Queens hoops coach follows former players through March Madness

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MIDDLE VILLAGE, Queens — With high school sports in the Catholic High School Athletic Association still sidelined by the pandemic, Christ The King Coach Joe Arbitello had nothing to distract him from watching three of his former players competing for college basketball conference championships last weekend.

“My wife was sitting next to me, Veronica, and she’s wondering why I’m losing my mind,” Arbitello said. “I was definitely a fan. “I said I was like a 12-year-old boy, just rooting and hanging on every last play.”

It turned out to be a pretty good weekend for Coach Arbitello and the Christ The King family, with Georgia Tech’s Jose Alvarado, Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn, and Iona’s Ryan Myers all cutting down the nets in their respective conferences. Each of them gave their old high school coach a call after the victories. 

Arbitello says that’s worth more than the six city championships he’s won as a coach.

“Those guys saying, ‘you know what? Let me call my high school coach and just say thank you or tell him I love you or whatever the case may be,’ that’s the kind of stuff that you want to be able to look back on as a coach.”

Arbitello says success didn’t always come easy for his budding stars. Each of them had to put in the work to earn their spot, including second-team All-American Kofi Cockburn.

“I remember him missing the first four dunks when I was working him out on the side basket. He really couldn’t shoot, he was shooting missiles at the rim,” Arbitello said. “But he was just this big, happy, young kid that was eager to learn.”

It was the lessons his guys learned on and off the court, from the teachers and staff at Christ the King that helped prepare all three players for success at the next level.

“They all helped in this process, it wasn’t just me. Our school is an unbelievable place,” Arbitello said.

While his current students have struggled without sports over the last year, he says they’ve still managed to keep their heads high by focusing on their academics and cheering on their former classmates.

“I think that’s the part of it that people don’t see. Like, it’s not a basketball factory or an athletic factory, it’s a school.”

They just happened to help some pretty great players get their start.

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