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Queens hoopsters flaunt talent at annual City Game

Brian Kelly wanted some exposure.

Sounds strange considering as a senior on the Archbishop Molloy boys’ basketball team, the 6-foot-2 swingman from Rockaway played against some of the elite teams in the country in front of some of the biggest Division I college coaches around.

But they weren’t there to see him. Instead teammates Marlon Smith and Sundiata Gaines garnered most of the attention, as Kelly played limited minutes.

On Tuesday night, Kelly was one of the top attractions on the court at Hunter College in the 33rd Annual City Game, an annual exposure game for New York City high school seniors who are at least partial academic qualifiers, but have yet to pick a college.

In front of about a dozen local Division II and III coaches, Kelly scored 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting, grabbed 4 rebounds and had 2 steals.

“I love the idea of the game,” said Kelly, who averaged 6 points and 2.3 assists per game as the third man off the Molloy bench. “Coaches have an opportunity to see me now. It’s a great game, it serves its purpose well.”

Kelly, who has a 94 average and scored 1,300 on the SAT, was one of 20 players who have, for one reason or another, flown under the radar.

Munir Nourreddine is another one of those players. Despite averaging 18.3 points, 5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game as a starter at Bryant, the hard-working 6-foot-1 guard didn’t get noticed as much as players from higher profile programs.

“It’s like a second chance,” said the Astoria resident, who had 18 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. “It’s a great opportunity to show what you have if you didn’t do it during the regular season.”

Local college coaches agree.

“The Wheelchair Classic gets a lot of the publicity, but there’s enough good kids around for another game,” said Jim Pitman, an assistant coach at Adelphi, who is also the head boys’ basketball coach at John Adams. “It’s a well run event and is something the kids will always remember.”

Before there was a McDonald’s All-American game or a Wheelchair Classic, there was the City Game, joining the Dapper Dan Roundball Classic in Pittsburgh as the only high school all-star games in 1970.

At the time the game pitted the Catholic and the private schools against the best public school players and featured former NBA players Albert and Bernard King and Sidney Green.

After the NCAA restricted participation in all-star games to a choice of just two, the City Game changed its focus in 1982.

“If we help a few players make contact with a school and help them further their education then the game served its purpose,” said recruiting guru Tom Konchalski, editor of High School Basketball Illustrated and the chairperson of the boys’ game since 1982.

With Division I coaches prohibited from attending due to the NCAA’s strict limitation on recruiting, the game in recent years have become a showcase for local Division II and III coaches to find that missing piece of the puzzle.

Former Edison standout Tony Kellman played in the City Game before signing with Adelphi. Holy Cross grad Kendall Craig, who started at Mercy before transferring to Adelphi, also made his mark in the game.

“Tom does a great job,” said Queens College men’s basketball coach Kyrk Peponakis. “It’s a great opportunity for the kids who fell through the recruiting cracks.”

Bishop Loughlin’s Courtney Johnson was named the game’s MVP, with 17 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals. Cathedral Prep co-captain Brett Wierzbicki, Molloy's Otoja Abit and Jake Choi from Newtown also played in the game.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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