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Park receiving big-time contributions during its run to the Federation Final Four

It's a luxury and advantage possessed by few boys basketball teams. Park School has been enjoying its unquestioned size advantage to the fullest this postseason.

The Pioneers have three forwards on their roster who stand 6-foot-8 or taller. The trio of 6-8 junior Quentin Nnagbo, 6-9 classmate Julian Eziukwu and 6-10 sophomore John Eziukwu has performed at a level that has exploited opponents' weaknesses at both ends of the court.

Need a key rebound? Check.

How about a block or altered shot? Check.

Putback or finish in the paint? Check.

If Park can once again dominate the paint while its athletic backcourt featuring Manhattan Cup MVP Brandon Smith along with Division I prospects Noah Hutchins and Daniel Scott does its thing, the Pioneers have a great chance at completing the postseason hat trick.

Park (23-5), the Manhattan Cup and New York State Catholic High School Athletic Association Class A champion, heads to Glens Falls in hopes of capturing the New York State Federation Tournament championship. The Pioneers faces New York State Public High School Athletic Association champion Amityville (27-1) at 2:15 p.m. Saturday at Cool Insuring Arena in a Class A semifinal.

The winner meets either Albany Academy or PSAL champion Brooklyn Law and Technology for the championship at 4 p.m. Sunday.

"This is an advantage we must capitalize on," first-year Pioneers coach Rich Jacob said. "We all know that. We're going to work to exploit the size. … It's up to us to capitalize."

The Federation Tournament brings together the four champions in New York (NYSPHSAA, NYSCHSAA, PSAL and Alliance of Independent Schools) in one competition to determine the overall best team in the state in Classes AA, A and B.

This isn't foreign territory for Park as it captured the Class B Federation crown in 2015 – the same year Canisius won the Class A Federation championship.

The Pioneers have spread the wealth in reaching this point again. The bigs have helped key a defense that's fueled the offense. Hutchins, Smith and Scott have been assigned the task of guarding their foes' top three players. Should any slip by – twin towers is waiting near the rim. Should the fourth and fifth options need to handle the scoring load, it sure is tough shooting over that height.

"I think it's absolutely a factor that the bigs have been more consistent with their habits, boxing out and being aggressive to finish," said Jacob, who isn't afraid to play Nnagbo, Orogun and sixth-man Eziukwu at the same time.

The numbers back that up.

The trio combined for 20 of Park's 64 points in the Manhattan Cup final. Nnagbo and Eziukwu each scored nine points and made sure the Pioneers won the battle of the boards. They made it tough for Canisius, which has one of the top post players in the area in Monsignor Martin Player of the Year Ryan Bradley, to establish an inside game.

Park's big men followed that by chipping in 11 points in the state semifinal win at St. Anthony's (L.I.).

They delivered even more in the 65-50 win over Nazareth of Brooklyn in the state Catholic final. Eziukwu had a game-high 17 points, including 10 in the second half. Orogun added 12.

For the season each of the trio is averaging at near 6.5 rebounds per game with Orogun at 6.6.

Earlier in the year, the bigs were noticeable at times but not all the time. What's led to them becoming more consistent?

"Everything is based on practice," said Nnagbo, who averages 6.2 rebounds per game. "What we work on in practice is our moves. What everybody practices is what we're going to show on the court. Sometimes we go for our assists or dish it out to Noah or Danny because they're better shooters … or we go up strong to make the basket."

It helps that Hutchins looks to get the big fellas involved early.

"It's a whole different game than it is now," the junior point guard said. "We trusted our bigs a little bit (early in the season), but we were still a little scared to give it to them a lot more. Now without thinking, we just feed them. That's a huge piece of it now. They're a lot more comfortable. I think that has a lot to do with practice."

"We've embraced the idea that we need each other," Jacob said, "so the hard work pays off."

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