If the opinion of one first-time visitor speaks for the majority, then attach a Grade-A to the 22nd edition of the Mirabito STOP-DWI Holiday Classic.
“It’s been a great combination of education and basketball,” said Jeff Zownir, coach of St. Michael’s College School in Toronto. The Blue Raiders won two of three games at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena, but moreover were among those who absorbed the event’s greater purpose.
“Absolutely,” Zownir said. “The coach from Kentucky during a breakfast was talking about his crash, you could hear a pin drop in that room. It’s an emotional story, but it showed the respect that not only our kids but all the kids in the tournament had.”
He referenced coach Jason Booher of Covington (Ky.) Holmes, who at age 13 survived what is acknowledged as the deadliest drunk-driving crash in United States history.
“Let’s face it, kids that age can very easily get distracted and start talking and joking and not paying attention,” Zownir said. “But for 30 minutes they listened to that guy and you could hear a pin drop. I think the message is very, very good.”
Christ The King coach Joe Arbitello was a repeat participant, and well-versed on what was to come. This time, he saw to it the Queens-based school’s president was part of the traveling contingent.
“I thought it was important for him to see that we don’t just go to tournaments and play basketball,” Arbitello said. “Most tournaments don’t have any kind of academic element to them, or any kind of message, it’s just basketball-basketball-basketball. But you can get that in your league. So I thought it was important to come up here.”
He added, “I would love to come here every year, honestly. Every year there’s something different in that 8:30 a.m. meeting, things you just don’t forget. Maybe when kids are about to make a bad decision those things do pop into their head.”
The basketball element of the tournament concluded with a highly entertaining contest pitting last season’s Class AA State Federation finalists against one another.
As was the case last March in Albany, Christ The King got the better of Long Island Lutheran, this time by 56-53 after escaping a 16-point, second-quarter hole. The Royals’ fourth championship in this event came by a combined seven-point margin of victory.
The finale was reflective of play in the eight-team National Division as a whole, which this year was showcase for arguably the finest gathering of talented underclassmen — including one super freshman — this event has hosted.
Rawle Alkins of Christ The King joined fellow sophomore Devonte Green on the all-tournament team; Christ The King big man Adonis Delarosa was the lone senior selected to the 10-player all-tournament team. A third 10th-grader named was Poly Prep point guard Wolfgang Novogratz.
Devonte Green is the younger brother of San Antonio Spurs swingman Danny Green.
As impressive as any of the youngsters was 14-year-old Danilo Djuricic, a multi-faceted 6-foot-6 St. Michael’s forward whose name figures to race to the head of many high-level collegiate programs’ long-term recruiting lists.
“He’s one of those naturally gifted kids who is a very good learner, he picks things up, he wants to get better, he’s always asking for suggestions,” Zownir said.
The National Division final pitted New York’s third- and sixth-ranked Class AA teams against one another. In Regional Division I, Maine-Endwell dropped 16th-ranked and previously unbeaten AA power Fayetteville Manlius. Norwich, 10th in Class B, got by Class D No. 1 New York Mills in the Regional Division II title game.
Dynamic junior guard James “Beetle” Bolden of Covington Holmes led tournament scorers with 25.7 per game, and topped all 3-point shooters with nine conversions. Second-best scorer was MVP Travis Atson of Christ The King with a 20-point average, and Lutheran’s Green was next-best with eight 3-pointers.
Bolden — who converted 24 of 27 free throws at the Arena — rang up a 77-point total that leaves him a share of 11th place on the all-time tournament list. All-time No. 1 remains Jahii Carson of Mesa, Ariz., who scored 109 points in the 2010 Classic. Carson is presently a 19.6-per-game scorer as a 5-foot-10 sophomore at Arizona State University.