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John Moriello's NYSSWA blog
Wednesday, March 9, 2011: Newburgh takes its lumps on and off court
   Leading off today: The shine has come off the Newburgh Free Academy vs. Mount Vernon rivalry in a hurry.

   The schools played in the NYSPHSAA Class AA tournament last night for the fifth time in six seasons. Mount Vernon won the first two and Newburgh the next two, and it had become one of the best intersectional rivalries in the state in any sport, both because of the stakes and the pure entertainment value of the games. It took a big step forward two years ago when Will Bouton let loose with a 55-footer at the buzzer to give the Goldbacks a stunning 71-70 win over Mount Vernon.

   Tuesday night, however, was no contest. Senior guards Jabarie Hinds (20 points) and Khalid Samuels (18) combined for 38 points and 13 assists in a Knights runaway, a 72-49 rout of NFA to advance Mount Vernon to the state quarterfinals. Hinds scored eight straight second-quarter points and 12 in the period to help build a 36-24 halftime lead.

   It avenged last year's 62-53 loss.

   The lopsided victory, however, wasn't the story of the week. Rather, Sunday's story in the Times Herald-Record is what people have been talking about all week. The newspaper painted an unflattering picture of Newburgh's basketball program, reporting that four of the top six players from the past two seasons, including the 2009 state championship squad, did not graduate from high school and only one is in college.

   The paper reported allegations of favoritism shown toward players, casting coach Frank Dinnocenzio and administrators in a very unfavorable light. According to the story, players routinely cut classes yet remained eligible to suit up for games.

   Damon Cousar, Patrick Johnson and Mike McLeod, who all played big roles on the Goldbacks' state championship team, didn't graduate last June because they didn't pass Regents exams. Devon McMillan, a standout for Newburgh last year, also didn't graduate, losing his scholarship to Hofstra in the process. He's now attending Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts with the intention of playing for Fordham University next season.

   Bouton is the success story thus far, graduating last spring and recently transferring to Pepperdine University while pursuing a career in movies. Point guard Marcus Henderson graduated last June and is attending Queen City Prep in Charlotte, N.C., to beef up his grades while playing for 1984 Newburgh grad George Davis.

   "If Marcus wasn't down here, he might be in the streets," Davis told the paper. "They win a state championship, and the kids are left on the streets. As

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    long as you play basketball at NFA, you are going to be all right, you don't have to go to classes. It was like that when I played. When does it stop?"

       Most of the school officials mentioned in the story either refused comment or did not return calls from the paper's reporters. Certainly, there are privacy concerns when you're dealing with academic issues of student-athletes, but the silence adds to the horrid picture painted by the Times Herald-Record reports.

       Players told the paper how they frequently missed classes but remained eligible to practice and play -- despite rigid rules put in place by the school district -- with help from one administrator in particular. Johnson said he typically arrived at school "two or three periods" late almost daily and that an assistant principal covered for him.

       "Ninety-seven percent of our senior student-athletes graduated last year," Principal Peter Copeletti told the paper. "All of our student-athletes must adhere to our school district's academic and attendance policies to remain eligible to participate. That's monitored by the coaches and the school."

       However, the graduation rate for the basketball team in that same period is 50 percent, the paper reported.

       Stepping down: Greg Plumb, who coached Will Regan and Buffalo Nichols to a Federation championship last March in Glens Falls, announced his resignation following a 5-21 season in his eighth year on the job.

       He'll remain at the school as a science teacher and expects to coach the middle-school basketball team, which will help free up his schedule to spend more time with his family, The Buffalo News reported.

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