The Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy boys basketball team was last seen in February, walking off the court as losers in a Public School Athletic League first-round playoff game.
It was a stunning defeat for the Tigers, who went into the game as the tournament’s seventh-seeded team against the No. 26 High School for Economics and Finance. It was a heartbreaking one-point loss for RKA — especially after entering the fourth quarter with a 10-point lead on its home court.
“Every practice we talk about it,” senior guard Will Feldman said. “We know we should not have lost that game last year, and we use that as motivation in every game to play better and always work hard.”
The Tigers made a vow as a team to learn from that disheartening defeat. And if the early returns on this season are any indication, they have absorbed valuable lessons from that day last winter.
In the Tigers first two games of the season, they hung a 69-point win on the Academy for Language and Technology in the season opener. And most recently, RKA knocked off rival American Studies, 81-62, in a game that was not nearly as close as the score would indicate.
The Tigers (2-0) led 25-7 after the first quarter and 44-18 at the half, never letting the Senators get closer than 19 points the rest of the way. They held leads as large as 35 points several times in the game.
There was a pair of dominating performances in the victory over American Studies —Feldman poured in 35 points with 10 assists in the win. But maybe the bigger contribution came from the 6-foot-7 Justin Quinn, whose size and improved play around the basket has given the Tigers a whole new dimension this season.
“I’ve put in a lot of work,” said Quinn, who logged 15 points with 14 rebounds for his second straight double-double. “I worked with my father and I worked with my team in the summer, and we also had tournaments in the fall.”
Quinn’s vast improvement has not gone unnoticed by his teammates.
“That’s a big man,” Feldman said. “He worked a lot over the summer, and he’s becoming a beast. The work he’s done is finally paying off for him.”
RKA head coach John Reingold has also liked what he’s seen so far from his blossoming big man.
“His feet and his hands have gotten better, and he’s gotten a little more confident in his body, and it’s nice to see,” Reingold said of Quinn. “He’s put in a lot of work since last year, and it’s real nice to see the growth.”
Quinn’s outing against American Studies was a solid one for sure, but it paled in comparison to his performance on opening day when he torched Language and Technology for 22 points and 21 rebounds, including 10 on the offensive end. It’s a giant leap in production from last season.
“I’ve improved in getting rebounds,” Quinn said. “When I was a rookie last year, I couldn’t get most offensive rebounds, and now I can. And my shots and free throws are getting much better.”
That’s not exactly good news for the rest of the Bronx B-1 Division, which the Tigers laid claim to last season with a 15-2 mark. Now with Quinn growing into his game, with up-and-comer Kai Parris improving and Feldman and senior Jaiden Lewis — who had 17 points and six rebounds against American Studies — forming a seasoned backcourt, might we be looking at a team that is on the road to repeat as division champs?
“I want to say so,” Feldman said. “Teams come in here and they know what we’re about, that we’re a good team and we’re only going to get better.”
Reingold tempered expectations just a bit.
“I don’t know the other teams yet, but I like what we have,” the coach said. “Our weakness is that we have a short bench, but I do love this team.”
Time will tell where this RKA team winds up. But one thing is for sure, these Tigers won’t let up at the end of games like they did in the playoffs last year.
“We know last year we choked,” Feldman said. “There’s no other way to put it, we choked. But this year we’re more of a team.
“We’re more together and I really think that’s going to help us at the end of games this year.”