It was an unusual sight, to say the least.
Teammates hooted and cheered as James Anozie, with the court to himself, took off for a dunk attempt.
And then another. And another.
He missed the first three. With each clang off the front rim, tension built and concern raised.
Here was an athletic 6-foot-5 standout, the centerpiece of the Our Lady of Lourdes High School boys basketball team, and a senior widely recognized as the most dominant player in this area.
Teammates playfully ribbed him about the botched dunk attempts after Wednesday’s practice. After all, they’ve grown accustomed to seeing him hammer down tomahawks with ease.
So, what gives?
“After all that running, I didn’t have much left in my legs,” Anozie conceded. “I wanted to throw it down, but I couldn’t elevate that well.”
All that running left him drained late in the practice session. It was a byproduct of the broken ankle he suffered in June.
Anozie, who was named the Journal’s Player of the Year as a junior, spent three months this summer recuperating from the injury and it came at the expense of his conditioning.
During AAU basketball competition, Anozie said, he leaped and landed awkwardly, fracturing the right ankle. He spent two months in a walking boot, unable to do much physical activity.
“The injury set him back a good few months,” Lourdes coach Jim Santoro said. “We didn’t get him back until a week before tryouts.”
While out, Anozie said he often sat in a chair, shooting free throws to practice his form. Occasionally, he attempted to shoot while standing, but couldn’t for long.
He’s healthy now but did gain 10 pounds during the time off — he now weighs about 240 — and conditioning, for now, is the priority. Now as in “right now,” he said. “I’ve got about two weeks to cram and get ready.”
The Warriors open the season on Dec. 6, visiting Yorktown.
By then, Santoro said, the rust will be shaken and “he won’t be huffing and puffing anymore.”
Anozie last season averaged 25 points and 11 rebounds and shot 64 percent from the field, proving at times an unstoppable force. The center led Lourdes to the Section 1 Class A semifinals. En route, he scored a career-high 40 points against Marlboro and notched his 1,000th point on Feb. 5.
“Not to sound arrogant,” Anozie said, “but I don’t think teams can defend me in the post.”
That was despite operating against constant double teams and being the focus of opposing defenses.
“When he gets down low it’s almost automatic,” teammate John Arceri said. “He’s an all-around great athlete and he makes power moves.”
Nifty ones, too.
With an “unpredictable” first step, the strength and frame to muscle inside for position, and an uncanny ability to finish around the basket, Santoro said Anozie was “the best offensive player in the county.”
The Dutchess County Basketball Coaches Association named him the county’s best player, period, presenting him its Bob Stauderman Award.
The team has set big goals for itself. A number of players, and the coach, believe the Warriors can get as far as the state tournament.
Kevin Townes, an athletic wing with good range, is poised for a breakout season, Santoro said. Arceri, a shooting guard, insists his on-the-ball pressure defense has improved.
Corey Mullaly, a star on the football and lacrosse teams, will make his debut on the varsity basketball team this season. At 6-foot-2 with good athleticism and physicality, Anozie said, Mullaly will “surprise a lot of teams with how good he is.” The Warriors also return forward Avery Liu, an international student from China.
Of himself, Anozie said, his individual goals include averages of 30 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks. Quite lofty.
“He was a monster last year,” Santoro said. “For him to top that would be difficult, but I think he can maintain it.”
Anozie disagreed, insisting he has the potential to do more. As well, he said, he will focus on becoming a smarter passer out of double teams and “make teams realize that all our guys are threats to score.”
Where he should benefit, Santoro said, is having greater knowledge of how teams will look to guard him and, with that, a better understanding of how to counter.
“He’s amazing,” Mullaly said of Anozie, a friend whom he described as jovial. “He’s strong, quick and can finish with either hand at the basket. That’s hard to deal with. In fact, he can even shoot threes.”
Anozie has hit a few deep shots before but, he said, for the sake of his coach’s blood pressure, those will be taken only on occasion.
Unlike his chicken parmigiana dinners. Those, teammates said, are a constant for Anozie. He called the meal “the best thing ever.” Arceri said it’s “the key” to the big fella’s success and part of his pre-game routine.
For as much acclaim as he has garnered, Anozie still is uncertain if he wants to play basketball beyond high school. The decision, he said, will likely be made by season’s end.
“There are a ton of (college) coaches who would love to have him,” Santoro said. “It’s just a matter of what he wants to do.”
Anozie said that he has considered, for some time, simply attending college as a student and focusing on science. He aspires to become a pharmacist, following in the footsteps of his mother, Patricia Anozie.
“It’s a good profession that allows you to help people,” he said. “Plus I’m really, really good at science.”
But about those dunks…
“In two weeks,” he promised. “When my legs are fresh, they’ll get as many dunks from me as they want.”
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4