Dec 04, 2009 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
With all the time he spent inside Henninger High School’s gymnasium, shaping the basketball games – and lives – of his students, Joe Mazella left a permanent imprint long before he passed away Sept. 12 at the age of 51.
On Friday night, that imprint got official status with the dedication of “Joe Mazella Court” in a ceremony prior to Henninger’s season opener against Christian Brothers Academy in the annual Peppino’s Invitational.
A standing room-only crowd packed into the Steven W. King Center, from current students to many of Mazella’s past players.
Members of Mazella’s family, including his widow, Janice, his three daughters and his parents, accepted an official proclamation from the Syracuse City School District renaming the court.
Janice, a teacher at Lincoln Middle School, told the crowd her husband would be surprised by the honor -and would use it as a way to inspire his students.
“He’d be a bit shocked,” Janice said. “I do still think that he could not possibly imagine the impact he had on so many people.”
Henninger’s athletic director, Ari Liberman, said that outsiders might consider the love and affection given to Mazella as hard to believe – but not those that knew him.
“The magnitude of the impact this man had on this community is quite believeable,” Liberman said.
Unable to attend the ceremony, Syracuse schools superintendent Dan Lowengard sent a letter of congraulations, saying that Mazella touched people’s lives with his “humor, enthusiasm and commitment to his players. His legacy will live on.”
The words Joe Mazella Court, in black and gold, are painted on either side of the center circle, but the tributes don’t stop there.
Just outside the gymnasium is a new display case, featuring plaques commemorating all five of the Henninger teams Mazella coached to Section III championships, including the 2002 state title squad.
Once the ceremony ended, the game was on between Henninger and CBA – and the Brothers would spoil the occasion a bit, coming from behind to beat the Black Knights 53-51.
This was the first time these two sides had met since last year’s epic Section III Class AA final at Manley Field House, where CBA came from behind to beat Henninger 76-75 in overtime.
Though most of the personnel from that clash (including all five Henninger starters and CBA standouts Stefan Thompson and Mike Goodman) have moved on, their successors staged a worthy sequel.
Other than a pair of deficits in the opening minutes, Henninger never trailed in the first three quarters, this despite not making a single 3-point shot all night (CBA had just one).
Brandon Hanks’ 10 points pushed the Black Knights to a 22-15 lead early in the second period, and despite CBA forward Greg Thomson answering with 10 points of his own, Henninger kept a 30-25 margin to halftime.
At one point late in the third period, the Black Knights’ lead grew to 44-33, a pattern eerily similar to what had taken place in that sectional final.
And once again, CBA would rally, not with a single star turn like Stefan Thompson’s 40-point effort, but with punishing defense that kept Henninger scoreless for much of the fourth quarter. A 12-2 run tied the score, 48-48, going into the homestretch.
Greg Thomson’s rebound basket, along with two Pat Wiese free throws with 1:02 left, put CBA up 52-48, but Kadeem Johnson (who led Henninger with 16 points) answered with a three-point play seven seconds later and made it 52-51, setting up the dramatic finish.
Twice in the last 15 seconds, Henninger had a chance. First, Hanks missed a jumper from the right corner. Then, after Troy Bullock’s free throw made it 53-51, Tevin Chisholm’s driving lay-up fell off the rim as time expired.
Aside from Johnson, Hanks finished with 12 points (just two of them in the second half) and Rich Neal added seven points. Thomson led CBA with 18 points and 12 rebounds, as teammate Jameel Balenton added 13 points.
Also on Friday night at the Peppino’s Invitational, Utica Proctor lost to Section V power Rush-Henrietta 81-65, the Royal Comets erasing the Raiders’ 37-34 halftime lead by outscoring them 35-12 in the third quarter.
Henninger would bounce back on Saturday, beating Gates-Chili 61-51. Four players — Chisholm (15 points), Kavon Delee (12 points), Hanks (11 points) and Neal (10 points) scored in double figures as the Black Knights overcame a 16-8 deficit with a 26-15 second-quarter spurt, then pulled away.
In Saturday’s other games, Bishop Grimes edged Bishop Ludden 50-47, Jamesville-DeWitt outscored Bishop Kearney 89-76 and Fayetteville-Manlius shut out Fairport in the last five minutes, rallying for a 55-47 victory.