ALBANY — The first time Brian Fruscio coached August Mahoney, the lefty guard impressed him with his determination and hustle.
Ten years later, that remains true.
Well before Fruscio was coaching Mahoney — now a junior — on the Albany Academy varsity boys’ basketball team, Mahoney was a member of a third-grade travel team Fruscio coached.
One catch: Mahoney was a first-grader on that team.
“He was a little battler even then,” Fruscio said with a laugh. “He was the ant on that team.”
Now, Mahoney stands 6-foot-3 and has a collection of Division I mid-major scholarship offers. He possesses a smooth jump shot and a steady handle, but the player’s mentality hasn’t changed since he was a little guy playing with older kids.
“I think it’s always helped him that he’s been fighting uphill,” Fruscio said. “Now he’s 6-foot-3 and getting stronger. His development is consistent with someone who has always been a very hard worker.”
After playing a supporting role in past seasons, the 17-year-old Mahoney is the top star this season for Albany Academy, which plays 12:30 p.m. Saturday in the New York Federation Tournament of Champions at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls. Albany Academy has won the last two Class A federation championships and — if its wins Saturday — would play either Amityville or Park in Sunday’s 4 p.m. final.
“Been staying sharp. We compete hard every day in practice knowing we have a whole month off,” said Mahoney, whose 14-6 squad hasn’t played since late February and qualified for this weekend’s tournament as the lone New York State Association of Independent Schools Class A competitor. “Just been shaking off the rust and staying sharp.”
While Albany Academy — which doesn’t compete in the Section II playoffs — plays a national schedule against elite competition, the Cadets aren’t lacking for excitement when it comes to playing in this weekend’s federation tournament.
“This is our state championship weekend,” Fruscio said.
That’s how Mahoney — who has averaged 20 points and five assists per game this season — sees it, too.
“This is definitely the biggest two games of the season for us,” Mahoney said. “Our goal the whole year is to win a federation state championship.”
There is something extra special about this weekend’s tournament, too, for Albany Academy. While the Cadets play a number of games against area opponents during the season, they don’t take part in the fun of the Section II postseason. Mahoney — whose hometown friends on Saratoga Springs made a run to the Section II Class AA semifinals — said the Cadets don’t feel left out once that portion of the area basketball season comes along, but the Cadets enjoy the chance to represent Section II each March in the federation tournament.
“The whole section gets behind us, rooting for us,” Mahoney said. “It’s really great to get that support.”
Next week, Mahoney and sophomore teammate Andre Jackson will be playing far from home. The Albany Academy duo will play for a select U18 team representing the United States in the Albert Schweitzer Tournament in Mannheim, Germany. For Mahoney, that tournament will represent a first-ever chance to represent his country in his sport.
“And that’s always been a dream of mine,” Mahoney said.
First, though, Mahoney wants to help Albany Academy wrap up a third consecutive federation championship. As Fruscio sees it, Mahoney is an ideal lead guard for his program because of his skills and smarts, a combination the player has used to get the most out of himself on the basketball court.
“He’s a grinder,” Fruscio said. “Anything he gets is because he’s a hard worker.”