Greenport continues to prove it’s the team to beat, but the returning Final Four contender can’t take any opposing squad lightly. The Porters came to that realization quickly Friday after a 51-47 nonleague win over Mattituck.
“Mattituck played great against us — I tell the team that we’re circled on everybody’s calendar,” head coach Ev Corwin. said. “We’re always going to be the favorite going into each game. The other teams in the league don’t have anything to lose — it’d be a feather in their cap to knock us off — so we can’t go into any game thinking any team is just going to lie down and take it.”
Greenport graduated one starter, but the bench is what took the brunt of the blow. None of the League VII players on this year’s backup list have varsity experience.
So, Corwin is going to rely on returning starters Ahkee Anderson, Tyrus Smiley, and brothers Jaxan and Jude Swann. Joshua Santacroce, who came in off the bench last year, rounds out the fifth spot.
“I’m really leaning on those four returning starters — they’re all such great players,” Corwin said. “They’ve all been playing together since eighth grade and they all complement each other so well. The best compliment I always get is how we move the ball so well and the fact that the guys are unselfish. They know where each other’s going to be, what they’re going to do.”
Each of the returners from last season’s 22-4 team contribute in a different way. Anderson (564 points last season), is a leader who can do a little bit of everything, Corwin said. The junior averaged 22.6 points per game last season, scored his 1000th point against Mattituck November 30.
“He’s just so talented — he makes us go,” Corwin said of his All-State athlete. “His unselfishness is contagious among his teammates. He makes us go.”
Jude Swann (408 points), a six-foot-four, 260-pound center, takes care of the rebounding, and his brother Jaxan (375 points), a point guard, has a good shot and is the best defensive player, according to his coach. Smiley (270 points), six-foot-three, was noted by his coach as being a superior athlete who also leads a balanced attack. While other teams will be pressuring the returners, Corwin said he’ll be counting on Santacroce to get some shots in, along with Bellport transfer junior Cylus Shelby and his son Ev Corwin Jr.
Mattituck, competing in League VI, suffered two close nonleague loses, falling December 1 to East Islip, 67-54. The Tuckers return six to the roster this year, including junior Xavier Allen (349 points) who nailed 33 three-pointers and 95 field goals on last season’s 13-8 team. Also back on the court are Jayden Ford (41 points), Christ Nicholson (45 points), Trevor Poole (99 points), Ryan Seifert (119 points), and Matt Sledjeski (31 points). New to the team is sophomore Luke Woods.
Southold graduated four seniors, including two starters, a point guard and power forward, and returned seven League VII players.
“I’m excited for the guys that are returning,” head coach Lucas Grigonis said. “They’re older, more mature, their game has gotten better. Our goals are higher, our standard is higher. Everything is being pushed a bit further this year.”
Senior leadership will come from captains Max Kruszeski and Eric Connolly, but point-scoring will come from Steven Russell and Nick Grathwohl, the leading scorers from last year’s 7-14 team. Russell (381 points) averaged 18.1 points per game last year, and finished with 92 field goals and 43 three-pointers. Grathwohl (324 points) averaged 15.4, including 63 three-pointers. The Settlers will be looking to junior point guard Cole Brigham and junior guard/forward Nick Eckhardt to fill in the gaps.
The coach said the chemistry is getting better and better, especially with a ton of returners, but following a 63-51 loss to Shoreham-Wading River November 29, said there’s plenty of work to be done. A statement win for the Settlers would be an away victory over Bridgehampton, Grigonis said. It would help them on their quest to making its third postseason appearance in the last six years.
“I think we need to prove ourselves against Bridgehampton this year,” the coach said. “But I’m most excited for our matchup with Pierson because they’re in-class. Our league is always strong no matter who’s in it. The coaches are great. Winning a playoff game is a goal this year — proving to ourselves we can perform at the next level.”
Bridgehampton (9-12 last season) brings back its entire roster, including starting five Jonny DeGroot (184 points), J.P. Harding (404 points), Will Walker (103 points), Nae’Jon Ward (97 points), and Elijah White (301 points).
“We’re looking to tackle the task on a collective basis,” said head coach Ron White, Elijah’s father. “We’re looking for each guy to play their one-fifth of the role to make the whole pie.”
He said his team has a steep hill to climb, and while good at rebounding, will need to eventually become more efficient shooting.
“They’re beginning to understand how to play the game of basketball, and using more of their brains and less of their athleticism,” White said. “We just need to play hard, not be afraid to fail.”
Pierson (11-10 last season) graduated two starters and a bench player, and returns a relatively young team, boasting three seniors, one of which is a newcomer.
“I’m looking forward to this year,” head coach Hank Katz said. “I think we have a lot of key ingredients. We have kids that work hard, kids that work well with each other.”
Henry Brooks (262 points) and Cooper Schiavoni (66 points) are senior leaders for the Whalers, which are going to rely heavily on Brooks’ scoring ability, according to Katz. Sophomore Habtamu Coulter, called up from the junior varsity team, will fill a starter position this season.
“We have to be able to come with our ‘A’ game each and every day,” Katz said. “Each position will be really, really important. We need to put an emphasis on not turning the ball over and taking advantage of every possession, but we’ll also be relying heavily on how we defend.”
Katz, like others, pointed to Greenport, reinforcing Corwin’s comment of being marked on every team’s calendar, calling the Porters the “class of the league.
“We’re the hunted. It’s a position that we’ve earned, but everyone is giving us their best game,” Corwin said. “We have to go through this gauntlet again and nothing is promised. Now that they’ve tasted it, such an amazing experience, they’re locked in and focusing on making sure we get back to that state championship.”