Comeback No. 2: Nardi's Ready

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. -- Last season -- the lost season -- is over. The commitment to Villanova is out of the way. Senior year is here. And PG Mike Nardi -- a healthy Mike Nardi -- is ready to lead Elizabeth (NJ) St. Patrick's.

"I think he's more relaxed," St. Pat's coach Kevin Boyle said Saturday afternoon at the Hoop Group's Fall Jam Fest here on the Seton Hall campus. "He doesn't have any pressure on him."

The 6-1 Nardi felt plenty of pressure last spring -- whether he admits to it now or not. Two injuries forced him to sit out all but a game and a half of the 2001-02 campaign. He broke his foot in December. He returned in February and played in two games before bruising a bone in his big toe and missing the rest of the season.

So he basically watched the Celtics go 22-6 and get to the Jersey Tournament of Champions semifinals without him -- all the while knowing full well he was the difference between that team being good and that team being great.

Worse yet, he watched other point guards on the East Coast and around America boost their reps, wondering whether or not the most coveted scholarships would still be there when he was finally able to return to action.

"I think he was a little worried he wasn't going to get a good scholarship," Boyle said. "It did bother him."

"I knew it would happen sooner or later," Nardi insisted this weekend. "Once you start pressing, that's when you don't play your best."

Which, in all, honesty, is what happened this past summer. The Steve Blake look- and play-a-like forced some things at Nike All-America Camp. And his timing looked off during the Celtics' mid-July run to the And1 High School National Championship title.

But he proved himself often and early at St. Pat's. He started six games, as a freshman, for the 1999-2000 state title squad. He took over full-time first-stringer status as a sophomore and led Boyle's troops to a 19-9 overall record against a typically challenging schedule.

As for this year? The St. Pat's roster, in addition to Nardi, features Seton Hall-bound C/PF Grant Billmeier, low-DI-caliber sharp shooter Jason Patterson and heavily hyped freshman Derrick Caracter.

"We should be ranked in the top five (in the country) and have a shot at the national championship," Nardi said. "But most important, we've got to win the Tournament of Champions here in New Jersey."

That'll depend a lot on the point guard.

"I think he's ready for a big year," Boyle said. "I think him or Derrick will win state player of the year. It just depends on who has the better season."

And then it's off to join guys like Jason Fraser, Curtis Sumpter, Randy Foye and Allan Ray in coach Jay Wright's up-and-coming program at ‘Nova.

"I love their coaching staff and the guys," Nardi explained. "(Assistant) Freddy (Hill) is a good friend of mine. It's not that far from home. And of course, with that type of talent, once we get experience, we're going to be able to do some damage."

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