From launching long-range jump shots from behind the arc in the winter to sinking high-pressure putts in the spring, Moorestown’s Akhil Giri showed off an athletic skill set that demonstrated his physical and mental aptitudes in 2019.
The versatile, multi-talented Quakers senior was a major player in two of South Jersey’s top teams this school year: the basketball and golf teams at Moorestown. Giri pulled off a rare feat – something he shared with junior teammate Hayden Greer – in winning state titles in back-to-back seasons.
Before he headed off to graduation and a golf scholarship at Colgate University, Giri sat down with South Jersey Sports Weekly to recap a memorable senior year.
South Jersey Sports Weekly: Could you have ever envisioned your senior year going this well?
Akhil Giri: It’s funny you ask, because coming into basketball season our goal was to win a sectional championship and then as we progressed in the playoffs we started to see our true capability and how much potential we had and we were able to win the state championship. Right after that season I was like, man, it would be pretty sweet to win back-to-back state championships to end my senior year and now I can say proudly that I am a two-time state champion, going back-to-back. I hadn’t thought about it until after basketball, but after basketball I did think it was a true possibility. I’m super thankful it was able to happen.
SJSW: Obviously there’s talent and hard work at play, but I imagine you have to pinch yourself at some point and come to realization that not everyone is as fortunate.
Giri: I think I was truly blessed to be on two winning teams that were extremely dedicated to getting better and always working hard. Everybody was “all in” in both sports. … It’s all a credit to the teammates I was with, I’m just glad to be there for it all.
SJSW: Everything that Moorestown touches seems like it’s turned to gold this school season with the softball team in the sectional championship game, the lacrosse teams heading toward state titles, basketball, golf, field hockey, swimming, tennis. Is there something about this school?
Giri: I really think it’s a credit to the youth programs, as you come up the stress and emphasis that’s put on athletics. And then you come to the school you’re met with extremely high-caliber athletes from the day you walk in as a freshman and it forces you to step up on their level. And the coaches are always there to push you to get better. The athletic emphasis in this school is high, as well as the athletic rigor, which places a great balance between academics and athletics.
SJSW: In basketball, was there a turning point where you knew the team was capable of making history? First title since 1960 is impressive.
Giri: I would say after winning the sectional championship and all of the NJ.com reporters (making us) underdogs, it kind of instilled a fire in us to prove them wrong. Advancing in the state playoffs, our motto was to stay together as one, everything is one as a team. And we’d walk into these neutral gyms that would be closer to the opponent that we were playing, so basically it was home court advantage for them, but we never let that phase us. I don’t think there was one singular turning point. I think it was an accumulation of all of our hard work that luckily peaked in the postseason, which was huge for us. …. And we had so many players that could step up if someone else was having an off game. There was never a game where we were truly worried we were going to lose. We did run into Ranney, which has two future NBA players, but every game besides that we knew if one player was struggling another person would step up, and that was big for our team.
SJSW: I watched the highlight reel today of your Pemberton game: 10 straight three-pointers. And then there was the state semifinal vs. Wall (five three-pointers). When were you more in the zone?
Giri: I’d have to say Pemberton. I pride myself on shooting threes but to make 10 in a row in a game is something I could have never thought of. Both are special in their own way. Pemberton, I set the record for threes for most in a quarter and in a game in a row. Whereas at Wall, it was a state semifinal game in their gym. Coming up big in that game allowed us to go to the state championship game along with the other help from teammates.
SJSW: What’s it like to chuck up 10 in a row and everything is falling?
Giri: It was kind of like going into an unconscious state, almost. The rim feels like it’s humongous. Even a shot that feels like it’s bad coming off still manages to go in. You just want to keep riding that momentum as long as you have it. And you’d think halftime would break it up but luckily for me it didn’t and I was able to get 10 in a row.
SJSW: I know Jagger Zrada has the career record here. Between the two of you, who would win in a three-point shooting contest?
Giri: Uggggh. I think we’d split pretty evenly. But I’m going to say I would win, just for confidence. But, no, he’s probably the best shooter I’ve seen. And to pair us both on the court really puts a lot of pressure on the defense to extend out, and then we have Nick (Cartwright-Atkins) inside who plays like he’s seven-feet tall.
SJSW: Say you are picking teams for a game of HORSE. Who are your top five picks from South Jersey?
Giri: My first pick is definitely Jagger. My second pick is Vinnie Caprarola (also Moorestown). I would then pick Anthony DiCaro from Cherokee. Myself. And then I’d probably pick – I’m going to go with another Moorestown player, Brian McMonagle.
SJSW: OK, flip the script and we’re picking golf foursomes. Who are you taking?
Giri: Oh, I’m taking the three guys on my team here, Will Tone, Hayden Greer and Stephen Eigenrauch in a heartbeat.
SJSW: I feel like this golf team just keeps reloading.
Giri: I would call us a dominant force here for the last four years but more specifically the past two. What a lot of people don’t know is we had the same team last year. The top four that I just named, we played in all of the same tournaments last year. They are some of the hardest workers that I’ve been around. I think I helped instill the value of hard work at golf into the some of the underclassmen when they were coming up. They saw how driven I was and it made them just as driven. They had talent and they constantly were willing to work hard and sacrifice things for the team which yielded a state championship and brought utter happiness to all of us after all that hard work.
SJSW: When did you begin playing golf?
Giri: I started four years ago, when I was 14. My first tournament when I was 14. I really wasn’t into it before then, but I picked up a club with my dad one day and I realized I was kind of decent and that I enjoyed it. Then I got rapidly better to the point where it became my primary sport.
SJSW: Any pro athletes you admire or look up to?
Giri: I’m going to go Tiger Woods. He completely changed the game of golf, dominating by 10-15 strokes at tournaments which was unheard of. And I know he went through a lot of stuff with injuries and his personal life, but coming back from the injuries and winning the Masters, just a true role model in golf.
SJSW: Who are your role models outside of sports?
Giri: My parents (Kartik and Veda Giri) they’re both extremely hard-working. They’re both physicians and they’re super busy, but to spend time with me and my sister and take a big part in our sports. Seeing how hard they work has instilled that in me. I can’t thank them enough for all they’ve done for me.
SJSW: Both physicians?
Giri: Yeah my dad is a cardiologist and my mom is a research oncologist.
SJSW: Do you want to get into medicine?
Giri: I do, I want to be a cardiologist.
Congratulations to Akhil Giri who was awarded the @NJSIAA Scholar Athlete Award for Moorestown High School and received a $500 Scholarship from the @NJSGA1900 . #goquakers pic.twitter.com/vgmQnadAOw
— MHS Athletics (@MHSQuakers) May 19, 2019
SJSW: What’s your favorite sport outside of golf and basketball?
Giri: Tennis. I actually gave up tennis to play golf because they conflicted in seasons here.
SJSW: Do you have a favorite movie?
Giri: I’m going to have to go with “Silence of the Lambs.”
SJSW: That’s a classic.
Do you have a favorite book?
Giri: That’s a good question. I’d probably have to say “1984.” That strange world, censorship, it intrigued me.
SJSW: Anything on TV you’re marathoning?
Giri: There are two shows I watch. “Narcos” is my favorite show on TV and then another show on Netlifx called “Fauda” about the conflict between the Palestinians and the Jewish people.
SJSW: Favorite school subject?
Giri: Science and math, they’re pretty equal.
SJSW: What led you to Colgate University?
Giri: Last summer I was really honing in on playing golf in college and I wanted to play Division-I level at all costs. I had three really good weeks last summer and my ranking when up drastically and I was fortunate enough to get offers from a few schools in the Patriot League. For me, Colgate, when I took the visit it felt like home and the coaching staff treated me like I was already on the team. And the academic rigor of the school was a huge thing for my family and me.
SJSW: If you could have a walk-up song in your sport, what would you come out to?
Giri: “The Final Countdown” by Europe.
SJSW: Do you have a motto to live by?
Giri: Yeah, mine is to never take anything for granted. Things come in strides, there are highs and lows in everything. For me, fortunately I’m a multiple state champion winner, but I realize there are other kids that have worked just as hard that aren’t as fortunate to have won, so I continue to stay humble and realize I’m blessed to have won these and I’ll continue to work hard for everything.