College basketball seniors from across the country convened at Long Island Lutheran on Saturday for the fourth annual Gotham Hoops Invitational, playing games in which they hoped to stand out against the competition and draw looks from professional overseas franchises.
Among the 36 participants were eight with Long Island ties: Hofstra’s Brian Bernardi and Deron Powers, Dix Hills’ Emile Blackman, SUNY Old Westbury’s Jamail Stanley, Molloy’s Jaylen Morris, Valley Stream’s Diego Maldonado, Hempstead’s Tidell Pierre and Adelphi’s Chris Millender.
The highlight of the day came in the second semifinal. With his team trailing by one, Maldonado hit a leaning three-pointer from near halfcourt to beat the buzzer. The Queens College point guard found himself at the bottom of a dogpile with his teammates, six of whom played Division I basketball and two of whom — Columbia’s Conor Voss and Rutgers’ C.J. Gettys — were 7-footers.
“These guys are bigger (than Division II),” Maldonado said. “From 1 to 5, they’re bigger, taller. You could definitely see the speed of the game is a lot faster. It’s fun. It’s what I expected. I knew a lot of D-I guys were going to be here so I had to bring my A game.”
Morris also stood out in the second semifinal. His three-point shooting and playmaking were keys to the comeback that set up Maldonado’s winner.
“Speaking for all of Division II, I feel like we match up good (with the Division I players),” Morris said. “Towards the end of our D-II careers we feel like we could play D-I. Most times the thing is just coming on the court with a bunch of brand new guys who don’t know how to play with one another. That’s probably the most challenging part. Other than that you’re just playing basketball.”
As for the Division I players, Blackman, who played his senior season at Duquesne, displayed his scoring ability and athleticism.
Bernardi and Powers guarded each other for a few possessions in their semifinal matchup. The two Hofstra guards impressed during stretches, Bernardi with his shooting and Powers with his speed and playmaking.
“I knew all his moves so as soon as he came on the court I was like I got him, I got him,” Powers said. “I know what he’s going to do, so that was pretty fun.”