clock taking forever to hit zero.
After the final buzzer sounded, the entire team rose from the bench and jumped in joy. Our hard work paid off. The long boring practices, grueling conditioning sessions, embarrassing 0–3 start to the season. It was now an afterthought.
The win’s importance was deeper than that. A group of young minorities, people that no one believed, came together, worked their asses off, and achieved something special.
We’re entrenched in history. We’ll be remembered as the first in school history, to bring home that trophy.
We’ll always be city champions.
That season taught me several life lessons.
How to handle adversity. How to strive to reach your goals. How to work alongside others. How to sacrifice. How to be committed. How to build a strong work ethic.
The experience changed my life. Me and my friends still talk about it to this day.
Following our city title run, we would lose in the state championship game to Albany Academy once again. This time by 26 points.
Before the game, coach Mangan said something to our team that resonates with me to this day. He said: “Many of you won’t be here next year. This may be your last time competing for a championship. So leave everything out on the court.”
I thought he was crazy. But it turned out, he was right. Yeah, I won some intramural championships during my freshman year of college. But that doesn’t carry the same significance a CITY CHAMPIONSHIP does. The man is a prophet.
To conclude, many athletes go their entire sports lives without a title. The fact that I was blessed to be apart of a championship, over a tough batch of New York City high schools, is a blessing. Especially with this group of guys, made it all the sweeter.
March 16th, 2019 will be a day I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
I love every single person on that team. The players, coaching staff, team managers, and others that didn’t quite make the squad: I love every single one of you. I pray for you all every day. Without each other, we wouldn’t have achieved what we did.
If you know, you know: For each other! Together! Hard! Smart! Play! GO LIONS!
If you made it to the end, thank you so much for reading. Leave a comment if you enjoyed this piece. And please, share this with your friends!
*Special shoutout to the “FSK”: Jeremiah, Salim, Adam, Chernor, & Jemar.
Also, credit to my 9th-grade guidance counselor Mr. Chris Middleton for the amazing photos utilized in this piece. To view his Facebook profile, and see more of his exceptional photography, click here.
(Originally posted March 16, 2020 on Medium. Edited May 23, 2020 on WordPress.)