BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — After winning its first state championship since 1987, the Shenendehowa boys basketball team took one day off before getting back to work preparing for the Federation Tournament of Champions.
Sunday, Plainsmen head coach Tony Dzikas had downplayed the significance of the end-of-season tournament that starts today at the University at Albany’s SEFCU Arena. But after a couple days to celebrate Shenendehowa’s state title, Dzikas said his team’s practices this week were as hungry in spirit as usual.
“The Federation Tournament, it’s a great honor to play in it and there’s going to be high-level competition,” said Dzikas. “We want to be ready, and we’ll be ready to play some of the best teams in the state.”
Shenendehowa — ranked No. 3 in the state — will play top-ranked Wings Academy of the PSAL tonight at 7 p.m. Wings Academy is located in the Bronx and has used a star-studded lineup to push to a 28-2 record this season.
While Shenendehowa has used its ample supply of big bodies and the excellence of junior guard Kevin Huerter to win its first 25 games of the season, Wings Academy is unlike any team the Plainsmen have seen in 2014-15. Wings Academy has a variety of high-end talent in players such as Hofstra-bound senior guard Desure Buie and Georgetown-bound senior center Jessie Govan — who, at 6-foot-11, will easily be the tallest player Shenendehowa has gone up against this season.
Plainsmen senior guard Thomas Huerter said his club knows nothing will be easy against Wings Academy, which knocked off perennial powerhouse Cardozo to clinch a spot in tonight’s game.
“But we want to play our game, the way we’ve been playing all year, and if things don’t work out, they don’t work out,” said Thomas Huerter. “We’ve got nothing to lose.”
“We’re excited to be there and we know we’re going to have the support of our community,” said Dzikas, whose Plainsmen will be a de facto home team for tonight’s game.
The winner of tonight’s game will play either Christ the King or Long Island Lutheran Saturday, back at UAlbany, in the 9 p.m. championship game. While he expects most to have his team as as an underdog tonight, Thomas Huerter said his team’s nothing-to-lose attitude will help it.
“We think that if we play well, we can win some games,” he said.
Shenendehowa has only played in the Federation once before in program history, falling to Archbishop Molloy in 1987. Dzikas was at that game to watch, and said he remembered getting then-Archbishop Molloy star Kenny Anderson — who later played at UNLV and in the NBA — to autograph his hot dog wrapper that night.
“But I lost it before I ever got home,” Dzikas said.