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Queens man turns basketball into way of life

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Louis Xifaris involves himself with New York City basketball for 12 months a year.

Xifaris stepped onto the local basketball scene in 1999 with St. Francis of Assisi in a local CYO league. The 21-year-old Astoria resident wanted to prolong the basketball season beyond the school year so he created local all-star teams to compete in leagues and made connections with AAU teams.

Xifaris then joined efforts with Dennis Avilo, another CYO coach, and launched the Rim Rockers, an AAU non-profit Queens basketball organization in April 2001.

“It blew up bigger than we thought it would,” Xifaris said. “We started to get calls to enter leagues, and we traveled around the country with our top players.”

Avilo funded the trips and Xifaris recruited the stars. And he did not have to look far for talent. Xifaris spent the past two years as the assistant freshman coach at Monsignor McClancy, and next season he will be the assistant varsity coach to Don Kent. McClancy faces the best CHSAA programs in the city and goes against such powerhouses as Christ the King and Rice.

Xifaris coaches some of the best high school players in the nation, but he remains an advocate of academics before athletics.

“Some of these kids who are only 13 or 14 years old think they’re the greatest in the world,” Xifaris said. “I still let them know that education should be their top priority. If they struggle in school during the year it becomes difficult to play in tournaments and other leagues because of summer school.”

Xifaris steers his players in the right direction instead of stressing winning as the main objective.

“These kids respect me because I’m around the same age as them,” Xifaris said. “I let them know that it’s very difficult to make it as a player and they’re going to need an education to fall back on.”

Xifaris’ rapport with the local players got him the job at McClancy. His recent promotion is a small step up for Xifaris in his pursuit of one day coaching at the college level.

“I don’t get paid at my jobs so it’s tough, but it doesn’t bother me,” Xifaris said. “I like what I do and I know all my sacrifices will pay off in the future.”

Xifaris plays the role of a compassionate older brother figure to his players. His laid-back demeanor allows the players to run the game the way they want.

“I don’t like to coach during the games,” Xifaris said. “That’s what practices are for. I encourage my guys to speak up during games and coach themselves.”

Xifaris jumps onto the varsity team as a familiar face. Xifaris helped Kent the past two years and knows all the players on the team. However, Xifaris schedules enough action for the Rim Rockers that he does not have time to plan for McClancy’s next season.

The Rim Rockers play in the IS 8 league run by Pete Edwards.

“Every good high school player in the city plays in the IS 8,” Xifaris said.

This past weekend the Rim Rockers competed in the Rumble in the Bronx 17-and-under team tournament at Fordham University. McClancy will also host its own basketball camp from Aug. 11-15 for boys ages 7 to 15.

Xifaris keeps himself busy doing what he loves.

“The best thing about coaching is seeing a boy with nothing improve and hopefully make it to college for free.”

Recently, Xifaris stumbled on a superstar. Xifaris convinced Mohammed Lo, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound 14-year-old who moved to Lefrak City from Africa a few years ago, to join. Xifaris learned of Lo from an inside source.

“I found out about him and went to his place to talk to him,” Xifaris said. “He is a well-mannered and respectful kid. I took a liking to him immediately.”

Lo started this past season on the freshman team, but by the end of the year he was starting for the varsity team.

“He’s a great shot-blocker, and I’m really surprised he’s doing well in the classroom,” Xifaris said. “He’s Americanized really quickly.”

Xifaris talks to Lo everyday. Xifaris knows everybody wants him and he feels it’s his responsibility to look after the next coming of Hakeem Olajuwon.

Xifaris’ manic sports schedule includes time as a baseball coach. Xifaris’ brother Michael is entering his senior year as catcher for St. Francis Prep and is the main reason Xifaris began coaching.

“My brother started playing sports when he was 5, and I tried to help him out,” Xifaris said. “I go to all of his games and I know he has a shot of playing for a Division I team.”

Xifaris coaches Michael on the A.A.C. Clippers, where Xifaris is an assistant. The Clippers are heading to Florida next week for The Diamond Rough Independence Day Tournament.

“I’m more involved with basketball,” Xifaris said. “Once Michael graduates, I’ll be done with baseball.”

Xifaris advises his 17-year-old brother to go away for school.

“I’m 99 percent sure he is going away,” Xifaris said. “He needs to be where he can play baseball year-round.”

Xifaris thrives for a long and eventful coaching career. His outgoing personality has won him his share of friends.

“People remember me because of my personality,” Xifaris said. “I’m always on the phone making connections and friends.”

Xifaris is an area guy ready to go national.

Reach reporter Everett Fell by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

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