Powered by many of the same sharp-shooting and smooth-passing standouts who sparked an undefeated run to both the New York State Public High School Athletic Association and Federation basketball championships, the Scotia Tartans AAU team tested some even deeper waters recently.
The Tartans, coached by Scotia-Glenville High School assistant coach Glenn Stopera, finished second in the 17U division of the Basketball Hall of Fame Invitational in Springfield, Mass.
The much smaller Tartans competed favorably against an extremely talented field of 64 teams. They ended up losing to the Mont Morency Nomades of Canada, 69-64, in the championship game.
On the way to the title matchup, the Tartans defeated the Boston Elite (75-53), the Boston Titans (66-55), the Massachusetts Elite (58-57) and the Connecticut North Stars (76-61).
Many familiar names led the way, including Joe Cremo, who will be a senior this upcoming season and has already committed to the University at Albany.
Veterans Dan Clune, Scott Stopera and Mike Palleschi also played huge roles in the Tartans’ success, and were joined on the roster by Joe Almond, Rhys Ten Eyck, Diamond Corker and Christian Corker.
Stopera said the summer Tartans’ success surprised even him, until he saw them play again.
“I went into this summer season not knowing whether we would win a game, because the competition we were going to face was so good,” he said.
“For example, there were five teams from Canada playing in this tournament, and they all had super athletic players. They were big, thick and strong. They were men, not boys. They looked like giants compared to us, but I think we proved once again that we can play with anybody.”
Stopera feels the reasons why the Tartans are so successful is their tremendous chemistry, togetherness and work ethic.
“I really think that most of the [AAU] teams don’t do it the right way because they are usually comprised of an all-star lineup. But when they look at us, they are starting to realize that we’ve got it figured out,” Stopera said.
“The difference is that we stay together all year long. My guys are loyal to me, and they’ve always resisted joining the all-star teams that so many other programs have. I give them a lot of credit for staying together.”
Stopera pointed out that the Tartans compete in four different summer leagues and also participate in several tournaments, along with practice. They sometimes play five or six times a week.
Among the leagues Scotia participates in are the YMCA, Shenendehowa Summer and Skidmore Summer programs. Scotia often plays double-headers in both the Shenendehowa (Wednesday nights) and Skidmore (Thursday nights) programs.
“With my core group, which includes Scott [Stopera] and Joe [Cremo], there is not a day that goes by where they don’t take 500 shots,” Stopera said. “They know what they need to do in order to be good. In fact, Scott’s golf game has suffered because he plays so much basketball now.”
During the Basketball Hall of Fame tournament, the profilic Cremo averaged about 30 points a game, with a high of 42. He also tossed in 29 points in the tourney opener. Almond, who played the lead guard on defense, also connected for 22 points in one game.
Stopera said that the team which competed last weekend will be very much like the one that will represent the Tartans again this winter.
“Joe Almond was our seventh guy during the school season, and he’ll be one of the new guys who will help us next season,” said Stopera. “He’s got some skill. We lost two seniors off last year’s 27-0 team, but the guys who will replace them are more athletic. Offensively, they don’t shoot the ball as well as the other two guys did, but our leaders will be back.”
The Tartans also fared well in the prestigious Rumble in the Bronx tournament, eventually losing to the New Jersey Playerz, one of the top AAU teams in the country.
“People around the country are starting to know who we are now,” Stopera said. “We’re starting to get some exposure. But the kids from Canada thought we were from Nova Scotia instead of Scotia, N.Y.”