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School in session: The High learns lessons at West 4th

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Fans encircled the court. Perspiration filled the air. Intensity could be felt as the taut game went down to the final seconds.

The Boys & Girls boys’ basketball team was involved in another thriller. No, this wasn’t a February showdown in Brooklyn against Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson. It was in downtown Manhattan, at The Cage on West 4th Street, on a hot summer afternoon.

The Schoolers, the team’s name in the streetball league’s high-school division, eventually fell short, losing to C3 Elite, 72-67, Thursday afternoon, falling to 1-2.

Winning pales in comparison to the ultimate goal: developing chemistry and comfort with one another in a hostile, highly competitive environment. This summer is particularly important, since just two starters – guard Mike Taylor and forward Leroy Isler – are the only two to return who saw any kind of minutes last spring.

“We’re trying to find new guys to help us get to the Garden,” said Taylor, referring to the site of the PSAL Class AA championship game.

It is an opportunity for others, like rising junior point guard Antoine Slaughter, the projected starter, underclassman Jeffland Neverson and soon-to-be senior Jerry White, to prove to assistant coach Elmer Anderson they are deserving of significant minutes, possibly even in a starting role. Anderson calls the tournament the best for local high-school competition in the city during the summer months.

“It helps us come together and get ready for the season,” Slaughter said.

The games are played on the blacktop, in a tiny court on the busy West Village streets. Those in attendance aren’t classmates or teachers; they are often casual observers looking to catch high-level basketball.

There is plenty of pressure.

“It’s a great atmosphere. It’s fun, but it’s not fun when you lose,” said Taylor, the talented and highly recruited shooting guard who scored a game-high 26 points. “It’s a little court; you have to play a smart game.”

Anderson, who coaches the Schoolers during the summer, wasn’t happy after the loss, particularly with Isler and Neverson. Neither, he said, were ready to play from the opening tip. Even White, who came alive in the fourth scorer, helping to lead the Schoolers back from a 12-point deficit with a bevy of driving layups and floaters, lacked the urgency Anderson was looking for.

Then again, that’s part of the process, Anderson said, to get his inexperienced players to seeing failing as unacceptable, and in doing so, making sure it doesn’t become a habit.

“It plays an integral part in bringing these boys together,” he said of the tournament. “This is a perfect place to put them in terms of the spotlight and competition.”

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