No. 3 Forest Hills upset second-seeded Edison, 65-53, as Maurice Harkless went off for 23 points in the Queens borough semifinals.
By Zachary Braziller
Forest Hills entered the season with high expectations, dreaming of ruling Queens and possibly challenging some of the city’s established powers. Then injuries, academic ineligibility and a daunting non-league schedule took its toll.
For a while the Rangers were playing with just seven players. Two of them were sophomores. Antoine Tutt and Maurice Harkless, however, aren’t any ordinary underclassmen.
Coach Ben Chobhaphand named them captains in late January, the two joining senior Andre Armstrong. He reasoned it was because it would be their team the next two seasons.
They haven’t disappointed him yet.
Harkless, arguably the best Queens player in the PSAL, had 23 points, 15 rebounds and six blocked shots in leading No. 3 Forest Hills past favored Thomas Edison, 65-53, in the Queens borough semifinals in Jamaica Thursday evening. Tutt, a diminutive 5-foot-2 guard Chobhaphand calls a “floor general and natural leader,” added 10 assists and five points. Andre Armstrong scored 14 points and Alex Hall had 10.
Isiah Stokley and Kris Owens each scored 15 for the second-seeded Inventors (18-7).
Now the Rangers (18-8), winners of nine straight, who started the season so shaky, are in the Queens final Sunday at 3 p.m. at Long Island University. There they will meet No. 1 Cardozo, 75-43 winners over No. 4 Campus Magnet. The teams split their two meeting during the regular season.
“This means a lot to our program,” the fourth-year coach said. “This is where we felt we should be all along. I was disappointed we lost to Edison twice this year, but I told my players, I told myself, this is when it counts.”
The resurgence, Chobhaphand said, came in all those non-league losses, defeats to Catholic power Bishop Loughlin, Manhattan AA champion Wadleigh and Bronx power John F. Kennedy. It was also during scrimmages against programs such as Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson when the young Rangers grew up.
Then, Hall, who missed all of December for breaking unspecified school rules, returned at the turn of the New Year, as did point guard Tyler Clarke (ankle injury), although he has remained on the bench behind Tutt.
Sonny Kadisha has developed into a reliable rebounder and defender, sophomore Nick Padgett has added depth to the backcourt and the Rangers have gotten solid contributions from senior sharpshooter Damir Beharovic and senior center Chris Larmond.
“This is our team if Alex wasn’t out for a month,” Chobhaphand said.
But Harkless’s stunning development has made everyone around his better, even enabling Armstrong to worry less about scoring and more about running the team.
Chobhaphand was optimistic Harkless would compete at the AA level as a sophomore. He liked what he saw out of him as a freshman on the JV – where he averaged 15 points and 14 rebounds – but he didn’t envision him becoming one of the best young big men in the city.
After a nondescript nine-point, 12-rebound performance in an opening-round 44-39 win over Beach Channel, Chobhaphand challenged the soft-spoken big man. Harkless promised to do better.
Boy, did he ever.
“For this to be the biggest game he’s played in to this point, he really passed the test,” Chobhaphand said. “He played like a Division I college-bound senior.”