American dream, Euro style

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Sean Johnson is the top scorer and emotional leader. Corey Edwards is the budding star and lockdown defender at point guard.

Dominykas Milka? His role on the Christ the King boys’ basketball team is less defined.

“He’s very happy getting Sean open and Sean knocking down a three,” Royals first-year Coach Joe Arbitello said. “He’s very happy doing the little things with no recognition at all. He wants the team to win and he’s going to do whatever it takes.”

The 6-foot-7 junior forward is the unsung hero of a Christ the King team that ended the regular season with a 21-3 record and is the top seed in next week’s CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens Diocesan playoffs.

So what is Milka’s greatest attribute?

“The fact that he’s not Americaniz­ed,” Arbitello said. “He doesn’t take anything for granted. He goes out and he works in the weight room and over the summer he’s playing for the Metro Hawks, taking charges on concrete trying to get better. He doesn’t know to stop working.”

Arbitello isn’t the only one taking notice.

“They’re very well-balanced, but [Milka] makes everybody better,” legendary Archbishop Molloy Coach Jack Curran said after Milka’s second double-double of the season against the Stanners earlier this month. “He can catch the ball, gets position in the post. He kind of runs their team. He tells everybody else what to do.”

Milka has made great strides since last season, when he was a role player on a team that featured Erving Walker (Florida) and Ryan Pearson (George Mason). He worked with Christ the King trainer Anton Turkovic to sculpt his body and fine-tuned his game with the Metro Hawks.

“This kid, I can say, is really amazing,” Turkovic said. “He’s a very smart, intelligent kid, very hard-working and he’s never satisfied. He’s a kid who never gives up. He always wants more and more.”

Turkovic brought Milka to Robert Moses Park on Long Island in the summer where he had the forward swim in the ocean and run on the beach. Working with Turkovic, a fifth-degree black belt in Budokai and former European and World Champion in full-contact karate, Milka shed about 25 pounds of baby fat.

“I don’t like it, but I know I have to do it because I want to be better,” said Milka, whose father, Kestutis, played professional basketball in Lithuania. “After three hours working out with him, you feel really tired, but he doesn’t take it easy on you. He wants to go harder every day.”

And so does Milka, both on the court and in the classroom. He recently received his grades and was disappointed with his 97 average. He aspires to attend Columbia University “because I think about education first, then basketball,” he said.

“I went down by two points in history from a 95 to a 93,” Milka said. “I was a little bit upset, but that’s OK. I will step up next marking period.”

Milka’s work ethic comes from his upbringing in Lithuania. Like generations of immigrants before him, he brought that attitude with him when he arrived in America 2 ½ years ago.

At the time, Milka couldn’t speak a word of English, but he could play basketball. And after landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport and having dinner at his new house in Ridgewood, Milka went across the street to the park for his unofficial introduction to the United States.

“You don’t have to speak to play basketball,” he said.

Three months later, Milka was enrolled at Christ the King and immediately worked on learning the language.

“My average was really low,” Milka said. “I’m a quick learner, so I’m trying to do better with English, lose my accent.”

That’s fine with Arbitello — as long as Milka doesn’t lose his work ethic.

“He’s not from America and he doesn’t have that swagger that some kids think they’re better than they are,” Arbitello said. “He doesn’t have that and that’s why he’s our MVP.”

Posted 6:36 pm, October 10, 2011
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