Winston Wilcenski took a big step last season, playing at the varsity level for the first time. This season the junior shooting guard has taken an even bigger step, perhaps, with an enhanced role on the Southold High School boys basketball team.
Wilcenski got some minutes off the bench and was a spot starter last season. He was and remains a pure shooter, but he was down in the pecking order behind the likes of Jon Cepelak, Kevin Parma and Gino De Jongh when it came to scoring options.
With those three having moved on, however, things have changed in a major way for Wilcenski. Now he is Scoring Option No. 1, plain and simple.
“He’s playing the full game instead of the 10 minutes he played last year,” Southold guard Kyle Clausen said. “He’s really stepping up.”
Wilcenski embraces his new role and all the responsibility that comes with it.
“Yeah, I like it,” he said. “We had Cepelak, we had Parma, we had Gino [last season]. We had a bunch of scorers on the team. I was a scorer, but I wasn’t asked to be the main [guy], and this year it’s different.”
The First Settlers have to be delighted with what they have gotten from Wilcenski so far. He struck for a career-high point total for the second straight game on Friday, reaching 25 points in a 49-39 defeat of the Rocky Point Eagles in the Southold Invitational consolation game at Southold High School. The result left Southold at 1-1 and Rocky Point at 1-2.
“I felt great,” said Wilcenski, who was named to the all-tournament team. “I wanted the ball in my hands because I was just on fire, and everyone else started picking it up in the second half when they started playing me tight.”
When Rocky Point devoted greater attention to Wilcenski in the second half, he was smart and didn’t force shots. “That’s what I like about him, the fact that he gets other players involved,” said Southold Coach Jeff Ellis.
In fact, Wilcenski did not have a single field goal in the second half. He did, however, make 9 of 9 free throws over the final 16 minutes. Six of those foul shots came during a 15-4 game-ending run.
Clausen said Wilcenski has always been a sharpshooter, whether he played at the CYO, junior high school or junior varsity levels.
In Southold’s opening-round loss to the Mattituck Tuckers on Dec. 7, Wilcenski put up 18 points. He totaled nine steals, six rebounds, four assists and four three-pointers in the two tournament games.
Wilcenski’s importance to the team is unquestioned. “If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t really be in games,” said Southold point guard Sal Manno, who had six assists.
A Wilcenski shot with two defenders in his face gave Southold a 22-21 edge by halftime. He had 16 of Southold’s points at that point while Alex Conway had the rest.
Both teams hit a rough patch in the third quarter when they combined for 5-for-19 shooting from the field.
A five-foot jump shot by Steven Soltysik gave Rocky Point its only lead of the second half at 35-34 with 4:28 to go in the fourth quarter. But Clausen immediately responded by hitting a three-pointer to kick-start the decisive 15-4 spurt.
Rocky Point pulled to within one point again at 40-39 thanks to a three from the top of the key by Joe Kingston, but Clausen came through with another big play. After missing a three-pointer, Clausen hustled, chased down the rebound of his own shot and made a layup.
Conway finished with nine points and nine rebounds.
Rocky Point received 14 points from its 6-foot 8-inch center, Andreas Vouliakos, and 12 points — all the product of three-pointers — from Kingston.
Rocky Point Coach Jim Jordan had a one-word answer to the question of what made the biggest difference in the game: “Turnovers.”
Asked what the biggest difference was between this game and his team’s opening-round loss to the Mount Sinai Mustangs on Dec. 7, he again used only one word: “Turnovers.”
Rocky Point turned the ball over 22 times, six more than Southold. But it was the type of turnovers — the unforced variety — that Jordan seemed to find particularly irksome.
“Turnovers that are forced by defensive pressure are part of the game, but our own mental mistakes, three seconds, walking with the ball, stepping out of bounds …” Jordan said. “Unforced turnovers drive coaches nuts.”
So can an opposing shooting guard with a hot hand.
“I like the ball in my hands,” Wilcenski said. “I’m a shooter, so even if I’m cold, regardless, I’m going to keep shooting to get myself out of a funk. When I saw the ball go through the rim the first two shots, I started feeling comfortable about myself and my shot.”