NEW YORK CITY — The Yankees might be in the major leagues, but they're not the only game in The Bronx.
The borough is brimming with talented high school athletes, including sophomores Jaquan McKennon and Luis Santos, who helped lead St. Raymond to the CHSAA Archdiocesan basketball title, while guards Chris Robinson and Shavar Newkirk guided Cardinal Hayes to the CHSAA Class AA intersectional semifinals.
On the girls side, there isn’t anything Maria Backman, a junior at Cardinal Spellman, can’t do on the hardwood, a big reason why the 6-foot-1 wing has a host of Division I basketball interest. The same is true of Preston sophomore left-handed pitcher Julianna Orrico, who is also a terror at the plate.
On the gridiron, pocket passer Anthony Cruz, a junior at John F. Kennedy, is one of the best quarterbacks around, drawing interest from Syracuse, UConn, North Carolina State, Rutgers, Towson and Tennessee, while speedy and versatile Malik Crossdale, a junior at Fordham Prep, could be one of the best running backs in the city this fall.
There’s no doubt Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy junior Adis Radoncic is one of the best wrestlers around. He proved as much by becoming the first PSAL wrestler to capture the New York State Federation title.
In the fourth of a five-part series, DNAinfo New York brings you the top 10 rising stars in The Bronx, in alphabetical order.
Cardinal Spellman (Edenwald) girls basketball, junior wing
Backman averaged 26.3 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks a game, leading Cardinal Spellman to its first ever CHSAA Class A state final appearance. The 6-foot-1 junior wing, who is being recruited by St. John’s, Georgetown, Columbia, Pittsburgh and Hofstra, is equally adept at taking her defender off the dribble, posting her up or pulling up to hit a 3-pointer.
“Maria has improved her skills as a player and also her basketball IQ by leaps and bounds since her freshman year through pure dedication and hard work,” coach Jane Morris said. “She is truly a student of the game and continues to work at becoming the best she can be. I think she has only scratched the surface and is going to be very successful on the next level.”
Fordham Prep (Fordham) football, junior running back
Crossdale is one of the city’s premier running backs following a year in which the 6-foot, 200-pound junior rushed for 1,099 yards and nine touchdowns. He also had one receiving score. Crossdale, who suffered a torn meniscus as a sophomore, has offers from Army, Buffalo and James Madison and has drawn interest from Florida, Duke, Cal and Michigan State.
“Malik has confidence and he’s worked on his skill,” coach Pete Gorynski said. “His improvement is dramatic and he has the desire to make himself better. He’s got great speed, good physical size and unlimited potential. His upside his huge.”
John F. Kennedy (Marble Hill) football, junior quarterback
One of the top quarterbacks in New York City, Cruz enjoyed a solid junior season, throwing for 731 yards and seven touchdowns and rushing for 633 yards and nine more scores. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound pocket passer, who had a quarterback rating of 92.10, is being recruited by Syracuse, UConn, North Carolina State, Rutgers, Towson and Tennessee.
“He’s just a winner, he’s won on every level he’s ever played and that just translates to the team,” JFK coach Andy Lancberg said. “He’s got a great personality. He’s a great kid to coach.”
St. Raymond (Parkchester) basketball, sophomore guard
A sophomore point guard, the 5-foot-9 McKennon enjoyed a solid first year of varsity basketball and has already drawn interest from a host of Division I schools, including Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Connecticut, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Tennessee and Seton Hall.
“Jaquan McKennon is maturing as a playmaker,” coach Jorge Lopez said. “He has a knack for making everyone around him better.
"His uncanny passing abilities and ability to score will make him the premiere point guard in the league and in the city.”
Cardinal Hayes (Concourse) basketball, junior guard
Newkirk led Cardinal Hayes in scoring last year, averaging 17.1 points per game, scoring 28 points against Archbishop Molloy in the CHSAA Class AA intersectional quarterfinals. The 6-foot junior point guard, who is tough, gritty and fearless, has offers from Seton Hall, Providence, UMass, Florida International, Hofstra, Iona, Iowa State and Manhattan.
“Shavar is a cool dude,” Cardinal Hayes coach Joe Lods said. “He doesn’t sweat very often. He’s one of those ice water guys. Nothing ever rattles him.”
Preston (Throgs Neck) softball, sophomore pitcher
Orrico is a true definition of an elite student-athlete. The sophomore left-handed pitcher has a 96 average and a 0.34 earned run average, helping lead Preston to the CHSAA Archdiocesan final for a second straight year. She also batted .500 with 20 RBIs for the Bears.
"I have a lot of respect for Julianna," Preston coach Rachel Mazza said. "The work, commitment and passion she has for the game of softball is to be admired. She has mental and physical strength and a real want to win. She's the real deal."
Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy (Kingsbridge) wrestling, junior 170 lbs.
After winning a second straight Mayor’s Cup title and PSAL Division 2 crown, Radoncic made history in March when he became the first PSAL wrestler to win a NYPHSAA state championship, beating Christian Dietrich of Greene in the Division 2 final. He was only the fourth PSAL wrestler to reach a state final.
“He has the technique to take the title at a top level,” RKA coach Rob Dicanio said. “But his work ethic is above and beyond most kids his age and in the sport of wrestling.”
Cardinal Hayes (Concourse) basketball, junior guard
Robinson, a 6-foot-2 guard, had a breakthrough junior season, averaging 15.3 points per game. He had 30 points, seven rebounds and five assists, including the winning shot from just inside halfcourt at the buzzer in an overtime win at St. Raymond. Robinson has offers from UMBC, Quinnpiac, Robert Morris, St. Peter’s and Wagner.
“Chris Robinson is a Division I player,” Cardinal Hayes coach Joe Lods said. “The kid plays at a high level, he’s only a junior and his upside his high.”
St. Raymond (Parkchester) basketball, sophomore forward
Santos burst onto the scene in his first year of varsity basketball. The 6-foot-8, 245-pound polished sophomore from the Dominican Republic, who has a bevy of Division I college interest, dominated in the paint, but also showcased impressive range.
“Luis Santos has continued to work hard during the offseason, slimming down and bulking up” St. Raymond coach Jorge Lopez said. “He has continued to work on his post moved and I think you will see a more dominant player in Santos this upcoming season. He can potentially be the best big man in the city.”
Fordham Prep (Fordham) golf, sophomore
Young is following up a fabulous freshman year with a sensational sophomore campaign. He set a CHSAA record for lowest nine-hole score in April with a 6-under 31 at Winged Foot and won the CHSAA state championship with a 2-under 70 at James Baird Golf Course. He will look to defend his state Federation crown at famed Bethpage Black Sunday, where he shot a 1-over 72 a year ago.