Chernicoff stands front and center for NYHS hoops

Islander returns to his hometown this season.

Sam Chernicoff’s hoops mission is to display toughness while he’s manning the center position on the court for Mercer Island’s Northwest Yeshiva High School (NYHS).

As a 6-foot-2 sophomore starter, the Island resident has notched a game-high 20 points this season for the Lions, who had compiled a 4-1 record in the 1B/2B Sea-Tac League at press time.

“The great thing about our team is we’re super well-rounded. One player will have 20 points (in a game) — it could be a completely different player in like four straight games,” said Chernicoff, adding that the squad (4-5 overall at press time) has been elevating its game each time out. “We started off slow, but we’ve been picking it up recently. That’s our main thing, to get better as the season goes on.”

This is Chernicoff’s first year competing for NYHS and just his second year playing basketball. Last year, he delved into the hoops world while attending Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles, first getting his dribble on during recess and then lifting his game up a level on the school squad.

Feeling more connected to his religion, Chernicoff returned to the Island and enrolled at NYHS. He also stepped back into the friendship fold with students he knew from local schools who are presently attending NYHS. It was an easy decision to enter the Lions’ lair, he said.

The former cross country runner at Islander Middle School turned to basketball because he was attracted to the team atmosphere.

“It’s not like an individual sport, like cross country or something. You have to get all your teammates involved to win, and also there’s a lot of strategy involved and all that,” he said.

Teamwork, passing and picking up the pace are vital parts of NYHS head coach Steve Bunin’s game plan, Chernicoff said of the 1992 Mercer Island High School graduate. The two guys had crossed paths before when Chernicoff was in Bunin’s daughter’s third grade class and he’s glad to reunite with the fellow Islander on the basketball court this time.

More crucial basketball insight — and life lessons — came bouncing Chernicoff’s way while he and his friends interacted with professional basketball player Jayson Tatum as he trained at Shalhevet.

“He said, ‘Never lose confidence,’ and if you get knocked down, it’s good for you to face challenges and never give up. If you face them, always keep staying motivated,” Chernicoff said.

The Reporter asked Chernicoff a series of questions to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into his life:

If you could go to dinner with one person, who would that be?

Probably Charles Barkley.

That’d definitely be an interesting dinner, huh?

Yeah, he’s really funny.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever been given?

Probably the only way to get better is to fail.

Gotta learn from your mistakes. Always. That’s what we can all learn, whether on the court or in life.

What superpower would you like to have?

Probably mind reading.

What’s a binge-worthy TV series that you’d recommend?

“Game of Thrones.”

What’s a skill that you’d like to learn?

To juggle.

When you wake up in the morning, what do you hope to achieve each day?

I would just say just to get better in any way possible. I don’t want to spend a day and you go to sleep and you can’t remember anything you got better at that day.

Yeah, I like that one. I always kind of try to learn something new each day and just to kind of add to your life arsenal.

What’s your favorite movie of all time and why?

“Coach Carter.” It taught me a lot of lessons about basketball and everything like that from the teamwork part of it, and nobody’s bigger than the team and all of those important lessons.