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Adelphi relying on Queens stars for success

He stood in the shadows while students, family and friends stormed the court as one by one, Kendell Craig, Tony Kellman, Dwayne Thompson, Ryan Laul and Ryan McCormick walked up the wooden ladder with scissors in hand, ready to cut down the nylon netting at SUNY-Old Westbury.

Watching the celebration as Adelphi, the No. 1 ranked team in Division II basketball, wrapped up the Northeast Regional crown with a 78-64 victory over second-seeded St. Michael’s March 10, a sense of pride swelled up in Jackson Heights resident Robert “Rebel” Boyd, who opted to soak in the euphoria from a distance.

And Boyd had good reason to be proud. All the players, with the exception of Breezy Point’s McCormack, played for the his Runnin’ Rebels AAU team.

“They’re a great bunch of kids,” Boyd said. “I’m happy for their success. I’m mad I’m not in California with them now.”

Thanks in large part to the contributions of the team’s Queens natives, Adelphi is the lone undefeated team in the nation and bring their impressive 31-0 into its Elite Eight contest against Tampa in a game scheduled for Wednesday in Bakersfield, Calif.

But Thompson remembers where it started.

“Dwayne came up after the game and told me, ‘This wouldn’t be possible without you,” Boyd said.

Thompson, like the others, was under-recruited out of high school. He was lost in the nation-wide recruitment of St. John’s Prep teammate Taliek Brown, who opted for the University of Connecticut. But Boyd spoke to Adelphi coach Jim Ferry a number of times about Thompson and finally the Cambria Heights resident signed with the Panthers.

“I had no idea what I was stepping into,” Thompson said. “I never thought we’d be 31-0. We just have a great chemistry on this team.”

Thompson has appeared in all 31 games for Adelphi, averaging 4.5 points and 4.8 rebounds in 10.1 minutes per game.

While they went to different high schools, Thompson already had a relationship with sophomore Tony Kellman as they attended the same junior high school. Thompson went on to play for Jim Gatto’s Red Storm while Kellman opted to play for another legendary coach, Floyd Bank at Thomas Edison.

The 6-foot-2 sophomore has started 30 of 31 games at shooting guard and averages 9.7 points, four rebounds and is second on the team with 105 assists. But his most important quality, Ferry said, is his ability to play tough, hard-nosed defense.

“We stick Tony Kellman on every team’s best player,” he said after Kellman held St. Michael’s top player Mark Patner to a quiet 19 points.

“I’m playing a lot better than last year,” said Kellman, who had eight points and five assists in the Northeast Regional final win over the Purple Knights. “I’m able to defend better and I can dish pretty good too.”

Craig, an explosive 6-foot-3 forward who has a great shooting touch, also didn’t get the recognition he deserved at Holy Cross High School. The Jamaica native finally came into his own in his senior year after not playing as a junior. By then, many Division I schools were looking elsewhere.

He decided to go to Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, the only school willing to give Craig a scholarship. But he quickly became disinterested at having to be the go-to player as a freshman.

Craig transferred to New York Collegiate Athletic Conference foe Adelphi and is tied with McCormack, averaging a team-high 17.1 points per game, shooting 46.8 from the field and 43.7 from beyond the arc.

“I’ve done OK, but I can do better,” said Craig, who had 15 points and eight boards in the win over St. Michael’s and was named to the All-Northeast Regional team. “I know I just have to work harder. These are the most important games. I have to come out and be strong in these games because we don’t want to be the team to go home.”

Laul, a Glendale resident, has appeared in 28 games for Adelphi, averaging 1.5 points and 0.6 rebounds in 5.6 minutes per game for the Panthers.

And last but not least there’s McCormack, who is the poster boy for someone who has slipped through the cracks. The 5-foot-10 senior point guard went to Xavier High School in Manhattan but never got the chance to make a name for himself in the tough Catholic High School League.

He opted to go to Adelphi and was an instant starter for former coach Steve Clifford and has since blossomed into one of the top players in the country. McCormack averages 17.1 points, 6.3 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game. After being named NYCAC Player of the Year and NYCAC tournament MVP, McCormack garnered Division II Player of the Year honors and was named the MVP of the Northeast Regional, after scoring a game-high 20 points along with five assists and two steals in 36 minutes in the finale against St. Michael’s.

“Queens and Brooklyn make up our whole starting five,” McCormack said. “It is where we get our grittiness and our toughness from. We’re not a Long Island team, we’re New York City players who have that New York City mentality.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

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