courtesy of Fiveborosports.com
By Zachary Braziller
Last week, Forest Hills lost senior forward Alex Hall until January for undisclosed disciplinary problems. Saturday, it was point guard Tyler Clarke who severely sprained his right ankle. On Monday, sophomore Shawn Branch and talented freshman Rudy Collins were deemed academically ineligible.
At this rate, the Rangers may not have a team come January. They had just nine remaining players in uniform for Tuesday afternoon’s 74-64 loss to Edison at home.
“It’s hurting the team,” sophomore forward Maurice Harkless said,” more and more.”
The injuries have forced coach Ben Chobhaphand to start two sophomores – Harkless and Antoine Tutt – in addition to relying heavily on freshman Sunny Kadisha and sophomore Nick Padgett off the bench.
For all their talent, the four are all very inexperienced, prone to mistakes seniors would know better than to make. Behind three-year starter Andre Armstrong, Harkless has become the Rangers’ second threat, almost by default.
“It’s a lot of responsibility,” he said. “I’m asked to do a lot. I’ll try my best.”
He has limitless potential – Harkless had 16 points and 12 rebounds against Edison and scored 23 points in a loss to Wadleigh over the weekend – but is also prone to foul trouble and fits of inconsistency. Kadisha struggled finishing around the basket against the Inventors and Tutt failed to score.
Chobhaphand isn’t asking for anyone to feel sorry for his team, although he noted the youngsters have never played in front of packed crowds until just recently.
When Hall, who averaged nine points and nine rebounds last year, was lost for December, the coach knew the immediate future would be difficult. He had already loaded up his non-league schedule before the year, arranging tilts with Bishop Loughlin, JFK, Wadleigh – all losses – and Sunday’s meeting against defending CHSAA Class A champion Bishop Ford in the PSAL-CHSAA Challenge.
“Right now we’re going to take our lumps,” Chobhaphand said. “We’re filling the pieces as we go.”
Nevertheless, Forest Hills led Edison for almost the entire first half and for much of the third quarter before an 18-4 Inventors run put them in a massive hole. Yet they kept on fighting, cutting the deficit to seven late in the final stanza. Armstrong was superb, scoring 26 points and Harkless played exceptionally well despite foul woes. Sharpshooter Damir Beharovic added 11.
“I’ll go to war with the guys we do have,” the coach said. “We have to understand we’re growing every day. We’ve got guys who are supposed to be on our JV. I definitely see us growing.”
Armstrong, in fact, felt the Rangers could’ve won Tuesday evening if not for missed free throws and several unforced turnovers. He put the defeat on himself, not the newcomers.
The losses have forced the Division I prospect to take on even more leadership responsibilities. He has noticed the younger players, kids Armstrong said could start on any team in the division, putting their heads down after miscues the same way he did at that age. He is building up their confidence, teaching them the error of their ways, by example and with motivational words of encouragement.
“We’ll be fine; it’s a long season,” he said. “We have a lot of games left.”
Said Chobhaphand: “When it’s playoff time, I feel it will be a different story.”