| Rockland/Westchester Journal News
With the basketball season finally set to begin, our first set of rankings will have some notable absences. They won’t include last year’s Class AA champ, Horace Greeley, which lost all-section players Chris Melis and Christoph Sauerborn to graduation, and Section 1 Mr. Basketball Nick Townsend to prep school. And there are similarly modest expectations for Rye, the reigning Class A champ, which graduated five of its top six players.
Even with those major shifts in superiority, the same team that began and ended last season No. 1 remains atop our first rankings of 2021.
Here’s how we rank Westchester, Rockland and Putnam’s best:
1. Stepinac — The question of whether or not Adrian Griffin Jr. will play is an open one, and the Crusaders must prove they can win big without last year’s New York Mr. Basketball, four-year stalwart R.J. Davis. However, they still return significant talent, led by seniors Malcolm Chimezie and Francisco Mattei and juniors Sam Gibbs and Joel Baez. Junior transfer Isaiah Alexander (Bethlehem, Pa.) and promising freshmen Boogie Fland and Jacob Hogarth should help account for the significant losses suffered by last year’s CHSAA Archdiocesan champs.
2. Iona Prep — The Gaels lost a strong senior class highlighted by Keeshawn Jones, Aidan Hilderbrand and Marquis Dukes, but juniors R.J. Greene and Isaac Gonzalez lead a group that has experience despite its relative youth. One major bonus: 6-foot-9 junior Orlando Wallace, who already has several Division I offers, should make his varsity debut after missing last season due to injury.
3. New Rochelle — After a trip to the Section 1 final four last year, the Huguenots return two all-section players back in Jayson McGhee and Promise Opurum, and the latter appears poised for an even bigger role. Also, keep an eye on promising three-sport athlete Nico Andrews, a sophomore who transferred back after finishing last season on Stepinac’s varsity and should contribute right away.
4. Suffern — After two straight final fours, the Mounties return all-section forwards Clevmer Lubin and Joel Emanuel, which should ease the transition to newcomers in the backcourt. Spring Valley transfer Jahki Parrinello should provide a lift at point guard, and 6-foot-3 junior guard Nick Daterao is among those ready to take on a bigger role.
5. Mount Vernon — The Knights, last year’s Class AA runner-up, graduated three-year stalwart Troy Hupstead as well as fellow starters Irvin Patrick and Orlando Dawkins. Despite the turnover, the strength of the program warrants some respect, and senior Xavier Riullano and junior Demarley Taylor are poised to become team leaders. Sophomore Dylan Colon could be the next Mount Vernon star to emerge.
6. Poughkeepsie — With a young team coming off heavy losses from a state champ, Poughkeepsie made a strong run to Class A final. Lost to an experienced Rye team. Has a lot back, including all-section senior guard Javel Cherry, Shelvon Grant, and the explosive Zaccai Curtis, who should be ready to grow into an impact player.
7. Tappan Zee — It isn’t just more than a decade of success that should keep the Dutchmen among the section’s top teams. Although they graduated three-year stalwart Dan Linehan, the team welcomes back three underclassmen who were thrust into starting lineup last year: sophomore guards David Alexandre and Sean Berrigan and junior forward Collin Cunney.
8. North Rockland — Coming off a winning season, the Red Raiders graduated all-section guard Matt Konicoff, among others, but they have four key seniors returning, led by forward Tahir Alexandre, who averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds last year. Classmates Theo Bosecker and Angel Rodriguez should lead the backcourt, while 6-foot-6 Jason Asamoah will bolster the frontcourt.
9. White Plains — After a run to the final four last year, the Tigers graduated the all-section duo of Quion Burns and Jayon Norwood. They won’t be easy to replace, but Tymir Greene, Joe Carrier and Elijah Pierre all logged major minutes in a supporting role, which should prepare them to lead.
10. Pearl River — The Pirates lost some significant talent in the frontcourt, led by all-section forward Matt Daly, but starting guards John Hayes and Jack Scanlon are both back after receiving heavy minutes as juniors. One key up front could be senior forward Michael Morrissey, who looked ready for a bigger role when he led Pearl River in scoring against Rye in the Class A semifinals.
5 more teams to watch
Briarcliff — After some rebuilding — a process one of the section’s top small-school programs isn’t used to — the Bears would have emerged as a Class B contender this year. Juniors Luke McCann, Elliot Jones and Jayden Larregue are ready to build more consistency after strong sophomore seasons, and Division I lacrosse commit Aidan Murnane is a senior leader.
Hamilton — The Red Raiders were one of the favorites to win a Class C state title last year after cruising into the regional final. They’ll miss that senior class, including big man Jourdan Belcher, but the all-state tandem of Brandon Harris and Jaylen Savage should make this one of the section’s best small-school teams again.
Hastings — All-section guards Josh Thigpen and Chris Rotiroti might be the two best players in Class B. They will lead the way, but whether or not last year’s Section 1 champs can reach last year’s level will hinge on if they can replace a strong and steady frontcourt.
Salesian — While the Eagles await who they will play and if they’ll be able to compete for a city title, they’ll have the talent to adapt. Seniors TJ Chisolm, Camar Neil and Robert Camaj are all back after strong seasons in the CHSAA’s ‘B’ division.
Westlake — The Wildcats were last year’s biggest Cinderella in Section 1. They surprised the Class B field and reached the final four for the first time since 1978, even giving eventual champion Hastings a challenge. While four starters are gone, all-section guard Carter Falkenberg and talented sixth man Justin Silva are among 11 returning players, including eight seniors.