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How A Traveling Call Went Sydney Zambrotta's Way

A long commute is nothing for Sydney Zambrotta. She is used to training in a no-frills gym so sticky it's called "the Everglades." Bruce Yeung/Icon SMI

Sydney Zambrotta lives one block from North Babylon High School on Long Island. But that's not where the high-scoring, 5-foot-9 combo guard goes to school.

The 17-year-old Zambrotta makes a two-hour commute -- car, train and bus rides are required -- so she can attend Christ the King.

"The first day I took the train, I was a sophomore, and I was nervous," said Zambrotta, who gets up at 5 a.m., gets dropped off by her father at the Long Island Railroad, catches the 6:09 train to Jamaica, New York, and then takes a bus to Middle Village. "At first, I had no idea where I was going, but I learned. It's been worth it because I love basketball, and I love to be around people who love basketball. I've never regretted my decision -- never for a second."

The decision has worked out well for Christ the King too.

Zambrotta, the No. 58 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 for the 2016 class, has narrowed 25 scholarship offers down to five. Her contenders, in no particular order, are Louisville, Miami, Minnesota, Pitt and South Carolina.

As a junior the past season, Zambrotta led the Royals to the Catholic High School Athletic Association state title, with 32 points, six rebounds and four assists in the final. Christ the King then lost 66-52 to Long Island Lutheran in the semifinals of the Federation playoffs. Long Island Lutheran was led by guard Lauren "Boogie" Brozoski, who scored 24 points and is now at the University of Michigan.

Brozoski said she has long been impressed with Zambrotta.

"She's a great player," Brozoski said. "She has handle. She knows the game. And she's an incredible scorer. On the court, we go after each other. But off the court, we're pretty cool."

Three-sport star

Zambrotta has been an "incredible scorer" for a while.

Growing up, Zambrotta played basketball, soccer and lacrosse. She was a potent scorer in all three sports and traveled the country on high-level club teams.

"She was an unbelievable soccer player," said her mother, Robin, a personal banker at Chase. "I thought that was going to be her sport."

Fate intervened. When Zambrotta was 5, she was spotted by Danny Green Sr., a local coach and the father of NBA standout Danny Green of the San Antonio Spurs. Green convinced Zambrotta's father, Bruce, to take her to trainer Jerry Powell, who has worked with numerous high-profile basketball players.

Powell, gruff in demeanor, initially had no interest in training someone so young. He runs a no-frills gym inside the North Babylon Town Hall annex, which has no air conditioning.

"We call it the Everglades," Powell said.

Bruce, the founder and owner of Clearwater Aquarium Service and a former high school basketball and tennis player, said it was his daughter's talent that convinced Powell to train her. Powell said it was Bruce's determination, initially, that convinced him to take her on.

"I thought I was too rough for Syd," said Powell, who still trains her. "But Bruce didn't care. Syd's tough now. She can flat-out play."

That became evident when Zambrotta made the North Babylon varsity as an eighth-grader at Robert Moses Middle School. The following year, Zambrotta reclassified as an eighth-grader and made news by scoring 63 points, which broke the Long Island single-game varsity record, while playing for Upper Room Christian in a 78-17 win over Our Savior New American. Zambrotta also had 13 rebounds and 11 steals in that game. Earlier that season, Zambrotta had scored 58 against New American, two points shy of the record. On the morning of the rematch, she brashly tweeted that she was going to break the record ... then proceeded to back up her boast.

By the end of that season, Zambrotta had given up soccer and lacrosse to focus on basketball.

She played her freshman year at St. John the Baptist before making the decision to come to Christ the King, which has produced numerous stars, including two of the all-time-great pros in Tina Charles and Chamique Holdsclaw.

Choosing Christ the King came with serious responsibility. Coach Bob Mackey said if Zambrotta or any of his players were late to school, they would not play or practice.

"There's no messing around," Mackey said. "You have kids who are babied at the high school level, and then they are not ready for college. And in college, there's always another kid waiting to take your place. Syd made a major commitment to come here, and that bodes well for her once she gets to college."

As a freshman under Mackey, Zambrotta was a key reserve. She played in the shadow of Sierra Calhoun, who went on to sign with Duke and recently transferred to Ohio State. Christ the King lost in the state semifinals that year but improved the past season, when Zambrotta took a more central role.

The next step for Zambrotta, Mackey said, is to continue to work on her defense, which has gotten much better the past two years, and improve her shot selection. He wants her to attack more and settle for jumpers less.

"Syd has so many weapons," Mackey said. "Her outside shooting is what she's recognized for, but she does so many other things that make her teammates better. I think her best asset is when she drives. If you settle for the outside shot, yeah, you will get the shot. But at the next level, she will have to be the assist-maker and get the ball to the bigs."

Chez Williams, Zambrotta's AAU coach at New Heights, agrees with Mackey's assessment.

"Syd is learning how to pick her spots to get the best shot possible," Williams said.

College choice

Zambrotta, who has visited Minnesota, Pitt and South Carolina, will tour Miami and Louisville the next two weeks.

She's a good student -- she averages 89 on a scale of 100 -- and enjoys American history. Ultimately, she would love to be a basketball coach at the highest level.

Her personality is outgoing and quirky. She's afraid of crowded elevators and sharks. She also likes to cook exotic dishes -- "Give me a recipe, and I will figure out how to make it," she said -- and she has a generous spirit.

"Sydney has a heart of gold," her mother said. "When we were in Minnesota, the team had given her some candy. But she left it for the cleaning lady [in the hotel], along with a sweet note. She wrote, 'Thanks for keeping my room clean.' I thought that was so her."