When we think of the powerhouse high school basketball teams in the diocese, the discussion always starts with Christ the King R.H.S., Middle Village; Bishop Loughlin M.H.S., Fort Greene; and Archbishop Molloy H.S., Briarwood.
These teams compete on the Varsity ‘AA’ level of the CHSAA’s basketball league and produce a winning program every year.
Unfortunately for students in those schools who love playing basketball, there are only 12 to 15 spots available on the varsity team, and a student-athlete can no longer play on the junior varsity level as a junior or senior.
But luckily for these players, there’s a local Varsity ‘B’ conference that gives these kids the chance to represent their school on the court.
The league has been around for over 30 years, but it was always viewed as an afterthought. If games were missed, they wouldn’t be made up, and there was no formalized structure.
However, when Jeff O’Brien began coaching basketball at Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, in 1996, he teamed up with Iona Prep, New Rochelle, coach Frank Conroy as co-chairmen of an organized Varsity ‘B’ conference.
Different schools have joined at different times, but the current league features nine teams: Archbishop Molloy; Archbishop Stepinac H.S., White Plains; Bishop Loughlin; Christ the King; Holy Cross H.S., Flushing; Iona Prep; Msgr. Scanlan H.S., the Bronx; St. Raymond’s H.S., the Bronx; and Xaverian.
The conference follows the same by-laws as the CHSAA’s ‘AA,’ ‘A’ and ‘B’ divisions, and the teams average 16 regular season games before three rounds of playoffs. For the past six years, the championship game has been played on the Division I NCAA court at St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights.
The league prides itself in giving more young men the opportunity to play for their school – promoting school spirit, friendship, competitiveness and good sportsmanship through the game of basketball.
“When I coached, I would tell my guys, ‘You’re Varsity B. Call it A, B, C, D, E, whatever you want. Varsity is varsity. You’re supporting your school, and it’s extremely important to support your school,’” O’Brien said.
The season wraps up in mid-February so that the Varsity ‘B’ players can support the other basketball teams at their school. The ‘B’ coaches can assist the ‘AA’ or ‘A’ coaches, and the players can actually be brought up to the next level for the playoffs.
Several other local schools have expressed interest in forming a team to compete in the ‘B’ conference. O’Brien and Conroy are excited about this possibility, since it meets their goal of giving as many kids as possible the chance to play the game they love.
For the first time, the ‘B’ league will hold an All-Star Game March 1 at 3:30 p.m. at Archbishop Molloy. Three players from each squad will represent their school in the game.
The Championship Game
On Feb. 19 at St. Francis College, the 17th Varsity ‘B’ playoff tournament culminated with a matchup between the top two teams in the conference: the No. 1 ranked Ravens of St. Raymond’s and the No. 2 ranked Stanners of Archbishop Molloy.
Molloy fought valiantly to the very end, but the Ravens earned a 57-49 victory in the championship.
The Stanners received an offensive boost when senior guard Michael Rodriguez scored all of his team’s 14 pts. in the second quarter, which helped his team cut the deficit to one at the halftime break.
However, St. Raymond’s responded with great defense on Rodriguez and relied on a 9-2 run to close out the third quarter leading by six. Molloy trailed by no less than five for the rest of the way.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” said ninth-year Molloy head coach Steve Borhi. “In this league, it’s always a battle. There are no easy games.”
Rodriguez was the game’s high scorer with 20 pts., and he also added five rebounds and two steals. He had the chance to move up to Molloy’s ‘AA’ team for this season, but he instead chose to stay on the ‘B’ team.
“It’s a competitive league, and it allows me to play with my best friends, have fun and compete,” Rodriguez said. “Playing Varsity ‘B’ was a great decision for me.”
“It’s a special league with special people; it’s what high school sports should be,” Borhi said. “We always preach pride … pride for yourself, pride for your school, pride for your teammates. We consider this a family. It’s not a team; it’s a family.”
This family atmosphere is exactly why the Varsity ‘B’ conference was formalized – to give more student-athletes in each school a vital sense of belonging.
For more information about the league, visit bcba.com.