By Andrew Wroblewski
The Upper Room Royals completed their first season under head coach Tom Femminella last month, securing a 19-6 overall record and third place in the East Region of the National Prep Championships in South Carolina.
For Femminella, the season will be remembered as one of “firsts.”
For the first time in the history of Upper Room Christian School in Dix Hills, he said, two players on the boys basketball team were offered scholarships to play Division II basketball in college: Stefan Jevdjenijevic and Jose Pabon.
In the National Prep Championships, the team reached East Region semifinals for the first time, ultimately falling 74-62 to Maryland-based National Christian Academy on March 4, but coming away with a 72-62 win over North Carolina-based Combine Academy to secure third place.
The K-12 school joined the newly-assembled North American Christian Athletic Conference, which consisted of eight schools in total. The Royals reached the conference's first championship game, falling 67-51 to St. Benedict’s Prep.
And, of course, it was the first season as head coach of the Royals for Femminella, a Massapequa native who previously coached basketball at Ward Melville High School and Hofstra University.
“It was a fun year, a great season,” Femminella said. “Taking away from the season, there was a lot of growth. You have to build somewhere. I don’t think a lot of us expected this much success this soon.”
The success had by the Royals was contagious, according to Femminella, who said his phone has been ringing with inquires on the team, leading to a visit from Jay Wright, head coach of the Villanova men’s basketball team, which won the 2016 NCAA national championship last month.
“He took a private jet and he was in our gym checking players out,” Femminella said. “He’s a friend, but at the same time he knows we’re up to something here.”
For Pabon, a 6-foot senior guard who averaged 8.6 points and 7.9 assist per game, the season of firsts yielded more than just success on the court.
“Even though, this was our first time playing together and most of us were from different countries and cultures, we found our way to relate to each other,” he said. “Every game was an opportunity to make mistakes as a family, trying our best to support each other.”
Pabon, a native of Venezuela, said his next step is to play college basketball and earn a degree. After that, he said, he has aspirations “to represent my country and play professional basketball in either Europe or back in my country.”
Elsewhere on the court, the Royals were led offensively by Osbel Caraballo, a 6-foot-5 junior swingman, who averaged 22.9 points through the season. That includes an average of 26 points per game through the Royals’ three-game stretch in the National Prep Championships.
Feminella said he had “a real big season,” and is excited to see what Caraballo has in store for next season.
Another player expected to return for Upper Room is Rashan Allen, a 6-foot-1 junior who averaged 13.3 points per game. Allen, of Amityville, said he and the Royals are ready to make even more noise next season.
Allen said, “I just hope we get a chance to play against the best competition around to let people know we're here.”