Andrew Robinson (@ADrobinson3)
PHILADELPHIA -- By now, Alejandro Cybak is used to it.
For the Chestnut Hill College sophomore, “it” could refer to any number of things from his first year with the Griffins, his second year of American college basketball or the litany of Bo Cruz references he gets. The latter comes with the territory of being a 6-foot-8 native of Madrid, Spain playing basketball in Philadelphia. Something else Cybak is used to is making an impact for his team.
Cybak (above) has helped Chestnut Hill turn it around after a slow start. (Photo courtesy CHC Athletics)
Cybak made sure Post got used to his presence Saturday, the forward coming on strong after halftime to help Chestnut Hill College pick up a 74-66 win in CACC play.
“I started feeling good, I started making shots,” Cybak said. “I think my defense was pretty good too, so yeah, I was feeling good basically.”
Saturday’s win was the sixth in the last eight games for CHC, the Griffins having turned things around after a 1-13 start under first year coach Andrew Radomicki. Freshman IV Pettit, a Devon Prep alum by way of a prep year at Phelps, had a team-high 25 points while Cybak was a force after halftime.
The Spaniard finished with 18 points, seven rebounds, an assist and three blocks. Considering he had just four points, no boards and one block at the break, Cybak more than turned it on over the final 20 minutes.
“When I got the ball, so many times they were trying to double me in the first half, so in that moment I am always trying to learn how the defense is working,” Cybak said. “
Not that there’s a direct route from Madrid to Germantown Ave anyway, but Cybak has certainly taken the long road to Chestnut Hill College. Getting ready to leave his homeland, the forward didn’t have a lot of options and eventually settled on South Puget Sound Community College, a junior college in Olympia, Washington.
“So many coaches, they don’t trust in European players or South American players because they don’t know how they’re going to play here,” Cybak said. “The coach there really wanted me and I wanted to come here (to the United States).”
Away from home and from his family, who are still in Spain, Cybak said he had to learn how to live on his own. He had prepared as best he could and while the forward felt comfortable with the playing part of junior college, he wanted more out of the college basketball experience.
It was actually Chestnut Hill College’s prior coach, JJ Butler, who found Cybak and recruited him out of Washington to come join the Griffins. Butler stepped down last May to take an assistant coaching position at Delaware and Radomicki took over in June.
Cybak admitted it wasn’t something to easily brush off, but it also wasn’t enough to deter him.
“I did care, but it’s life, I had to keep going,” Cybak said. “I had committed here, so I was going to play here.”
Radomicki quickly developed an appreciation for the Spanish national, Cybak’s work ethic and understanding of the game quickly showing through. While it might have looked like Cybak wasn’t hugely impactful in Saturday’s first half, the Griffins’ coach knew the forward was thinking ahead.
“He’s a smart player, he figures out how they’re guarding him and what he can and can’t do,” Radomicki said. “He’s one of those guys who gets better as the game goes on because he figures some things out. He looks for, when can I shot fake, when can I spin off, I think he’s a steady player, a guy with a lot of confidence in himself and a guy our players have a lot of confidence in.”
With Pettit on a heater from long range late in the first half, Cybak was instead sizing up Post’s frontcourt and ways to match their physicality in the second half. The 6-foot-8 sophomore did plenty of that, making himself felt under the rim and drawing two second half and-ones that both ended with the big taking a couple steps toward the stands while letting out a yell.
Cybak said what he most enjoys about playing with this group is their emphasis on team basketball. Coming from Europe, he grew up playing that style so it took some getting used to when his team last year or even this season had to match up with opponents that played more isolation or ran mostly through one player.
While he’s only experienced college basketball at the JuCo and Division II level, Cybak said it’s been incredible to see the depth of basketball talent in the United States and he feels he landed in the right place.
“I didn’t want a pick-up team, I can’t improve like that and the team’s not going to improve. That’s not the way to play basketball,” Cybak said.
The forward added he feels playing at Chestnut Hill this season has made him mentally stronger as a player. He cited times last year where he’d let a bad game linger where now he can push past it, keep going and get back to work on improving.
It was only a matter of time before the “Bo Cruz” references started coming Cybak’s way. In the 2022 film “Hustle,” produced and starring Adam Sandler, an aging NBA scout discovers a raw but talented unknown player in Spain, brings him to Philadelphia and tries to help him make the league.
“Every time. When I got here last year, any time I’d say I’m a Spainard, they’d say ‘oh you know that movie?’ or ‘you look like Bo Cruz,’” Cybak said. “It’s alright, I kind of enjoyed it.”
Cybak has seen “Hustle,” and he said he really liked the movie. What he found most humorous about everybody calling him Bo Cruz is that he actually met the real Bo Cruz - or more accurately - Juancho Hernangomez, the Spain-born NBA player who portrayed him.
“I played with him in pick-up back in Spain,” Cybak said. “For me, it was like having LeBron come into the gym.”
The woes of their nonconference schedule are behind them and Cybak said the Griffins aren’t looking at the remainder of their season as a building block for next year, but an opportunity. They want to win the CACC this year.
“We were 1-13,” Cybak said. “We took it personal. Now, we are 6-5 in conference and that’s all that matters.”
STREAK SNAPPED, BUT CHC WOMEN STILL CONFIDENT
Good things eventually come to an end, as the Chestnut Hill College women had to deal with Saturday.
Thanks to a torrid second half shooting display by visiting Post, the Griffins saw their winning streak snapped at 11 in a 62-56 loss to the Eagles. While Post was seemingly hitting everything in sight, the Griffins weren’t able to sustain a strong first half.
Despite that, first year coach Reggie Daniels wasn’t discouraged.
“I still like how we’re playing,” Daniels said. “Getting downhill, getting open shots, getting layups and getting threes, we kind of got away from that in the second half. Defensively, we’ve done well all season, this is a chance for us to get back to our basic principals.”
Technically, there was a game the team lost during the 11-game run, but given that it was an exhibition against a Division I team, it doesn’t count against CHC’s record. If anything, the Griffins’ trip to Binghamton on Dec. 30 - Daniels was an assistant at Binghamton last year - was the spark that set off the win streak.
“For us, the ball finds energy,” Daniels said. “The kids who are energetic, diving on floor, doing all the small things, the ball finds them and somehow goes through the net.”
Chestnut Hill’s starting lineup on Saturday featured two players who weren’t on the team last year in Bridie McCann and Caleigh Edwards, two players who were mainly reserves last year in Avery White and Emily Sekerak and senior Kait Carter, who has far and away the most experience on the team.
“I asked a lot of them in the beginning,” Daniels said. “It kept rising toward what I was asking around Christmas time and they kept getting better and better every single game, finding ways to win.”
CHC has secured a spot in the CACC playoffs and still has an avenue to host a home game. The Griffins have a tough one up next as they travel to Jefferson on Tuesday.
“Every streak comes to an end eventually,” Daniels said. “I think in the long run, it’ll be good for us.”