Best of the Rest: Kaczmarski’s forgotten season at Longwood

07/31/2011 7:57 AM |

UCLA COURTESY PHOTO | Nicole Kaczmarski had one incredible year at Longwood High School, before moving on to Christ the King, Sachem and eventually UCLA.

Alicia Conquest is largely considered the greatest Longwood High School girls basketball player.

Cheri Eleazer is the school’s all-time leading scorer.

But neither of those All-Long Island players would hold those distinctions if another former Lions star played each of her high school seasons at the school.

Fifteen years later, people forget that Nicole Kaczmarski, considered by many to be Suffolk’s all-time greatest girls basketball player, actually played her freshman season at Longwood.

“What a season that was,” recalls former Longwood girls basketball coach Pierce Hayes, now the coach of the Lions boys team. “We played in packed gyms everywhere we went.”

Kaczmarski made a huge splash leading Sachem High School to a state championship in her eighth grade season of 1994-95, when at just 13 years old the 5-5 point guard was named Suffolk Player of the Year.

Late in the season rumors began to circulate that the phenom, whose father Peter had won custody of her in a divorce dispute, would be playing elsewhere the following year.

Most reports had Kaczmarski heading to city power Christ the King that fall. But Newsday would later report that after Peter couldn’t sell his home in Middle Island, Kaczmarski, who shot up to 5-9 that offseason, would play for Longwood instead “because there was no place else for her to go.”

Kaz, as she was known, would end up leading Longwood to a 10-2 league record and a three-way tie for the league title. She combined with Eleazer that season — on a team that featured just one senior — to form an incredible freshman duo.

But when Longwood was shocked 46-38 by No. 7 Walt Whitman in the quarterfinals of the Class A playoffs on Feb. 25, 1996, Kaczmarski had played her final game with the Lions.

Despite never attending classes at the high school — back then Longwood ninth graders went to junior high — Kaczmarski was an All-Long Island selection for the second time and a USA Today All-American honorable mention in ’95-96. But come summer time, it was announced that she would finally make the jump to Christ the King.

It was a great single season with the Lions. Kaz scored 390 points, second-best on Long Island, and averaged 21.7 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists as Longwood went 16-4. She scored in double figures in all 20 games and hit 35 3-pointers that season.

It was during her time with the Lions that “Kazmania” began to take hold. Coach Hayes told Newsday in February 1995 that he had received letters about his freshman star from more than 50 schools.

“She was probably the most talented basketball player I have ever seen at that age,” Hayes recalled in an interview last week. “It was because of how hard she worked at it. She would stay after practice and work on her jump shot for hours when she was only a ninth grader. She released perfectly, it was almost like a textbook jump shot.”

Kaz would play only briefly for Christ the King before transferring back to Sachem, where she would finish her storied career with a then-Long Island record 2,583 points. She was the Gatorade National Player of the Year her senior season of 1998-99, a season that saw her named to every high school All-American team.

Hayes says he doesn’t think much about what could have been.

“It is what it is,” he said. “I’ll always remember her as a great kid.”

gparpan@northshoresun.com

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