BINGHAMTON – Kevin Townes will skip to the center of the court, stand on the “Veterans Memorial Arena” decal, and perform a backflip.
That is, if the Our Lady of Lourdes High School boys basketball team wins on Sunday against Section 5’s Irondequoit. Thanks in part to his heroics in the state Class A semifinals on Saturday, the Warriors now have a chance to capture their first state championship.
The somersault wouldn’t be done only in celebration, but it would be the senior’s ode to his former self and a tribute to the decision he made that eventually led him to that court.
Townes used to be a gymnast. He began taking lessons as a small child, advanced to the point of performing in state competitions, and continued with acrobatics until middle school.
But five years ago, he decided he had his fill of that sport and sought something else to occupy his time… and to utilize his agility.
“Gymnastics takes so much dedication and it’s such a time-consuming thing,” he said. “After doing it for that long, I got tired of the commitment and wanted to try something different.”
So he picked up basketball. And what a boon that has been for Lourdes.
“I’m extremely thankful that happened,” Warriors coach Jim Santoro said. “Yeah, I think he made a good decision.”
Likewise for James Anozie, who at first was cajoled into playing basketball competitively in junior high. The sport, to him, was initially intended to be no more than a playground activity with friends. Science is his passion and he believes a career in that field will be his calling. In fact, despite all the basketball accolades accrued in high school — including being named the Journal’s Player of the Year last season — it was only recently the 6-foot-5 senior decided he wanted to play in college.
“James had always just played basketball as a hobby and everyone told him, ‘You’re big. You should play,’” Santoro said. “That’s why he played. But he’s come to realize that it’s a part of him.”
And what a boon that has been for Lourdes.
“We’re in the state final now,” the center said while chuckling. “Not many people get to say that. I think it was a pretty good decision to join the team. I don’t regret it one bit.”
Anozie was punishing in the paint with 25 points and 10 rebounds on Saturday, leading the Warriors to a 70-67 win over Southampton in the semifinals. He shot 10 of 14 from the field.
Townes, a 6-foot guard, had 21 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals. He also hit the go-ahead three-pointer with 2:09 remaining.
He flashed a bit of his fancy footwork on an acrobatic rebound with 20 seconds left. Townes corralled a missed layup and tossed the ball backwards to a teammate as he balanced on one leg before tumbling out of bounds. At the time, Lourdes clung to a 68-67 lead.
“Gymnastics gave me flexibility,” he said. “I can contort my body in some ways most other players can’t.”
He also does that in practice sometimes, Santoro said. The shooting guard will break out old tumbling routines to the entertainment of teammates. That, and the soaring dunks.
“We wouldn’t be where we are without those guys, obviously,” Santoro said. “We’re definitely lucky they chose basketball when they did.”
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4