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Acrobatic Sledge is the show-stopper for Hills West

Hills West's Tavon Sledge (23) drives around Longwood's

Hills West's Tavon Sledge (23) drives around Longwood's Gerald Holmes (21) in the first half. (March 3, 2010) Photo Credit: Photo by Joseph D. Sullivan

If there were a parallel universe for high school point guards, Tavon Sledge of Half Hollow Hills West would be an avatar, best viewed using 3-D glasses. He drives; he dishes; he defends.

Generously listed at 5-9 on the team's roster, Sledge is the dynamo who makes Newsday's No. 1-ranked boys basketball team dynamic. As the Colts (22-0) have surged to the Suffolk Class AA title, determined to earn the school's first trip to Glens Falls, it is the junior Sledge, even more than Tennessee-bound senior Tobias Harris, who has created a buzz among fans on the Long Island basketball scene.

In the Class AA semifinals last Sunday and the final Wednesday night, Sledge treated crowds totaling nearly 8,000 to a series of pyrotechnics that lit up the court at Farmingdale State. Acrobatic layups, daring steals and, to the delight of the crowd last Sunday against Bay Shore, four rim-rocking jams.

Yes, Sledge, with a 40-inch vertical leap, dunks, too. Break out those 4-D glasses.

"We've seen it so much in practice that we go, 'OK, it's just another dunk for Sledge,' " Harris said. "But when the fans see it, they go crazy."

And that's just fine with Sledge. The bigger the stage, the bigger the moment, the bigger the game, the better he likes it. "I said to someone the other day, when the lights go on, here comes Tavon," Hills West coach Bill Mitaritonna said, laughing at what he called an accidental rhyme.

Sledge is second to Harris (25.0) in team scoring, averaging 16.7 points, and leads Hills West in assists (10.6) and steals (3.0). He had 21 points against Bay Shore last Sunday, playing only three quarters in a 96-48 romp, and had 24 points in Wednesday night's thrilling 77-69 victory over relentless Longwood in a game that wasn't decided until the final minute.

"I love big games. Playoff games are always the biggest. I look at it like I've got to play hard all the time because it could be my last game," said Sledge, who transferred to Hills West during the summer after playing for powerful St. Benedict's of Newark last season. "I think it's the crowd that gets me. I like to play in front of big crowds. I love to perform."

In addition to his playoff theatrics, Sledge turned in blockbuster performances in two big-time non-league victories over New York City Catholic powers Bishop Loughlin (21 points, seven assists, two huge overtime layups) and Christ the King (24 points, 12 assists).

"His speed is amazing," Mitaritonna said. "He distributes the ball so well and he's so unselfish that it's easy to play with him. We identified his leadership in December and we put the team on his shoulders, leadership-wise. When there's a big spot, we're going to put the ball in his hands. He's come through game after game."

College coaches have noticed. According to Mitaritonna, Sledge received a scholarship offer from Hofstra the day after the Bishop Loughlin game and another one from West Virginia after the CK contest.

"I'm not worried about college right now," Sledge said. "I've still got to get my grades up. This summer is when I'll start taking the college level seriously."

In the meantime, getting the Colts where they want to go is serious business, too. He has known Harris since he was in the fourth grade, when they were teammates on an all-star team coached by Harris' father. They've played together in summer AAU ball, and Sledge said that when he decided to leave St. Benedict's because of academic reasons, Harris told him about Hills West. It's been a perfect fit.

"On this team, I don't have to shoot all the time. I'd rather get other people involved," Sledge said. "But if it's my time to score or make a big play, I'm always willing."

His will is as evident as his skill. Sledge plays at a breakneck pace, always pushing the ball on offense and attacking it on defense. Fatigue isn't in his vocabulary. He played every exhilarating minute against Longwood.

But Mitaritonna revealed, "He was huffing a little bit in the fourth quarter. He looked at me and I said, 'All right. This timeout's for you.' "

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