NEW YORK (AP) — The best college basketball team in Brooklyn doesn’t have one player from the borough.
Seriously, the Long Island University Blackbirds are having the school’s best season in over a decade. And they are doing it with players from Canada, Texas and Maryland. The closest thing to a Brooklyn kid is from Bay Shore, a town on Long Island, but about an hour from the downtown campus.
“When I was brought in here to take over this program we had won four, five games,” said Jim Ferry, who is in his ninth and easily most successful season at LIU. “We were low man on the totem pole in New York City. None of the local kids wanted to come. I’m a New York guy. I would love to have New York guys on the team but most of the better local kids didn’t want to come. They wanted to go away. We were competing with St. John’s, Fordham, Manhattan and Iona, everybody. The program hadn’t won so we tried to branch out and find a niche and we found one in Texas and one in Canada.
“We’ve gotten them all to mold together. Kids from all over the country. It fits New York. It’s the melting pot and that’s what these kids have done. We tried to recruit New York kids but they didn’t want to come. We found kids who wanted to come to New York.”
A reverse subway started and it’s come together this season.
The Blackbirds are 22-5 and have already clinched the Northeast Conference regular season title with a 14-2 record.
Then there are the even more impressive numbers.
LIU’s 84-64 victory over Mount St. Mary’s was its national-leading 13th road win. The Blackbirds are fourth in the country in rebounding (41.9), ninth in scoring (82.1) and first in free throws taken (770, 30.8 per game).
How did they manage to win 13 games away from home, the 2,500-seat Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center?
“Road games are just like home games if you stick to your philosophy and worry about rebounds, turnovers getting to the free throw line,” said sophomore forward Julian Boyd, one of the three Texans on the roster. “If we do that whether we’re on the road or at home, it puts you in a good position to win a game.”
The 22 wins are the most at LIU since the 1997-98 team went 21-11. That was one season after the school’s last NCAA tournament berth, which was a 101-91 loss to Villanova. This current group averages a conference-leading 82.1 points per game.
“It’s the unselfishness we play with,” Ferry said about the road record. “We have five guys average double figures. It’s a different guy every night. We have depth and we’re not an easy team to scout because of our personnel. Different guys making plays. We get to the foul line a ton. We work on it. We teach it. That stuff travels. Unselfishness travels. And these guys have bought into it and believe it and just play the right way. That’s what has allowed us to do it on the road.”
Boyd, who missed last season because of a heart condition known as noncompaction cardiomyopathy — part of his heart was enlarged — leads the balanced scoring with a 12.5 average and is the top rebounder at 8.7 per game.
He left San Antonio three years ago for New York. Boyd said he was most taken with the same thing most of the future Blackbirds are.
“Times Square. That’s what got me,” he said. “When you come here you always hear about bright lights and Broadway shows and the city’s big buildings. You know Times Square is what you want to see. It was mind-boggling. I had never seen anything like that and it was really eye-catching.”
Kyle Johnson, one of three seniors on the team and its third-leading scorer, provided a different way New York City played into the team’s success.
“No one else is from New York so all you have is your team,” said Johnson, one of the four Canadians on the roster. He is one of three players from Ontario, the other is from Quebec. “People come in and they’re not used to the city but you can rely on your teammates to help you get through it and that’s how it starts. We’re just close. We’re all brothers on and off the court and that’s helped our success.”
Wagner coach Danny Hurley, whose Seahawks were road victim No. 12 — an 83-79 overtime loss last week — saw yet another reason why the Blackbirds are two more regular season games and the Northeast Conference tournament away from an NCAA berth.
“They have a lot of answers. Their wing kids are really underrated guys. They’re the heart and soul of the team,” he said. “I think they have a really good balanced team and they have swagger. They have the best swagger of anyone we’ve played. I think they know they are really good.”
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