Boys Basketball Preview
Lions return deepest team
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"With what we have and what we hope to do, it would probably be the deepest team," Terry said.
The Lions return every key player from last year in addition to a crop of younger players who excelled on the junior varsity last year. To grasp the Lions' depth, consider that their leading scorers from their first two games weren't on the varsity last year. Paris Parks scored 17 in a win against Rocky Point and Darien Davis has 12 against North Babylon. In a win against Central Islip Tuesday no player scored in double figures, but 10 players scored. Returning guard Kevin Allen led the team with nine points.
"We're doing things unconventional right now," Terry said. "We're getting everybody on the court. So far, so good with that."
At the team's core are the "senior citizens," as Terry referred to them. Guard Anthony Cavalluzzo is in fifth season on varsity. Forwards Marcus Hunter, Jimmy Knudsen and Allen are in their third year on varsity.
The Lions finished 11-3 in League I last year for second place. After splitting with Brentwood in the regular season the Lions lost in the playoffs on the road against the Indians in the quarterfinals. Brentwood figures to be among the top competition again with the return of JJ Moore, one of the top big men in the county (the Indians were beaten handily this week by a Long Island Lutheran team that now features Tobias Harris, the former Hills West standout). Lindenhurst returns Kamil Parzych, a dynamic offensive player.
Last year it was a different hero for the Lions every night. It could be a similar story this year. The Lions have a bevy of guards all with similar capabilities. Cavalluzzo, Kris Kelly, Cameron Roundtree and Kyle Weeks can all shoot from deep. In the middle the Lions will rely on Hunter, Knudsen and Patrick Piasecki. Hunter brings tremendous athleticism to the court while Knudsen brings versatility to play inside or outside. Knudsen often led the team in rebounding last year and also showed a nice shooting touch. Terry said Piasecki has gotten stronger in the offseason.
Newcomers like Parks, Davis, Tajric Boggs, Chris Green and Mark Spoerer will all compete for time.
"We try to go out every day and get better, whether it be a practice, a scrimmage or a game," Terry said.
The Lions have a busy non-league schedule before getting into the heart of the League I schedule in January. The Lions will get two league games in before the break with Patchogue-Medford and William Floyd. Longwood will host St. John the Baptist Dec. 23 and play in the Holiday Tournament at St. Joseph's College Dec. 27-28.
"In League I you play the same teams year after year," Terry said. "There's no tricks, no wrinkles. Everybody knows everybody else's personnel. You really have to come out and play."
Neither Kevin Davis or Ryan McAlary immediately jump out on a basketball court. Davis stands 5-foot-9 while McAlary is listed at 5-10. Only sophomores, both are making their first varsity appearances for Shoreham-Wading River this season.
The young tandem, however, are at the centerpiece of a deep Shoreham team that expects to make some noise in the competitive League VI.
In the Wildcats' first four games Davis led the team in scoring. McAlary wasn't far behind and showed off a deft outside shot against Rocky Point Saturday, hitting all four of his 3-point attempts.
It hasn't been often Shoreham coach Kevin Culhane has turned to a pair of sophomores in the starting rotation. Culhane could only think of a few others off the top of his head since he's coached at Shoreham (3-9 League VI last year, 6-13 overall).
"The biggest thing is those kids are making significant contributions," Culhane said. "Shooting and defense and they're both good ball handlers."
Davis and McAlary played together on the junior varsity last year, where they led the team to a successful season with only a couple losses.
"They're good all-around athletes," Culhane said, noting that they both play football and baseball.
The Wildcats are off to a terrific start in non-league (4-0) before opening the League VI season tonight against Amityville, always one of the top teams in the league.
While the Wildcats are young with Davis and McAlary, they also have leadership from more experienced players. Craig Ceruti, a senior guard, and Mark Hubner, a senior forward, are the team's captains. Ceruti scored 13 points for the Wildcats in their 68-48 win against Rocky Point.
"He's been everything I've asked him to be," Culhane said. "He's played smart, great defender, quick hands. He's doing a great job."
Hubner's role centers around defense and rebounding, along with junior center D.J. Menezes.
"Everybody has a role on the team," Culhane said.
C.J. Higgins and Mike Clancy are both sophomores who will see time off the bench.
"Higgins is a very intelligent player defensively and the kid Clancy is a banger," Culhane said.
With a lot of options at every position, playing time won't be easy to divvy up for Culhane. But he said all the kids are working hard and have been a pleasure to coach so far.
"These kids are working their rear ends off and doing everything I ask them to do," he said.
The League VI schedule offers few breaks for the Wildcats, who will need seven wins to make the playoffs. Amityville, John Glenn, Bayport-Blue Point and East Hampton help make up one of the toughest divisions in Suffolk County, if not the toughest. East Hampton, Bayport and Glenn combined to go 34-4 in League VI last year.
"For us I think we'll be able to battle these guys," Culhane said. "But I think it's going to be very difficult. We will not be blown out in games. I think we will stay in games because we're tough."
The past two seasons the Rocky Point Eagles have flirted with the postseason. They've seen their tickets to the dance, but each time came up just short. The Eagles have gone 0-7 in games where they could clinch a playoff spot the past two years. The '07 season ended with three straight losses and '08 with four.
If the Eagles are to snap that funk this year, they'll have to exorcise the demons of the past two years. A postseason berth would likely come down to the final few games again. The Eagles won't run away with a division title and shouldn't fall to the bottom. Once again, they'll be in the mix, in the last week or two searching for that elusive victory to put them over the hump.
The Eagles have already played five non-league games before Friday's League V opener against Sayville. After dropping their first three, the Eagles came back with two wins in the Southold Invitational to create some momentum.
The Eagles will rely on senior Tom King as one of their top scorers. The MVP of the Southold Invitational, King is a four-year varsity player who can take the ball to the rim and hit from the outside, although his jumper was off in the first few games.
Senior Matt Oliver will play guard as well and was an All-Tournament player in the Southold Invitational.
"Defensively he worked his butt off," said Rocky Point coach Jim Jordan.
Early in the season defense has been the biggest focus for Jordan. The offense will come into form with time, but the defense always needs to be consistent.
"We got to do on the defensive end," Jordan said. "As the season goes on we're going to get better on offense"
The Eagles were tested by a few high-powered offensive teams in non-league, including Longwood. The Lions nearly hit the century mark against the Eagles with 92 points and did it with every player on the roster seeing action.
The Eagles won't have to contain teams as deep as Longwood in League V. But it was a good early test.
One key player who missed the first four games was Tim Popko, who was recovering from an elbow injury. Popko returned Tuesday night against Southold and played well, chipping in 10 points.
"His leadership on the court we needed," Jordan said.
Other key players for the Eagles include Matt Palasek, who scored 21 against Southold, Tim Hawkins, Cody Thixton and Vinny Palumbo.
The Eagles open the league against a 2-1 Sayville team that lost last week to Shoreham. The Golden Flashes, like Rocky Point, will be a team in the middle of the pack fighting for a playoff spot, making these games between the schools crucial. The top three teams from last year, Harborfields, Huntington and Islip, should all be strong again in League V.
In his first year as varsity coach of Mount Sinai, Chris Herrschaft knows the challenge ahead for the Mustangs. But he also knows about turning a program around.
As the boys soccer coach, Herrschaft guided the Mustangs to back-to-back playoff appearances the last two years, after a long stretch for the team as a bottom-feeder. Now he'll hope to do the same with basketball, where he takes over a team that won one game last year and lost most of its key players to graduation.
"We're a young team," Herrschaft said. "We got a good group of juniors, then we have a couple young guys, a freshman and a sophomore."
The Mustangs have two returning seniors in forward Chris Steigerwald and guard Kevin Walker. Junior Joe Bongiorno will play point guard.
The key early in the season for the Mustangs will be adjusting to a new system. The growing pains were evident in the first two games, both big losses against Comsewogue and Miller Place. The Mustangs also lost to Rocky Point before grabbing their first win against Pierson Tuesday in the Southold Invitational.
Herrschaft, the JV coach last year, said the team is trying to get more organized in a motion offense. The Mustangs don't have much height and will rely on their guards. They'll try to slow the game down. The last thing they'll want is an up-tempo game against teams like Amityville and East Hampton.
"There are very few teams we're going to be able to run against in our league," Herrschaft said.
The two other seniors for Mount Sinai are Jose Robles, a 6-1 guard, and Dan Lopez, a 6-1 forward. The Mustangs' biggest threat is sophomore Nick Bhatia at 6-5. Wayne Harris is the only freshman on the varsity.
The Miller Place Panthers posted one of their best seasons in years last season with an 8-4 record in League VI and a trip to the Class A semifinals. While the Panthers lost against a tough East Hampton team, the experience should bode well for the returning Panthers. While Miller Place lost several key starters, the Panthers should find themselves in the mix once again in a competitive league.
The Panthers opened 1-2 with a win against Mount Sinai and losses to Port Jefferson and St. John the Baptist. In each game the Panthers have had a different leading scorer.
Miller Place coach Brian Sztabnik could not be reached before deadline.
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