The Greenport players huddled together in front of the scorer’s table and pointed up toward the camera where GPO TV broadcast the game live online.
They had just wrapped up a thrilling 81-76 win over Central Islip, a strong League I team, and could finally take a moment to exhale and smile. The game itself Saturday afternoon had taken a backseat to something far more important: the health of their teammate, senior Tyrus Smiley.
From a hospital bed at Stony Brook University Medical Center, Smiley watched as his teammates fought for a hard-earned victory at Greenport High School with the type of play that epitomizes Porter basketball: unselfishness, grit and a little flare.
“He was watching on the live [broadcast] so we made sure to shout him out and let him know we’re thinking about him,” said junior Ahkee Anderson, who led all scorers with 33 points.
It had been a whirlwind 36 hours for the Porters, who were awakened in the overnight hours Friday to learn their teammate had been rushed to a hospital after suffering a gunshot wound. Two men have since been arrested.
Teams often speak about coming together as a family. Suddenly for the Porters, that took on added meaning.
“Every coach worth his soul wants that [family] atmosphere,” said Greenport coach Ev Corwin. “This group, for three years, have been it. They look out for each other. They’re friends on and off the court.”
Senior Jaxann Swann awoke around 1:30 a.m. Friday and saw he had three missed calls from Anderson. He thought maybe Anderson had accidentally dialed. But he couldn’t go back to bed without knowing his teammate and friend was OK.
He sent him a text message asking if he was OK. A few minutes later, they spoke on the phone and Swann learned what had happened to Smiley.
“It felt like I was in a dream,” Swann said.
Without much time to process what had happened Friday, the Porters had to quickly make a decision on how to proceed as a team. A game was scheduled for early the next afternoon. As a group, there was no hesitation, Corwin said. The players wanted to play. And Smiley wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“They would have had to answer to [Smiley] if they didn’t play the game,” he said. “I’ll tell you that right now.”
Anderson said he didn’t sleep at all Thursday once he heard what had happened and did his best to rest Friday before Saturday’s early tip. Corwin and all the players visited Smiley at Stony Brook Friday and then FaceTimed with him Saturday morning. Corwin said Smiley assured his teammates he was OK and urged them to go out and play hard.
“Everyone is there for each other and it shows out on the court,” Anderson said.
Before the starting lineups, the PA announcer acknowledged Smiley by saying: “We’d like to let him know we’re all thinking about him and we wish him a speedy recovery.”
Smiley was an All-League player last year and was expected to be a key returner for the Porters this season in their quest for a trip back to the state final four.
Anderson described Smiley as a “spark plug.”
“He’s such good guy,” he said. “He brings so much light and good spirit to the team. He’s a big part of our family.”
Corwin described his players’ reaction Friday as in shock. It was a look in their faces he hadn’t seen before. He didn’t know how his team would respond once the players stepped on the court Saturday.
As soon as the game tipped off, the Porters came out flying, scoring 19 first quarter points to go ahead by seven. Crisp ball movement led to nearly every basket in the opening quarter coming with an assist.
The Porters trailed by three at halftime before starting off the second half on a 13-2 run. Anderson hit big shot after big shot. Senior Jude Swann controlled the play inside, scoring 20 points. Jaxan Swann added 18. The Porters never relinquished the lead after going ahead in the third.
And the Porters got a big boost from Ev Corwin Jr., the freshman son of the coach. The coach inserted him to guard Central Islip’s Ty-Shon Pannell, who had scored 23 points in the first half, as part of a box-and-one defense.
The coach hoped to ease the defensive burden for Jaxan Swann, and the move worked. Pannell was held scoreless in the third quarter and scored just four in the fourth, to finish with a team-high 27. Ev Corwin Jr. also contributed offensively by hitting a pair of key 3-pointers. It was the type of spark the Porters needed in Smiley’s absence.
Jaxan Swann said the Porters were feeding off the energy that Smiley typically brings to the game.
“He’s still with us,” he said. “It was a fun game knowing he was watching.”
Top photo caption: The Greenport players point up at the camera to acknowledge their injured teammate. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)