RA’s Costanza finds ‘storybook’ ending

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, March 12, 2013



RESERVE – Before the season, Riverside basketball coach Timmy Byrd said that senior Cory Costanza had patiently waited his turn to start over the years, and that it was finally his time to shine.

Boy, was it ever.

Costanza’s three consecutive 3-pointers down the stretch of Riverside’s 60-49 Class 2A championship victory Saturday left a memorable impression for all in attendance. The shooting barrage came with the game tied at 44 and left the Rebels up by six and able to hold the ball and ice the game at the foul line down the stretch.

He wouldn’t finish the game on the floor – Costanza was in foul trouble all night – but when he fouled out of the game with 57 seconds left, it served as something of a curtain call: Riverside fans chanted his name as he departed the game. He’d go on to be named the championship game’s Outstanding Player after scoring 15 points in 17 minutes while hitting four of his six 4-point attempts.

“The biggest adjustment we made, if anything, was that coach Kevin (Branch) kept saying, ‘Give Cory the ball,’” said Byrd.

Said Costanza, “It’s a great feeling. I sat most of the past three years and made sacrifices, put in a lot of work. And now to have it finally pay off in my senior year … I couldn’t ask for a better way to end things.”

Costanza earned some playing time last season as a junior role-player, but did not take the floor in the team’s championship game last season against John Curtis. Before his junior year, he rarely played at all.

“It’s really a storybook ending,” said Byrd. “When Cory first came here, he couldn’t finish a drill. He wasn’t a very good player. But instead of quitting, he kept at it and not only became a starter, but a great leader.

“A few years ago, people would have laughed if you told them Cory would have been the MVP of the state championship game, and said you were crazy. But now, Cory’s the one who can laugh.”

Byrd said that he envisioned Costanza as a role player prior to the team’s summer work. The Rebels were set to revolve around a lethal collection of freshman and sophomore guards: Von Julien, already an experienced point guard in just his sophomore season; Malik Crowfield, a sweet-shooting, explosive shooting guard; Herb McGee, a stellar defender and capable scorer at both guard spots; and Jordan Andrews, an exceptional shooter and a steals merchant at the defensive end.

Riverside also would feature 6-foot-8-inch center Khalea Turner, who was set to step into the center spot vacated by former Rebel superstar Ricardo Gathers.

But the Rebels were without Turner during the summer, giving Costanza a chance to run with the starters. At that time, he began to open Byrd’s eyes.

“We started playing him in the post on defense, something I’m not sure he was terribly excited with at the time … and he showed me some things we didn’t know he had. He’s a really tough kid, and he went out and sacrificed his body for the team.”

Byrd said that Costanza’s willingness to “do the dirty work others shied away from” defensively earned him plenty of respect. But offensively, Costanza also started flashing the kind of skill that could give Riverside a new dimension.

“He always had a pretty shot, but he didn’t have the confidence or the body language that you see from strong shooters in gametime situations,” said Byrd. “He didn’t have that mental part of it down. But he kept getting better and better and as the summer went on, it became clear that he was the missing piece. We were a different team with Cory at center, versus what we were with Khalea.”

That “different” team became Riverside’s normal group when Turner transferred to John Curtis in December.

But for Costanza, things were more of a struggle than he’d have liked early on. A back injury – a stress fracture –  he suffered as a sophomore flared up again prior to the season, putting it in jeopardy. He was cleared to play, but with limitations.

“He couldn’t do any lower body lifts in weight lifting or certain jumps in game,” said Byrd.

But after a few weeks, Costanza had no flare ups. His legs returned and his confidence soared to new heights – as did his game.

“Cory shot over 50-percent over the last month of the season,” said Byrd. “When a guy is shooting like that, you need to get him as many shots as possible. And our kids did that. They wanted to get the ball to him.”

He exploded in the final stretch of his prep career. He sank six 3-pointers in a district tiebreaker against Curtis to conclude the regular season. At the Top 28 tournament, he hit his 3’s at a robust 62 percent clip, nailing 8 of 13 from downtown.

“I have a great team around me,” said Costanza. “These guys find me when I’m open and get me great looks.”

Byrd said that off the court, Costanza was a natural leader.

“Our kids really loved him because he showed his love toward them. He’d text guys and ask how they’re doing. He always showed support of our young guys. He didn’t lead by yelling or getting in your face … He led more like a big brother than a father,” Byrd said.