Great Neck North’s Cronin leads his team from the depths to the heights

Great Neck North’s Cronin leads his team from the depths to the heights
Great Neck North senior Luke Cronin (blocking shot) has helped lead a hoops renaissance at the school. Photo credit:

There were baskets hanging on each end of the court, and the free throw and 3-point lines were all where they were supposed to be.

But for the last few summers, Luke Cronin was basically in an entirely new world when he laced up his sneakers to play some hoops.

When he was in his normal environs at Great Neck North and thereabouts, he played basketball with people he knew, opponents he got familiar with.

But last summer Cronin competed at the legendary West 4th Street courts in New York City, where the ball is fierce and fouls aren’t called unless a limb is missing.

And the summer before that, he competed in the ultra-competitive Nike circuit, the EYBL, against some of the top players from across the country.

Cronin said he didn’t get that much game-playing time, but going against elite competition, and being coached by high-strung men, was jarring.

“Seeing how athletically gifted every single guy is, and if I ever screwed up in practice, I didn’t have the kind of leniency I do here,” Cronin said. “So if I screwed up, I would get screamed at in my face by the coaches. I was not used to that.”

All that tough love did pay off, though, as Cronin has become a Division I signee (he’s headed to George Washington University next year) and the linchpin of a Great Neck North squad that has made giant steps in the last two years.

Cronin, a 6-foot-7, 210-pound center, has helped lift the Blazers from the depths of the Nassau A-II conference to near the top.

On Jan. 18 against rival Elmont, a team that the Blazers had been trounced by earlier in the season, Cronin led the way to a statement win. The senior pumped in 19 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and dished out six assists in the 58-55 victory.

A squad that won only eight games, combined, in Cronin’s freshman and sophomore years, are 10-4 through games of Jan. 20. A lot of that is due to Cronin’s leadership and play; he’s averaging 14 points and 13.8 rebounds per game, to go along with 2.7 blocks and 2.7 assists as well.

“He can do a little bit of everything; he’s the ultimate teammate,” said Blazers head coach Kevin Graham. “His basketball I.Q. is so high, and this year as a senior he’s really become more vocal and become a great leader. He’s a dream to coach.”

“It has really nice to get some statement wins because for a long time we didn’t get any respect,” Cronin said. “To beat teams like Garden City and Elmont the other night, it cements us as a team that’s good and that’s going to be hard to beat, we’re a team to be reckoned with.”

Cronin is a basketball die-hard; he’s been known to sneak looks at game film on his phone during classes at North (with a smile, he wouldn’t admit which classes he has done it in.)

Growing up with a dad who played collegiately and a brother, Jackson, who’s currently a sophomore on the University of Massachusetts basketball team, Cronin was playing since he could walk.

By the time he got to North, he was 6-foot-1 and a ballhandling wizard.  But when he shot up after his sophomore year, suddenly he had to learn how to be a post player.

“That was tough,” he said. “I’d walk out every night after practice bruised and battered. Ice packs and all that. But I learned how to play down low just by practicing really hard.”

Cronin, who also was all-conference in volleyball for North this season, said while dealing with losing early in his career was tough, he used it go strengthen his resolve.

And going against players in the EYBL (he once squared off against LeBron James’ son, Bronny) made Cronin get noticed on the recruiting trail. George Washington coach Chris Caputo sold Cronin on a new era in Colonials hoops after some down years, a chance to live and study in the nation’s capital, and oh yeah, GW plays in the Atlantic 10, the same conference as UMass.

Which means next year the Cronin parents could be watching Cronin vs. Cronin on the court. Who to root for then?

“Oh I’m definitely guarding him if we play, absolutely,” Luke Cronin said with a smile. “I don’t know who my parents are going to root for, that’s going to be crazy for them. But I’m shutting him down.”

Before all that, though, Cronin and North are hoping to get into the playoffs and win a few games, after reaching the postseason last year.

“It’s really satisfying to know how far we’ve come, and kind of make a foundation here,” Cronin said. “We’ve done a lot but we still have more to do, us seniors.”

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