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History of LI Basketball / New York State of Mind / Tourney, dormant for years, has become goal for LI teams

THE HINDSIGHT of time isn't always needed to elevate an event to

larger-than-life proportions. Anyone who saw Amityville senior Jason Fraser

hoist the wooden New York-shaped championship plaque high over his 6-10 frame

at the Glens Falls Civic Center knew they were bearing witness to history. It

came in the exhilarating moments after Amityville's 67-57 victory over

Peekskill on Sunday for the state public schools Class B title.

Even though Fraser, the state player of the year, has his performances

graded via the Internet and is being talked up as a possible NBA draft choice

out of high school, he stood among a crowd of reporters at the Civic Center as

an 18-year-old awed by the experience. "This third championship is the best,"

he said. "I found myself getting emotional on the court. But I really won't be

able to savor this until it's all over."

Amityville's victory was the culmination of an epic three-year championship

run. When the modern state tournament concludes its 25th anniversary season

with the Federation Final Four, which begins today in Glens Falls, the Warriors

will be there to defend their Class B crown. Three other Long Island programs

with a championship past - Lawrence Woodmere Academy, Long Island Lutheran and

St. Mary's - hope to add to their own legacies.

State champions have been crowned as far back as 1922, in an era before

basketball became big business. Amityville represents how far the game has

come. The Warriors are a nationally ranked power, have played in

corporate-sponsored tournaments before big crowds at impressive arenas, are

outfitted by adidas and boast a McDonald's All-American in Fraser. But there

has been no more majestic stage than the state Final Four. Long Island has

produced an impressive 27 public schools and 16 Federation champions since

1978, and the tournament raised the profile of New York basketball to elite

status.

What would it have meant to such standouts as Kenny Anderson (Molloy,

1987), Elton Brand (Peekskill, 1997), Mark Jackson (Loughlin, 1983) and Chris

Mullin (Xaverian, 1981) to have missed playing in the Final Four? But several

generations of athletes never were able to take part in what has become a rite

of passage.

Syracuse Central won the first state title in 1922 behind Victor A. Hanson,

who went on to become a three-sport All- American at Syracuse University. But

the state tournament was shuttered amid scandal in 1929.

"Schools were using overage students and bringing them back in to play,"

said Alton Doyle, 77, the executive director of NYSPHSAA from 1975-1990.

"Gambling was big, involving the fans of the towns the kids represented.

"There were a lot of violations of the rules," he added, "and people felt

the state tournament was causing that."

Walter Eaton Jr., the assistant state director, said: "Once it was exposed,

the state shut the tournament down. It took a good 20 years for the memory of

the scandal to pass. So when the idea of a state tournament finally came up

again, the question was asked, 'What can we do to do it right?'"

A statewide tournament didn't become a reality again until after the state

education department approved it, provided enough schools participated, Doyle

said. After one season that ended with state quarterfinals and a second that

concluded with state semifinals, the first state public schools championship

game in 49 years was played in Rochester in 1978.

One year later, the state Federation tournament - pitting the champions

from the public schools, the Catholic schools, the New York City public schools

and the independent schools in six enrollment-based classifications - was born.

"The county tournament used to be such a big thing from the 1960s to the

mid-'70s when the state tournament took over," said East Hampton coach Ed

Petrie, who owns a 613-226 record in 43 seasons. "Now it's been diminished. The

county championship has lost the glitter it once had."

Even the state tournament has undergone several changes in the years since.

In 1981 the two tournaments merged into one, was pared to four classifications

and was relocated to its current home in Glens Falls. A public schools Eastern

and Western representative would meet in the Federation semifinals, with the

winner crowned state public schools champion.

The tournament took on separate identities again in 1988. The public

schools Final Four and the Federation tournament now are played on back-to-back

weekends in March.

"The quality of play is far more consistent," said longtime game announcer

Bill Wetherbee. "It used to be one or two teams were the class of their fields.

Virtually any team has a legitimate shot at a title now."

Today's state tournament is all about opportunity. It's not just a cash

windfall for the state association, it has helped foster competition in other

sports. Eaton said revenue from the two boys basketball tournaments bankrolls

up to five championships in other sports. And its success prompted the state to

create playoffs in other high-profile sports such as boys and girls soccer and

football.

"It's important we're successful," state boys basketball chairman Bill

Higgins said. "This tournament carries other state tournaments."

Long Island's postseason tradition runs deep, from the first meeting of

county champions 80 years ago to Patchogue's berth in the state final in 1925.

In the many decades since, several unforgettable athletes and dynastic programs

have left their imprint on the game. Amityville comes to mind, but not even

the Warriors can compare to the Killer Bees of Bridgehampton, winners of eight

state Class D titles since the modern era began in 1978, including two

three-peats.

The school that produced Hall of Fame outfielder Carl Yastrzemski, a noted

hoops star in his day, also spun out Carl Johnson, Troy Bowe and Maurice

Manning. Johnson, who has coached the Killer Bees since 1992, was a dynamic

guard and the spark behind Bridgehampton's three state public schools

championship teams from 1978-80. Even though he coached the Killer Bees to a

three-peat on the public school level from 1996-98, Johnson's fondest memory is

still his first Final Four in '78. Because the Class D title game was

scheduled before the other finals that season, Bridgehampton actually became

the first team since Albany High School in 1929 to revel in the overwhelming

feeling of earning a championship.

With success comes expectations. "I feel there's a burden on my shoulders,"

Johnson said. "I'm the keeper of the program. My uncles and cousins played

here. As a little boy, I couldn't wait to wear that black and gold uniform.

Every team here is measured by winning a state title. Even if you have a great

year, it's not a success unless you win a state title."

Johnson was the first in a long line of standouts to take home a

championship. Manning not only led Bridgehampton to three straight titles in

the 1990s, he was a three-time Final Four MVP. Unfortunately for Bridgehampton,

the Federation discontinued its Class D bracket in the 1986 season because of

a lack of participants.

"Bridgehampton was always dominant and always fun to watch," state

basketball statistician Bill Mehleisen said. "People enjoyed seeing them in

Glens Falls and hoped they'd get up here."

Bridgehampton hasn't been the only regular. Not only has Long Island

Lutheran felt right at home playing in the Federation tournament, it's the lone

program to win titles in three classifications: Class C in 1981-82, Class B in

1994 and Class A in 1997. The Crusaders have made 16 trips to the tournament,

falling to CHSAA champ St. Anthony's, 44-36, in the Class AAA semifinal in 1979

in their first excursion and qualifying again this year. Bill Wennington (who

spent 13 years in the NBA after playing at St. John's) was named tournament MVP

after taking Lutheran all the way in '81.

Perhaps the greatest run of all was Westhampton's in 1998. Led by energetic

point guard Dale Menendez, Westhampton went 28-0 and captured the state

Federation Class B title.

"No Long Island team had ever gone 28-0," Long Island basketball historian

George Davila said. "Westhampton has that claim. There have been other great

teams that have gone undefeated like Babylon . But there was no state

tournament then. There was no opportunity."

What would Fraser's legacy be without three triumphant postseason runs? He

owns a remarkable 10-1 record in Glens Falls over three seasons, with one final

game remaining this weekend.

Other great players also have made their reputations at the Final Four.

Hempstead, winner of three state public schools Class A championships, owes

much of its success to Kyle Ivey-Jones. The program's all-time scoring leader

with 1,701 points, Jones won four Long Island titles and was named state

tournament MVP after leading the Tigers to back-to-back state championships in

1989-90.

Another prolific scorer cemented his status as one of Long Island's greats

with a trip to Glens Falls. Kenny Wood, the all-time leading scorer among state

public school players with 2,613, capped his five-year career in 1989 by

delivering a state public schools Class B title to East Hampton.

Seventeen years after Barry Baker led Wyandanch to its second straight

state public schools Class C title in 1982, another Barry Baker returned

upstate. The younger Baker led North Babylon to the state Class A semifinals in

1999. Both father and son were named to the all-tournament team.

There were thrilling finishes, too. Hempstead sophomore Norris Bell hit the

defining shot of his career and earned MVP honors in the 1993 state public

schools Class A final. His buzzer-beating bucket sank Mount Vernon, 55-54.

Bell, now 26, still watches a tape of the game on a regular basis. "That

was a set play we always ran," said Bell, who lives in Atlanta. "Throughout the

whole year I never got it right. That day it finally paid off. I was on top of

the world."

Mount Vernon exacted some revenge against Longwood in the 2000 state Class

A final. Greg Jenkins tapped in a miss by Ben Gordon (now in the NCAA

Tournament with Connecticut) to force overtime. Replays showed Jenkins didn't

get his shot off until after the buzzer sounded. Mount Vernon pulled away in

OT, 76-69.

They are just some of the many memories fashioned by Long Islanders in high

school's version of March madness. Who will create the next notable moment?

Janet Paskin contributed to this story.

LONG ISLAND STATE CHAMPIONS

Boys Champions

STATE PUBLIC SCHOOLS

1978-Class C: Pierson;

D: Bridgehampton.

1979-Class A: Malverne;

D: Bridgehampton.

1980-Class A: Ward Melville;

B: Bellport; D: Bridgehampton.

1981-Class B: Malverne;

C: Wyandanch.

1982-Class C: Wyandanch.

1983-Class A: North Babylon.

1984-Class D: Bridgehampton.

1985-Class B: Westbury;

C: Wheatley.

1986-Class B: Manhasset;

D: Bridgehampton.

1989-Class A: Hempstead;

B: East Hampton.

1990-Class A: Hempstead.

1993-Class A: Hempstead.

1996-Class D: Bridgehampton.

1997-Class D: Bridgehampton.

1998-Class B: Westhampton;

D: Bridgehampton.

1999-Class B: Southampton.

2000 - Class B: Amityville.

2001 - Class B: Amityville.

2002 - Class B: Amityville.

STATE FEDERATION

1979 - Class AAA: St. Anthony's;

A: St. Agnes.

1980 - Class A: Holy Trinity;

C: St. Dominic; D: Bridgehampton.

1981 - Class B: Malverne;

C: Long Island Lutheran.

1982 - Class C: L.I. Lutheran.

1983 - Class A: North Babylon.

1984 - Class D: Bridgehampton.

1986 - Class D: Bridgehampton.

1994 - Class B: L.I. Lutheran.

1997 - Class A: L.I. Lutheran;

B: St. Dominic.

1998 - Class B: Westhampton.

1999 - Class C: Lawrence

Woodmere Academy.

2000 - Class B: St. Mary's.

2001 - Class B: Amityville.

Girls Champions

STATE PUBLIC SCHOOLS

1981-Class C: Wyandanch

1982-Class A: Hempstead

1983-Class B: Westbury;

C: Wyandanch.

1984 - Class A: Sachem.

1985 - Class A: Mercy.

1987-Class C: Wyandanch.

1995 - Class A: Sachem.

STATE FEDERATION

1982 - Class A: Hempstead.

1983 - Class B: Westbury;

C: Wyandanch.

1986 - Class B: St. Mary's.

1987 - Class C: Wyandanch.

1989 - Class C: St. Dominic.

1991 - Class D: Our Lady of Mercy.

1996 - Class B: St. Dominic.

2001 - Class D: Kellenberg.

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