Boys Basketball: Can the First Settlers make Wilcenski’s life easier?

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | One of Southold's young players, Kenji Fujita, found a way around Mattituck's Austin Tuthill.

The single biggest question hanging over the Southold High School boys basketball summer league team isn’t really about the team’s star player, Winston Wilcenski. No, people know full well what he can do. The real question is will Wilcenski get the help he needs from teammates in order to lessen the load on his shoulders?

Wilcenski’s name became known in Suffolk County last season. The all-conference shooting guard averaged 22.1 points per game and led Long Island with 65 three-point field goals. Those sort of numbers attract attention from opposing defenses.

Not surprisingly, Wilcenski and the First Settlers are seeing a lot of box-and-one defenses designed to contain him in the Town of Brookhaven Summer League.

“Winston’s going to do what he does. Winston’s going to get his points,” Southold’s summer league coach, Sean O’Hara, said. “There’s only so many things you can do to a kid who’s got range, who can stroke it like that. I don’t think Winston’s the question mark. You know what you’re going to get. If he’s on a good night, you’re going to get a ton of points.”

That leads to the question of what will Southold get from its other players, and how will they help make Wilcenski’s life a little easier on the court?

Southold lost Sal Manno and Alex Conway to graduation, and with an influx of new, younger players, chemistry needs to be developed. Who can be expected to help out? Kyle Clausen? Alex Sinclair? Will Fujita?

The First Settlers will likely need all of them and others, including young players like David O’Day and Liam Walker, a freshman who played for the junior varsity team last season.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Liam Walker of Southold is a freshman guard who could help the First Settlers.

“It’s a team sport,” Wilcenski said. “It’s not just about me. It’s not just about our big man [Sinclair]. It’s about one full team.”

Wilcenski rejected the suggestion that he will face an adjustment as a high-profile senior that opponents will be focusing on.

“No. Not at all,” he said. “Same sport.”

O’Hara said Wilcenski’s role remains the same: to shoot the ball.

“What else is he going to do?” the coach said. “That’s what he does. He scores points. I don’t see any box-and-ones deterring him from what he does. He’s going to get his points.”

Box-and-one defenses are nothing new to Wilcenski. He saw them last season, too.

With an eye toward college, Wilcenski is putting in some time at point guard. Aside from that, though, he appears to be the same Wilcenski who burned League VIII teams with his dead-eye shooting last season.

“Winston’s not the type of guy that’s going to ball hog the whole game,” Sinclair said. “He’s not going to just jack up shots. He creates space. He moves the ball around. He makes everyone around him better, and he’s just a great all-around athlete.”

Wilcenski produced a game-high 11 points in addition to grabbing four rebounds and making four steals in a 31-29 loss to the Mattituck Tuckers on Tuesday evening at Eastport/South Manor High School. Both teams are 1-4.

Despite sitting out the second half of the first half with foul trouble, the 6-foot-2 Sinclair still finished with 13 rebounds to go with six points, two blocks and an assist.

Mattituck pulled in front for good down the stretch when successive baskets by Austin Tuthill, Tyler Connell, Josh Conklin and Chris Dwyer made the score 28-25.

A layup by Walker then pulled Southold to within one point, but a free throw by Dwyer and two more by Tuthill gave Mattituck some breathing room in the form of a 31-27 lead with 12.3 seconds to go.

Wilcenski converted a followup in the final seconds, but the damage had been done.

After the game, O’Hara bemoaned the turnovers his team committed. “I just can’t stop saying the word turnover,” he said. “I’m going to have nightmares about the word turnover tonight.”

O’Hara said the First Settlers must have turned the ball over more times than they attempted shots. On that point, he was off the mark, but not by much. Southold committed 24 turnovers and had 31 field-goal attempts.

Both sides had their shooting issues in the first half, which ended with Mattituck leading by a softball score, 8-7. Southold shot 3 for 13 from the field and Mattituck went 4 for 19.

But things picked up for the First Settlers in the second half when they listened to their coach and attacked the basket more.

“You can only say it so many times — get the ball and go to the rim,” O’Hara said. “There was a point I think I said: ‘Please, no one’s allowed to take jump shots. No more.’ ”

The highlight of the game, without a doubt, was a nifty hop and twisting move for a layup by Wilcenski that gave Southold its first lead of the game at 19-18.

“He put some English on the ball off the glass,” O’Hara said. “It was a phenomenal move.”

Connor Egan was Mattituck’s top scorer with 10 points to go with five rebounds, five steals and one assist. Tuthill added eight points for the Tuckers, who lost Tom Sledjeski for the summer with a broken left wrist he suffered in a hard fall after a dunk earlier in the season.

Wilcenski knows how to keep a summer league loss in perspective.

“The team’s doing fine,” he said. “We just have to work on some things. It’s summer league. That’s what we’re here for.”

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