Frankie Policelli wanted to challenge himself.
That’s why the New Hartford basketball star with big-time college hoop dreams left his family and friends for Long Island Lutheran High School after his junior year.
Already a Division I prospect, he left in search of bigger and better competition and an opportunity to maximize his potential and perform on high school basketball’s center stage — for major college scouts from all over the country to see.
Now, with nearly half of his senior season in the books and his list of Division I scholarship offers at 19 and counting, Policelli found what he was looking for when he moved to Nassau County and enrolled at a college preparatory school in Brookville known for its winning basketball ways.
"Yeah, I’m extremely happy here," Policelli said in a telephone interview earlier this week, just days after his 8-for-12 shooting from 3-point range and season-high 26 points led Long Island Lutheran — commonly known as LuHi — to a 75-72 victory over Archbishop Stepinac in a matchup of state-ranked Class AA teams last Sunday.
"It’s really good competition. It’s really forcing me to change my game and play better. … It’s really good for me."
LuHi is a member of the Association of Independent Schools (AIS), its boys basketball teams have won seven New York State Federation Championships — the last in 2012 — and with Policelli’s help, this year’s Crusaders are off to a 9-2 start and ranked No. 1 in Nassau County and No. 5 in the state’s Class AA poll, behind perennial powerhouse Mount Vernon and Catholic High School Athletic Association hotshots Christ the King, Archbishop Molloy and Cardinal Hayes.
Christ the King edged LuHi 57-55 very early in the season. The Crusaders’ other loss was to Florida’s Montverde Academy, the top-ranked high school team in the country, in the finals of last month’s star-studded Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Policelli scored the 1,000th point of his career in early December, and his play in that Myrtle Beach tournament — where LuHi beat two other nationally ranked teams just to reach the championship game — earned the 6-foot-9 shooting guard scholarship offers from Dayton and Cincinnati.
His 15 points and eight rebounds in a 57-45 win over Ohio’s Archbishop Moeller and his 12 points and seven rebounds helped the Crusaders beat North Carolina’s Cox Mill 53-47 in the semifinals. LuHi then lost to No. 1 Montverde 70-42.
"It was a great experience playing them. … That whole team is extremely good," Policelli said. "We took it as a learning experience."
LuHi has won two straight since returning from South Carolina, including a 77-58 victory over a previously unbeaten Sacred Heart team from Connecticut. Policelli had 14 points and 10 rebounds.
"He’s starting to get comfortable," LuHi coach John Buck said. "It’s adjusting to the pace and the speed. But he is starting to get confident with his teammates and the system.
"It was a bit of an adjustment for him, the day in and day out competition. But he is getting into a rhythm and he is understanding what it takes. … And he’s definitely got the ability."
As an all-state player at New Hartford, Policelli averaged over 28 points and 13 rebounds before an injury ended his junior season. After knee surgery, his stock skyrocketed during another AAU season with the New York Jayhawks.
Through 11 games, Buck said Policelli is averaging 12 points and 6.5 rebounds and is shooting over 42 percent from 3-point range, and the coach is quick to add: "Being a double-figure scorer here is a big deal. Scoring 12 points a game here is a lot — it’s different than scoring 25 a game somewhere else."
The transition, though, has not been easy.
"At first," Policelli said, "it was kind of like a shock playing against really, really, really good players every day in practice. It took me a while to get adjusted. But I feel like I can only get better."
Both Policelli and Buck believe he is in the right place, at the right time. According to his coach, fitting in at LuHi and playing at such a high level has not been a problem for a long, athletically gifted "young senior" who happens to be just 17 years old.
"It’s his athleticism — he catches alley-oops with ease — and his ability to shoot the basketball from deep," Buck said when asked of Policelli’s basketball future. "I never like to look too far ahead. He’s got a real chance, you know, when he’s 6-9 and athletic with a real good touch on the ball. He’s got a great chance to make it at the next level."
At least two web sites, Rivals.com and 247sports.com, list Policelli as a 3-star recruit — both have him ranked among the top 170 seniors in the country.
"That doesn’t really mean anything to me, honestly," Policelli said. "When you go on the court, you have to perform."
By the looks, he has.
Most recently, scholarship offers have come from Washington, George Washington, Fordham, Texas Tech, Cincinnati and Dayton. At least 25 other colleges have expressed an interest, including Syracuse, Colgate, West Virginia, Florida, Rhode Island and San Diego State.
For now, though, all Policelli wants to do is keep challenging himself, improving his game and being the best that he can be before accepting any offer.
"It makes me feel really good," he said. "But at the same time, I want more. I want to have as many options as possible."