Boys Basketball: Southold works on putting pieces together

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | David O’Day is one of five remaining players from Southold’s varsity team last season.

If the Southold High School boys basketball program was a computer, now would be the time to press the RESTART button.

All one needs to do is look at Southold’s summer team to recognize that much has changed. Scanning the Southold bench, one sees a lot of new faces. This is clearly a starting-over phase for the First Settlers.

“It’s definitely different,” Kenji Fujita, a junior point guard, said. “Last year I was looking up to my brother and a bunch of the seniors. … Now we’re going to start from scratch.”

Well, not exactly from scratch. Six of the players were on the school varsity team last season, but Fujita’s point is a valid one. The First Settlers have undergone a substantial turnover. They have lost players to graduation, most notably guards Winston Wilcenski and Kyle Clausen. A trying 6-12 season ended for Southold in February with a loss to Pierson in a game the First Settlers needed to win in order to garner a playoff spot.

David O’Day and Liam Walker saw time as starters. They are back along with Peter DiCandia, Cole Hiney, John Tomici and Fujita, who was brought up from the junior varsity team midway through the season. With the new situation has come role adjustments for the veterans.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Southold point guard Kenji Fujita searching for shooting room against Eastport/South Manor.

“It’s definitely different,” said O’Day, who expects to play more shooting guard while Fujita runs the offense at point guard. “Obviously, the level of responsibility changes. Last year, if I wasn’t making shots, I could rely on my other teammates and hope that they do well. … Now it’s kind of, if my teammates aren’t doing well, it’s up to me, Kenji and the returning guys.”

The First Settlers undoubtedly have their work cut out for them. One doesn’t need to look at their 0-6 record in the Town of Brookhaven Summer League to see that. They have been outscored, 290-157, in those six games.

Southold managed a meager 13 points in a 37-13 loss to first-place Eastport/South Manor (6-0) on Thursday night. The game at Eastport/South Manor High School was 11 minutes 43 seconds old before Southold finally got on the scoreboard thanks to a three-point shot that Alex Poliwoda swished through the net.

It was anything but a shooting showcase for Southold, though, with the First Settlers going 4 for 16 from the field. To exacerbate matters, the First Settlers turned the ball over 15 times. Poliwoda ended up as the team’s leading scorer, with 5 points. DiCandia (5 rebounds) was the only Southold player with more than a couple of rebounds.

Tomici has a broken ankle and did not play.

“Right now we’re finding it a little difficult on the offensive end, but they’re playing some pretty good, aggressive defense,” said David O’Day, the player’s father and Southold’s summer team coach.

Coach O’Day said he isn’t concerned with scoreboard numbers or summer league wins and losses right now. “I’m worried about trying to find some places to get some open shots,” he said. “I’d rather see three nice passes and a nice look underneath.”

The coach, who held a practice before the game, said: “I want them to be able to work as a cohesive unit, to be able to move away from the ball effectively, and be able to read each other on the court. The fundamentals — boxing out, good, crisp passes, coming to the ball, things like that — are things that always need to be worked on.”

As Thursday’s game showed, Southold isn’t quite in sync just yet.

“It’s just what we do together is kind of sloppy right now,” Fujita said. “We’re not really coordinated as a team. There’s a lot of guys out here that know the game, and if we work together, if we start playing more together, we’ll probably improve a lot.”

The challenge for Southold’s veteran players is learning to play with their new teammates.

“This group as a whole hasn’t really played together a lot,” the younger O’Day said. “If we can learn to play together, there’s a lot of potential talent, and I think we could do pretty well.”

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