Senior Cory Bork dunks the ball during a scrimmage Dec. 12, 2018. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

Cory Bork’s ankle issues may have been exactly what he needed.

The Robbinsville High senior is the leading returning scorer for the Ravens boys’ basketball team this year, averaging 17.5 points in a breakout junior season. It wasn’t long ago, however, that pigskin was his passion.

“The sport I wanted to play was football, that was my main sport growing up,” said Bork, who played in the Robbinsville Ravens football program and for the Notre Dame High freshman team before transferring to RHS. “But I started to injure my ankle.”

Over and over again, as he suffered a series of three ankle sprains in four months. By the end of Bork’s freshman year, he decided to focus completely on basketball.

“Football was just too dangerous to play, and I picked up basketball pretty quickly,” he said. “I was a middle linebacker and a running back, and I loved it, but I didn’t want to get injured and mess myself up for basketball.”

It was the classic cliché springing to life—a door closes, a window opens.

“It was like a blessing in disguise,” Bork said. “I do miss football, but I would miss basketball so much more if I stopped playing. It equals out. I still have to wear ankle braces. My ankles are weak from all that wear and tear. I have to treat them right.”

He showed no issues last year, as his first full season with the Ravens proved he was a top-flight varsity performer.

After playing hoops in Robbinsville Recreation, Bork played AAU with the New Jersey Titans, coached by Ron Simpson. He moved on to the Bucks County Rebels, and learned valuable lessons with both programs. Simpson impressed the need to become a good defensive player, and with the Rebels, Bork learned how to play in a methodical, fullcourt offense rather than just running up and down the court.

‘This year, I’m able to windmill the ball and dunk it. I just learned that this summer.’

As a Notre Dame freshman, he played one game and hit a 3-pointer in a program that was loaded with talent. Bork’s classmate was Isaiah Wong, who would likely be the Colonial Valley Conference’s top player this year had he not been one of six transfers to head elsewhere.

But just one year of practicing with ND paid dividends for Bork.

“It was great,” he said. “At the beginning of the year, he put all the incoming freshmen on JV together. Playing with them increased my basketball IQ insanely. Playing with Isaiah Wong was insane. Playing around people like that just makes you that much better.”

After transferring to Robbinsville, Bork had to sit out the first 30 days of the season. Conor Hayes was in his first year as head coach and by the time Bork became eligible, a pretty good chemistry had been established.

“He could do things on the court that most people can’t do,” Hayes said. “He’s extremely athletic so right away he could shoot from the outside, he could get to the rim, he has a real quick first step. I knew he would be a varsity player for us his sophomore year. It just became difficult to fit him in with all the changes we were already making, then having him sit 30 days and we were having some success. We were on a six-game win streak when he became eligible. So it was tough to mix things up that year.”

Bork averaged 5.9 points and hit seven 3-pointers in 14 games. Things changed drastically last year as he hit double figures in all but three games and had eight games of 20 or more points, including a high of 32 against West Windsor-Plainsboro South. Bork enjoyed a three-game stretch in which he scored, 24, 25 and 24 in consecutive games with South Plainfield, Steinert and Allentown. He was also one of the team’s top defenders, often times taking on the other team’s top offensive threat.

“We were heavily dependent on him scoring 18, 19 points every night,” Hayes said. “I like him on the wing, he has a great first step. He was an electric scorer for us last year, and we’re expecting a lot of big things from him this year.”

Bork is well aware of that. And while Robbinsville has an improved team this year, Bork realizes he will be a big part of any success. That is why he spent an entire summer working feverishly on his game. Rather than play AAU, Bork only played with the Ravens in their summer league while devoting himself to the weight room. He is now a solid 6-foot-1, 160 pounds after adding 10 pounds of muscle.

“I just focused on getting heavier and stronger for basketball,” he said. “I wanted to up my weight because I was so very skinny last year, I got pushed around. I was in the gym every single day or did box jumps or squatted or stuff like that. As far as basketball, I was in the gym every day I could get in the gym. I would go outside if it wasn’t raining, or to the YMCA. Every day I was trying to work out and play basketball. It paid off. This year I’m able to windmill the ball and dunk it easily. I just learned that this summer.”

Bork possesses a lethal outside shot as witnessed by his 53 3-pointers last year. But in order to keep defenders from getting up on him, he realizes he has to penetrate as well, which he feels is his most effective way of scoring. For that, he needed strength.

“I think my best way of scoring is driving and finishing with all these huge defenders around me,” he said. “My vertical (leap) has gotten insane. I feel like I’ve improved so much on finishing through contact and some crafty ways around defenders. Now I can rise up and dunk the ball if a defender is in the way.”

If that wasn’t enough, Bork also worked on one other skill.

“His first step is so quick and just gets him by the person, and once he gets two feet in the paint he becomes really dangerous,” Hayes said. “’And now, the biggest thing he’s improved on is finishing with his left hand. He always showed it in practice, but he really committed to any time he was going left, he was finishing with his left all summer. It’s carried on to our scrimmages and practices.

“He would never hesitate to drive left, but he would always try to finish with spin out of his right hand. He had so many times where he’d drive by somebody, have some traffic and would try to finish with his right hand on the left side and try to spin the ball in, and it would just spin out. I told him over and over, that’s the difference between averaging 21 per game and 17.5 per game.”

With 501 points, Bork is hoping to get the 499 he needs for 1,000 this year. But that is secondary to his main goals of reaching the Mercer County Tournament Final Four and getting a home state playoff game after the Ravens missed the tournament last year.

Hayes feels this is the most talented team in his three years, as seniors Dan Griffin and John Pierson return along with junior Brian Tierney and sophomore Ryan Smith. The coach is high on freshman guard Brian Herbert, whose sister Kaitlyn was a 1,000-point scorer for the Raven girls.

“The nice thing about this group is no one has been selfish at all,” Hayes said. “There’s been no egos, no attitudes. Their role might change night to night. Whether it’s Cory scoring, whether it’s them scoring, whether it’s someone next to them scoring, the only thing that matters is winning games.”

Bork feels it’s the deepest talent pool of his three years, noting “The 10th player on our bench can come in and score 15 points. We are even (in ability) everywhere.”

Bork is unsure whether he will continue basketball in college, but he will certainly land at a good academic school. He has a 3.5 grade point average while taking Advanced Placement courses in literature and psychology. His sister Hayley, a former standout for the Mercer Rowing Club, attends UCLA and was on the Bruins crew team for a while before deciding to focus on her studies.

“I’ve visited her and loved it; I’ve already applied there,” Bork said with a laugh. “I’ll see how this year goes with basketball, that’s how I’ll judge. If this year goes good and I pick up some offers, then I’ll see.”