Hofstra’s two seniors from last year – Brian Bernardi and Deron Powers – took part in the Gotham Hoops Invitational April 22 at Long Island Lutheran High School, facing off against each other in the event’s first contest.
The Invitational has been held each of the least four years in the New York area. Run by Ray Anczelowicz and the Gotham Hoops team, the event provides a showcase for newly graduated players seeking an opportunity to play professional basketball overseas.
Filled with mid-major talents and even players outside the scope of Division I hoops, the Invitational pits four teams of players against each other in a tournament format, including a consolation game.
In the night’s first game, Powers’ team “Bold New York” prevailed over Bernardi’s “Sports Hub” 80-75 despite a 12-point performance from Bernardi, who also added for 15 points and three assists in his team’s second contest.
“It was actually kind of comical a little bit,” Powers said with a smile in regard to competing against his former teammate. “I knew all his moves, so as soon as he came on the court I was like ‘I’ve got him, I know what he’s going to do,’ so that was pretty fun.”
Powers accounted for just six points in that contest, but dished out four assists along with one steal against a single turnover. In his second game of the event, Powers added another 16 points along with a pair of assists.
“He’s one of the fastest people I’ve ever played with,” Bernardi said of Powers. “It’s tough guarding him, but he challenges me every day and we make each other better.”
Neither player began his collegiate career at Hofstra, but each will have earned a degree from the University. Bernardi transferred from SMU after his freshman season and became eligible in 2014 along with fellow impact transfers Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley. The group led Hofstra to the doorstep of a CAA title in 2016, but fell just short in an 80-73 overtime loss to UNC-Wilmington.
Known as a sharpshooter, Bernardi led the Pride in 3-point shooting percentage each of his first two seasons and became a 1,000-point scorer in just three years in a Hofstra uniform. As he takes steps toward the next level, Bernardi has shown a determination to solidify his all-around game.
“I also want to show that I can do a lot of mid-range stuff,” Bernardi said while identifying shooting as his trademark skill. “I’ve been working on my ball-handling a lot, creating for others.”
Powers spent three seasons as a double-digit scorer at Hampton University, then transferred to Hofstra for his final year of eligibility last season. The successor to Green at the point guard position, Powers had the best statistical season of his career in Hofstra blue.
The Williamsburg, VA native set career highs in points per game (13.0), assists per game (5.2), and field goal percentage (41.8%) during his senior campaign.
“I think it’s going to be my ability to find open guys and make guys better players,” Powers said when asked of the trait that would set him apart at the pro level. “That’s the thing I really pride myself on, is not only being good myself, but also making my teammates better. I feel like if I don’t make my teammates better, then I didn’t do a good job.”
Powers leaves behind a track record of team success at the collegiate level. His Hampton Pirates narrowly lost to Penn State 69-65 in the opening round of the 2014 CBI, a game in which Powers notched 19 points on 8-12 shooting. The following season, Hampton earned an NCAA Tournament win with a 74-64 First Four victory over Manhattan in which Powers dished out seven assists.
Now taking their first steps past the collegiate level, both Powers and Bernardi are excited for what the future holds. With a slew of former Hofstra players moving on to play in the professional ranks, this duo is set to add their names to the ledger.
“It’s something new,” Powers said of the pro process. “Every time you encounter something new, it’s going to be a little challenging at first, but I’m starting to get comfortable and just trying to make the right decision.”
“It’s what I love to do, so I’m not even thinking of it like a job,” Bernardi added. “I’m just playing ball.”
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.