Garon Senior has been part of the Riverdale Kingsbridge Academy basketball program for four years and he has seen it all.
He was a freshman when the Tigers won just two of their 15 games to finish in last place and as a sophomore, he witnessed another dead-end season when RKA stumbled through a 2-14 campaign with another cellar-dwelling finish.
But Senior was also there last year as a junior when the RKA program began its turnaround. There was a 9-8 record – five more wins than the two previous seasons combined – and the program’s first playoff appearance in almost a decade.
The Tigers even capped their season with a playoff victory in the first round over Eleanor Roosevelt High School before seeing it all end with a second-round loss to Brooklyn Tech.
But this year the dark days of those first two seasons seem like a lifetime ago to Senior. This year the Tigers logged 15 wins, won the Bronx B1 Division crown and have lost just once since 10 days before Christmas, that being a one-point loss to Jane Addams.
This Tigers team is not one to be taken lightly and the latest opponent to realize that was American Studies after RKA posted a convincing 82-46 victory over the Senators late last week.
“I look back to where we started and where we are now and it was all worth it,” said Senior, who erupted in his final regular-season home game for 25 points and 28 rebounds. “Last year we kind of surprised everyone with that one win in the playoffs and now this year we’re looking to push it even farther. I’m really proud of this team.”
What’s not to be proud of? The Tigers are rolling with a full head of steam into the Public School Athletic League (PSAL) playoffs which will begin late this month after schools return from winter break. They have won 10 of their last 11 games to close the regular season and are as confident a bunch as you will find, starting with Senior.
“I believe we can go as far as any other team in the playoffs,” Senior said. “We’re kind of under the radar but we have a good shot.”
The Tigers didn’t give American Studies much of a shot in their game as RKA jumped on the Senators right from the start and never let up. Senior scored 10 of the Tigers 18 first-quarter points and had 15 points by halftime when RKA held a commanding 33-18 advantage. When William Feldman joined the scoring party in the third quarter, dropping in 10 of his 20 points in the quarter, the Tigers’ lead swelled to 54-32 and Senior’s final home game, ironically coming on Senior Day, was well in hand.
“This game meant a lot to me. I’ve been on the team since my freshman year and the first two years we struggled badly,” Senior said. “So to see this outcome and to have my parents here to celebrate with me meant the world to me. I wanted to win this game for them.”
Tigers head coach John Reingold started his five seniors in the game and the quintet of Senior, Dekorey Wright, Hussien Beydoun, Michael Mejia and Semir Radoncic played the entire first quarter before regulars Feldman, Jaiden Lewis and Jalen Cuello joined the lineup replacing Beydoun, Mejia and Radoncic.
It was a class move by Reingold to give his seniors one last chance to play in front of the home crowd.
“I thought that was really cool, especially it being our last home game,” said Feldman, who scored his 20 points in just three quarters of play. “There were guys who usually don’t get in the game who got to start. It was nice to see that.”
Each of the seniors received a plaque from Reingold and the school in a small pregame ceremony.
“We gave out small trophies to the seniors with their names engraved on them along with the Class of 2017,” Reingold said. “We wanted to do something nice for them.”
While Reingold was happy with the win, he was none too pleased with the Tigers’ overall performance despite the lopsided score.
“I thought we played a C-plus, B-minus game,” Reingold said. “The baskets that we got by imposing our will, you’re not going to get those in the playoffs against good teams. They may have played better than we did today. They moved the ball better and they executed better. But we out-muscled them. We imposed our physical will. Individually we are better than them, man to man. But I don’t think we played all that well. I really don’t.”
To remedy that, Reingold plans on having his Tigers scrimmage against some of the area’s ‘A’ level teams, such as Kennedy and Clinton, to get RKA battle-tested for the upcoming playoffs. And the Tigers say they will be ready when that postseason bell rings later this month.
“We’ve come really far as a program,” Feldman said. “We’ve gone from a team where teams would walk in here and say ‘Easy win’ to one where they fear us now. It’s really great how we’ve turned the program around. I think we’re kind of an unknown and being an unknown is a good thing because people don’t know what to expect from us. I think it will help us in the long run actually being an underdog.”