Storied LaSalle program looking for next stars

BY ROBERT ELKIN  |  Let’s turn the clock back in high school basketball history and ask ourselves who are some of the greatest players ever to come out of the Catholic High School Athletic Association of New York City.

There are too many great ones to single out anyone. However, one hoop buff can’t leave out two players who eventually starred in the National Basketball Association where they made names for themselves. And they both played in different eras.

They are guard Dick McGuire and forward Ron Artest, now known as Metta World Peace. The latter played for six teams in the NBA, including the New York Knicks. And they both came out of LaSalle Academy.

But one can’t forget Jarrel Joye, the school’s all-time leading scorer, and Shammgod Wells, and still another ex-LaSalle sensation, John Candelaria, who was more known for his baseball ability than for basketball. Probably, Candaleria is the greatest multiple-sports athlete produced at LaSalle, for he excelled in basketball, too.

Is there another great player on the way? Right now there aren’t any marquee players on the roster of the boy’s varsity basketball team at LaSalle. They are all about evenly matched. But one never knows if a star is in the making.

“We hope that another All-American or even just a great player is on the way,” said Jerome Pannell, in his first year as head varsity coach at LaSalle, speaking before a recent afternoon practice session. “We are really young and we have a deep freshman class.

“We hope again that we can produce high-level student-athletes, and multiple-sports athletes, and guys who can go to the next level and have great success, as well.”

Pannell’s current starting roster includes seniors Brian Bass and Stephon Riley, Junior Traigan James and Sophomores J’ne Williams and Bryce Council.

Last winter, Bass scored at a 20-point-a-game clip and Riley went for about nine rebounds a game last winter. Including Bass, who is an All-City candidate, the Cardinals return four players from last year’s team.

“Guard play is a major strength on this year’s team,” said Pannell, a graduate of Cathedral Prep High School and City College of New York.

Regarding their offense, he said, “We have a number of shooters. Shooting and team quickness are our other strengths. And our taller players have good speed and are versatile.

“Defensively, we should be tough,” he added. “We’ll most likely play man-to-man defense. Our weakness is that we turn the ball over too much. Our youth can be a weakness. We are inexperienced on the varsity level. As a team we are coming together.”

Despite having an extensive background coaching basketball at different levels and organizations and working at summer camps, Pannell is in his first year of coaching a high school varsity basketball team.

“Coaching is still very new,” said Pannell, 36. “It’s different because you are running an entire program, as opposed to organizing one team. It’s trying to establish a new foundation…and not just rebuilding. It’s trying to make something sustainable in terms of rebuilding.”

Pannell named Bass and swingman Adrian Corbin as co-captains.

“Hearing that players like Ron Artest came out of LaSalle induced me to come here,” said Bass.

“I think that we’ll go far this year,” Corbin added.

“We have a good group of kids who want to learn,” Pannell summed up. “I’m excited.”