NEW YORK, NY - Just over 3 years ago, W.H.E.E.L.S. was beginning their journey to becoming a real basketball program. They were a PSAL Developmental team with high hopes for the future, and a cast of talented young players.
Fast forward to now, and the Wolves are a Class "A" power, and on their way to the Manhattan Borough Championship, after downing Wadleigh on the road in convincing fashion, 65-50.
W.H.E.E.L.S. has been a powerhouse all year long, running through the "A" Division, and taking down a number of "AA" teams along the way, but this is what they have been playing all year for, the chance to get to CCNY and play for the Manhattan title. Only Wadleigh stood in the Wolves way, which in a sense was very fitting.
"When we started our program, Wadleigh was on top of the mountain, and they were the team we were looking at," W.H.E.E.L.S. coach Josh Krinsky said.
They wanted to be Wadleigh, the team that seemingly won Manhattan year after year, and after falling just short of making the Borough's last year, senior guard Eddy Polanco said this has been on the minds of the players ever since.
"We have waited 1 year for this moment. To be here on this court to play Wadleigh for a chance to move on," Polanco said.
They knew it was their time. They displayed confidence from the start with Polanco scoring 12 points in the 1st quarter to take a 4 point edge, but as Wadleigh started to get more confident defensively, things started to change.
David Rispers started to get out in transition and score out on the break, while Chuba Ohams knocked down a pair of threes to give the Tigers the edge. W.H.E.E.L.S. seemed to tense up, with Tyshawn Myles struggling in the paint, and seemingly only Polanco giving them any sort of offense. At the half, Wadleigh was up 34-29, and Polanco said the halftime speech by Krinsky was not a fun one.
"He screamed a lot at us but after he screamed we stepped up and knew what we had to do," Polanco explained.
Krinsky said he was feeling anger at the time that he doesn't even remember what he said in his halftime talk to the team, but he did remember one thing specifically.
"A lot of halftime was yelling at Tyshawn, and I got to say, he responded and dominated the 2nd half."
Dominate Myles did. He tied the game at 36 with a putback off an Emile Lewis miss, and then a beautiful spinning finish, following by a short jump hook gave W.H.E.E.L.S. control.
Wadleigh couldn't answer anything W.H.E.E.L.S. threw at them, while according to coach Joe Hunter, is something he has become accustom to.
"It's a common theme with us in the 3rd quarters this year. We always struggle there," Hunter said. "We could compete with them, but we lack that little bit of character, that player to step up and be a momentum stopper. We just don't have that."
The play by Myles became infectious. Lewis started to bury shots, and use his athleticism to get out and score in transition, while Jason Puello was an underrated star, doing a solid job on the glass as W.H.E.E.L.S. went on 30-4 run from the start of the 3rd to 4:34 left in the 4th quartet to open up an insurmountable 59-38 lead.
Late in the game Myles scored his 1,000th career point to put an exclamation point on the game, as W.H.E.E.L.S. continues to prove they are among the best in NYC, with a dominating 65-50 victory.
Polanco led all scorers in the game with 24 points while also dishing out 7 assists. Myles added 14 points, 14 rebounds, and 4 blocks, while Lewis chipped in 11 points as well.
The 2nd half adjustments really made the difference in this one, and Krinsky after the game seemed to be surprised with just how well those adjustments worked.
"Out whole focus in the 2nd half was keep your man in front of you, and we will get some stops, we will get some run outs, and we will start scoring," Krinsky said. "I didn't think it would work as well as I said it, but I am glad it did."
Wadleigh in defeat was led by the 19 points of Rispers, while star wing Lenny Kadisha was held to just 6 points in the loss.
Hunter understands this team has dealt with a lot this season, having to deal with the loss of head coach Mike Crump who passed away in January unexpectedly, and he wondered after the loss if it's just become too much for this group.
"How many times can you keep rebounding and keep playing off emotion," Hunter asked. "We have a lot of 2nd chance kids who have their own tragedies at home already, so it's just hard to keep an overall focus."
He is keeping a positive mindset though, still believing that something special could happen with this season.
"I'm always gonna believe in the miracle," Hunter said. "If we can make a run great, if not, we just got to get back to work in September and carry on his tradition, but a run in the City Playoffs would really be nice."
The Tigers run in the Manhattan Borough Playoffs has come to an end though as it will be W.H.E.E.L.S. heading to CCNY to take on fellow Class "A" team Frederick Douglass in the title game.
This game had a lot of meaning for many of the Wolves players, especially Myles, who has been with the team from its inception, and to go from where they were, to where they are now, left the Drexel bound big man almost speechless.
"It's an honor and I really can't even put it into words," Myles said with a smile. "You start at the bottom and you start building a better and better program, and to now be in the Manhattan Borough Championship, that's a dream come true to me."