Jah’likai King felt embarrassed when the Newburgh Free Academy Goldbacks lost to the Pine Bush Bushmen on their home court on Feb. 18.
“I was upset; I was mad,” said King, the Goldbacks’ sophomore guard. “I wanted to win the game, straight from the jump. I stayed aggressive and I kept playing.”
His aggressiveness got him 31 points on Saturday morning as the top-seeded Goldbacks got some revenge by beating the Bushmen, 66-52, on Saturday morning at Mount Saint Mary College to claim the Section 9 Class AA championship.
“That’s special for me,” King said. “I always wanted that. But it’s just points. I want to keep going one at a time. Next game, we’ll see who won at the other game and keep moving on from there.”
The win gave the Goldbacks their 22nd Section 9 championship and first since 2014.
“It’s a beautiful win,” said junior Amarri Tice said. “We haven’t won sections in a long time so I’m just happy to bring a section championship to the city.”
And the city came out, packing the Kaplan Center for the first game of the day, a 10 a.m. start.
“I know it was an early game, but this crowd was beautiful,” Tice said. “They helped us perform and we fed off their energy and came out with the win.”
However, it was King – one of the Goldbacks’ youngest players – who did the heavy lifting, who took charge of the game in the second half, scoring 21 of his points in the third and fourth quarters.
“He’s a beautiful guard,” Tice said. “One of the better guards that I know. He knows how to set up the offense and go by a guy to score. It just makes it look easy for him.”
He made it look easy getting around Pine Bush’s 6-foot-8 center Chris Cain, but coach Frank Dinnocenzio said he reminded King to go to the hoop aggressively.
“JK is sometimes so unselfish because he doesn’t want to let anyone down,” Dinnocenzio said. “That’s his mentality. He says, ‘I don’t want to be selfish. I don’t want to let the team down, coach’. I tell him, ‘you are letting the team down when you’re not playing aggressive.’”
Since practice began in November, the Goldbacks’ mission was to bring Newburgh back to the forefront of Section 9 basketball.
The Goldbacks have been seeking all season to restore the glory from 2005-11 when the Goldbacks won 5 of 6 Section 9 Class AA championship. That run included a New York State Public High School Athletic Association championship and a run to the state Federation finals.
“It’s huge for the program,” Dinnocenzio said. “I never thought I’d be here again. I always wanted to be. I know I should have been, and I know Newburgh kids. They’re resilient. They’re kids that are always working hard.
They don’t always come from the best of areas, but they always do the best job.”
The road ahead that King spoke of was scheduled to start on Tuesday at SUNY New Paltz when the Goldbacks faced Section 1 champion Horace Greeley.
The winner will head to the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena on Sunday afternoon to face Section 4 champion Binghamton at 2:45 p.m.
“I have a blast with them and I’m so happy I get to practice at least two more times with them and maybe more.”