With Little Fanfare, the New York Wizards Play for the Love of the Game
Jesse Broome - A banker, a teacher, a cable television installer – these are the New York Wizards of the Eastern Basketball Alliance (EBA), a league consisting of 17 teams from Virginia to Connecticut. Unbeknownst to many Long Islanders, the New York Wizards have existed since 2008 and provide an outlet for aspiring basketball players to showcase their talent.
What makes this league special is that all games are intentionally held on the weekend in order for players to hold full-time employment while playing for the love of basketball and the chance to play professionally.
Walking through the doors of Robert Frost Middle School in Deer Park on Saturday, February 6th, it felt as if I was on my way to a junior varsity basketball game; however, this could not have been further from the truth. In fact, 24 highly-skilled players under the direction of two motivated and veteran head coaches were due to tip-off in the schools’ gymnasium and to top it off, the approximately 150 fans in attendance were in for a real battle, the undefeated New York Wizards were competing against the undefeated Elmira Bulldogs.
Players were spirited, coaches were animated, officials were intense, and spectators were enthusiastic. Mark Shaw, DJ Swing, kept the crowd entertained with music and sound effects and a half-time show choreographed by Sharon Kraemer and Jenn Bon Jovi of Dance Elek-tra kept the fans upbeat.
The Wizards built a 18-point lead halfway through the first quarter of action, but the Bulldogs fought back and led 54-51 by the end of the second quarter. Each team played point-for-point in the third quarter and set themselves up for an exciting fourth quarter showdown. Then, with the game winding down to its final seconds, a questionable travel call was made against the Elmira Bulldogs; the travel violation led to the Wizards eventual win. Fortunately, the win put the New York Wizards in sole possession of first place in the Empire Division’s Northern Conference.
Speaking with Head Coach Greg Cerillo before the game, he was enthusiastic and hopeful that the Wizards will draw the crowds they believe the talent on the court deserves. “[The Wizards players] believe that they are of a level where fans should come out and support them.”
Moreover, each player also has Long Island roots and many of them have played on the collegiate level at many of the local schools, including, but not limited to, Adelphi, C.W. Post, Southampton, and Suffolk Community College.
“We have players who do incredible things”, boasted Coach Cerillo, a full-time employee of Cablevision and Owner/Head Coach of the New York Wizards. Forward Mike McDuffie can physically reach up and touch the top of the backboard, putting his head and shoulders clearly above the rim and Coach Cerillo’s son, Greg Cerillo II, won a three-point shooting contest in which he hit 83 of 100 shots beyond the arc.
The Wizards bring intensity to each game they play and hope to combat local competition within Long Island’s rich sports atmosphere. “It takes a while . . . when you are in these condensed markets, even Long Island . . . there might be five high school games going on, two college games . . [at the same time].”
For now, their marketing strategy centers on their work in the community, whether that means helping out at the Deer Park Community Center, mentoring local AAU programs, or leading clinics at various New York Sports Clubs. Coach Cerillo is satisfied with both his emotional and financial investment.
“I just like the direction we are going,” he said.
(Original posted on March 2, 2010 at www.longislandsportsreport.com)