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CK star finds a summer home

Cigi McCollin was about to begin the most important summer of her high school career and the soon-to-be senior guard at Christ the King was without a summer basketball team.

The Astoria resident was a member of the prestigious Liberty Belles — the girls’ basketball version of Riverside Church, Long Island Panthers and the Gauchos all rolled into one — but her family could no longer afford the team’s $1,600 fee.

“It was tough. A lot of coaches who were looking at me, sending me mail asked me if I was still with the Liberty Belles,” McCollin said. “And when I said ‘no’ they were surprised.”

Without the Liberty Belles, who are headed by Christ the King girls’ assistant coach Jill Cook, McCollin didn’t have a vehicle to showcase her basketball skills to a slew of coaches. Thankfully for the Astoria resident, the New York City Heat was formed.

It was another Christ the King basketball coach, Artie Cox, the assistant boys’ basketball team coach, who founded the Heat as part of his brand new Save Our Neighborhoods Develop America’s Youth Foundation.

The foundation, set up just five months ago, is the brainchild of Cox, who wanted to give girls’ basketball players like McCollin an additional outlet to showcase their talent.

“We wanted to give them more opportunity or another option,” said Cox. “It’s a better situation for Cigi.”

The NYC Heat, coached by longtime AAU coach Kevin White, is comprised mostly of players from the Rising Stars AAU team and the Liberty Belles, including McCollin and her Christ the King teammate Chanel Moore as well as Francis Lewis forward Alanna Adams. In addition to the high school team, there are also three other NYC Heat teams for players ranging in age from 12 to 15.

“We’ve all played together,” McCollin said. “We all know each other from either playing with or against each other in high school or in AAU ball.”

Added Adams: “We’re basically an all-city team. It’s just a matter of making a name for ourselves even though we haven’t had the status of a longtime program like the Liberty Belles.”

Despite being the new kid on the block, the Heat will play in some of the top AAU girls’ basketball tournaments, such as the Blue Chip USA Invitational at Penn State University from July 16-19, the U.S. Junior Nationals in Washington, D.C. from July 20-25 and the Nike Invitational Tournament in Chicago from July 26-28.

“I want colleges to look at me,” said Adams, who is entering her junior year at Francis Lewis. “I want to get out of New York and go somewhere different. With this team, I can do that.”

And then there’s the price. Just how much cheaper is the NYC Heat compared to the Liberty Belles? One hundred percent, thanks to a generous donationfrom former Christ the King star and current Washington Mystics standout Chamique Holdsclaw, an Astoria native.

“We held a raffle and did some fund-raising,” said Cox, who has raised enough money to pay for the hotel rooms and airline tickets for the team’s upcoming trips. “We try and keep the cost to the bare minimum. If they ever have to pay, its just for the pure need of the program.”

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

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