The Cardinal Hayes litmus test in the CHSAA Class AA came on opening night at Holy Cross.
“This game right here is going to tell us where we’re at,” senior guard Tyler Wilson said. “If we win, we can say we can compete with Christ the King and St. Raymond, but if we lose, we still have a lot more work to do.”
Thanks to Wilson, one of four Rice transfers, the Cardinals passed their first test with flying colors, beating the Knights, 56-44, Friday night in Queens.
“I feel like we proved to everybody we’re a good team instead of all talk,” Cardinal Hayes forward Amadou Sidibe said.
While Sidibe, who scored a game-high 13 points, admitted to some season-opening nerves, Wilson was the definition of calm. Cardinal Hayes might be making its return to the Class AA for the first time in several years, but Wilson is a veteran of the wars with Rice.
“It was another game,” Wilson said. “Some games are big and this was big because it was the first time we were playing together, but I played against those guys before, seen them before.”
Wilson took the game over in the fourth quarter. The senior guard scored all seven of his points after halftime, got into the lane and dished off to Fairfield-bound Sidibe and fellow senior forward Jalen Jenkins.
“He’s a tough point guard who knows how to play, a scrappy kid, a throwback point guard,” Cardinal Hayes coach Joe Lods said. “He runs the team and makes free throws most of the time. He’s tough to stay in front of.”
Wilson is joined by Naasir Williams, Chris Robinson and Shavar Newkirk, who have made the transition from the all-boys Harlem school to one in The Bronx.
“I love all the guards from Rice. I feel sorry it closed down, but things happen for a reason,” Sidibe said. “They showed in the game what they’re about. Last year, I would think we would have folded under this kind of pressure, but instead of folding, we rose above it.”
Guard-heavy Holy Cross played hard, but struggled offensively. Marquise Moore scored a team-high 12 points and Will Davis and Eddie Roscigno had 10 points apiece for the Knights, preseason ranked No. 10 in New York City by MSG Varsity.
“Our effort was fine, our defense was pretty good – they only scored 56 and we gave them the last few on fouls at the end of the game – but I was a little disappointed in our offense,” Holy Cross coach Paul Gilvary said. “We were a little out of sync.”
Gilvary, though, was impressed with No. 6 Cardinal Hayes, a team he said has been Class AA-caliber for years.
“You take four good players like that from Rice and merge them with any team in our league and you’re going to wind up with a pretty good team,” he said. “They seemed to fit together nicely, they played very hard and Sidibe and Jenkins are big, strong kids.”
While the game was between two Class AA squads, it was actually a non-league contest. It was one of several tough tests Lods has for his team as it prepares for the rigors of its new surroundings.
“A lot of coaches seem like they’re hunting for ‘Ws’ and I’m hunting for a fight for my kids,” Lods said. “I told my kids I give them credit, we toughed it out, we don’t have any kind of cupcake schedule and we came out to play a tough team and got a fight.”
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