That’s why getting bounced in the Catholic League quarterfinals in last year’s postseason served as a disappointment.
This time, the Royals enter with more talent, confidence, and maturity from last season. The Middle Village-based team began their 2017-18 campaign on December 1, losing to last year’s CHSAA Champion, Cardinal Hayes, 84-64, but turned around to defeat 2017 PSAL AA runner-up, Thomas Jefferson, 85-76, on Sunday.
On that note, does coach Arbitello believe his team has what it takes to win it all this year, which they haven’t done in the CHSAA since 2014-15?
“I’m confident every year that we could win it,” Arbitello told BQE Media after one of the final team practices before the season. “There’s a lot that goes into it, but I think we have all the tools to be a great team.
“What’s different between this year and last year was that they were so immature last year,” he continued. “Like young kids, they think they’re invincible, like it could never happen to them, and then I think reality set in. That’s why if you watch us scrimmage and play, things get competitive, things get physical.”
And he was right.
During that Wednesday practice, star players like dynamic junior guard Tyson Walker and his classmate, 6-foot-10 Kofi Cockburn, were given no breaks from teammates. Both Walker and Cockburn have plenty of offers from division one programs, and Cockburn received a visit from University of South Carolina head coach Frank Martin last week.
The first words uttered during the opening three-on-three drill were from Arbitello directed at his skilled guard, asking “what do you got, T?” to which Walker responded by scoring seconds after.
Later during the session, Walker rolled a ball off the court mid-drill toward the sideline, to which Arbitello utilized as a teaching moment for the young guard, and Walker displayed some self-awareness afterward.
“It was in the moment,” Walker admitted. “I’ve got to grow up basically, just got to relax. But yeah, we’re cool. I speak to him every day about school and stuff. He’s making sure I’m not acting up. I feel like that’s very important, sometimes I get out of control.”
For Arbitello, those teaching moments are critical because as he says, “anybody can coach basketball, but you’ve got to be a coach off the court, too.”
“Ty comes from a great family. It’s not even about us, he’s so talented it doesn’t matter now,” Arbitello said. “It’s what lies ahead. You have to make sure they’re prepared mentally and physically for college basketball. He’s a high-level guy who holds a whole bunch of division-one offers.”
At close to seven feet tall, Cockburn draws a lot of attention. And while he had success on both ends, teammates made sure to make their presence felt during scrimmage time.
In Cockburn’s mind, it will make the team better.
“When we come out, it’s really competitive and it’s fun,” said Cockburn. “I think we’re good because just like last year we have a lot of talent. But this year we’re playing together and coming together. We’re passing the ball, we’re unselfish. I think we’re in a good place right now.”
“He’s a great kid and he’s humble,” Arbitello added. “All my great players I had that were supposed to be big-time recruits, from Omar [Calhoun] to Jon Severe to Rawle [Alkins], they’re such great kids.
“There’s no ‘keeping him focused,’ Kofi wants to win,” he added. “He wants to be great and he’s got good people around him.”
The competitive nature is welcomed by coach Arbitello, who says he wants to lead tough practices because it builds champions.
“I want to deal with it,” he said with a smile. “It’s what makes championship teams. Guys aren’t scared. guys want to hold each other accountable.
“If I’ve got the best team in Brooklyn and Queens, I think I’ve also got the second best team in Brooklyn and Queens because they’re trying to kill each other out here,” he continued. “When you’re trying to kill each other every day at practice, the games aren’t as tough.”
Last year’s loss happened, but it gives this year’s crop of Royals a new motivation, which Cockburn lent voice to.
“I was disappointed because the goal for everybody is to win,” he said. “When you lose, it’s kind of frustrating. We are passionate, we are coming back this year to take the chip. We could defeat any team if we’re disciplined. If we start playing selfish, then that’s the only thing that could stop us from winning.”
Walker echoed a similar sentiment, citing that CTK’s ultimate competition is right in the mirror.
“Losing our minds, that’s it,” he said. “That’s the only thing that could beat us.”
In the win over Jefferson, Cockburn led with 21 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. Class of 2019 guard Ryan Myers registered 17 points and six assists, while Walker added 10 points, four rebounds and three assists in the backcourt.
True freshman Moussa Cisse recorded 16 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, and class of 2020's Quaran McPherson netted 10 points and dished out three assists.
The Royals will return to action on Friday, December 8, at Iona Prep, and will play their first home game on Sunday, December 10, against Monsignor Scanlan.