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Former Tiger Basketball Star El Nokali Enjoying Debut in Rec League Hoops

By Bill Alden

Ahmed El Nokali was more than a bit pooped as he walked off the Community Park court last week after his Merrill Lynch team dueled Red Wolf Design in the Recreation Department summer men's basketball league.

El Nokali's T-shirt was drenched in sweat, as he was gasping for breath, and anxiously looking for a bottle of water.

But El Nokali, a former star point guard at Princeton University and the current head coach of the Princeton Day School boys' basketball team, had a grin as he accepted congratulations after pouring in 23 points to lead Merrill Lynch to a 64-52 win.

Afterward, the 2002 Princeton graduate acknowledged he was happy to be simply in the fray on the court.

"I just love playing," said El Nokali, whose Merrill Lynch team has gotten off to a 2-1 start in its debut in the Rec Department league.

"I try not to be a coach out here, I just play. The team¹s looking to me to score a lot. Tonight we were just lucky that we came out and hit our shots. Anytime you can hit your shots, that¹s a key."

El Nokali is especially enjoying playing this summer considering he took a bit of a hiatus from the game after completing his stellar career at Princeton which saw him score a total of 656 points and dole out 202 assists.

"Playing four years at Princeton wears on you, it's tough on the legs," acknowledged El Nokali, who was a co-captain of the Tigers his senior year and earned second-team All-Ivy recognition twice.

"After my last season there, I got a little burned out on basketball. I didn't even play for a whole year because I was so worn down. You have some time off, you come back refreshed. Now I feel rejuvenated."

El Nokali¹s transition back into the game was eased by his coaching experience this winter at PDS. "I was playing with my PDS kids all during the year," said El Nokali, who led the Panthers to the state Prep B finals in his debut season on the bench. "I played with them everyday in practice, I never really got too out of shape."

El Nokali, who played on an Ivy League championship team in the 2000-01 season, is now focused on getting Merrill Lynch in shape for a title run in the Rec Department league.

"Anytime you're in a league, you want to win a championship," declared El Nokali, who learned about the league when his college teammates, Gabe Lewullis and Ray Robins, played in it over summer breaks.

"This is a real good league, it's very competitive. We still need a few more players, we need a big guy. We got annihilated on the boards tonight."

With a refreshed El Nokali in the fold, Merrill Lynch should be more than competitive.

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