Boys Basketball Preview: Greenport bench will be key

A basketball team sends five players out onto the court at a time, but needs more than five players to go far in the playoffs, if not even to just reach the postseason.

As far as its first five goes, Greenport may have as good a starting lineup as most high school boys basketball Class C teams in New York State. Junior guard Ahkee Anderson (18 points, 9 rebounds, 4 steals per game last season), senior guard Jaxan Swann (15 points, 5 steals), 6-foot-4 senior center Jude Swann (16 points, 14 rebounds), 6-2 senior forward Tyrus Smiley and 6-2 senior forward Reese Costello can play. Anderson was named to the All-State first team, the Swann brothers were both All-Conference selections and Smiley made All-League.

The real question is: How will the bench perform?

“We have a lot of inexperience coming off our bench,” coach Ev Corwin said. “There’s not a guy on our bench who has played varsity basketball before. … Other people are going to have to step up, help out and give us solid minutes.”

Corwin enters his sixth season in charge of Greenport with a 53-50 career record. The bulk of his success came over the past two seasons, when the team went 37-12.

Greenport (23-4 last season) wants to return to the state final four at Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton March 15-17. Last March Greenport, appearing in its fourth state final four and first since 2009, was beaten, 73-58, in the semifinals by eventual champion Lake George (28-0).

“It was just a fantastic run we had,” Corwin said. “The guys were on a mission and we just fell a little short, but it was still a wonderful season, just a great experience all around.”

If the Porters are to duplicate that sort of an experience, they will need help from their bench where Corwin can draw from junior guard Joshua Santacroce, senior center Zach Riggins, senior forward Sean McElroy, freshman point guard Ev Corwin Jr. (the coach’s son), senior guard Xavier Kahn, senior forward Meko Ameden-Bell, junior forward Sylas Shelby and junior forward Luka Benidze. All played for the junior varsity team last season except for Kahn and Benidze, who is from the nation of Georgia.

Anderson enters his third varsity season with 993 career points and is expected to break the 1,000-point mark in Greenport’s season-opener, a non-leaguer at home against Mattituck Friday night.

“His will to win to me is always, as a coach, [what] made him special,” Corwin said. “As long as we’re winning games, it’s not about his individual stats. The kid just has a will to win and it’s a true will to win.”

The road to Binghamton is a long, winding minefield. Nothing can be taken for granted, especially the final destination.

“It’s a gauntlet. It’s one and done when you get to those playoffs,” Coach Corwin said. “We’re circled on everyone’s calendar because it would be a good feather in someone’s cap to beat us. We can’t just walk out there and everyone’s going to lay down. It’s a new year. Last year was great, but we got to start all over again.”

Xavier Allen of Mattituck. (Credit: Garret Meade, file)

A shakeup has reduced the number of leagues in Suffolk County boys basketball from seven to six. Mattituck (13-8) now finds itself in League VI. While teams like Bishop McGann-Mercy and Stony Brook are no longer on Mattituck’s schedule, the Tuckers have league opponents like Elwood/John Glenn, Southampton and Hampton Bays to deal with.

“It got tougher, no doubt,” said Mattituck coach Paul Ellwood, whose team lost to Babylon in a Suffolk Class B outbracket game last season.

It’s a good thing for the Tuckers that they return a veteran team, sprinkled with eight seniors and their top seven players from last season. All-League players Xavier Allen and H’Nadahri Joyner lead the way.

Allen, a junior point guard, averaged 15 points and four assists last season. “He looks tremendous right now,” Ellwood said. “He’s our leader on the floor. He can score in transition, shoot, drive. He’s our most valuable player.”

Joyner, a 6-2 senior forward, was good for eight points and 11 rebounds per game. “He’s a good inside player,” Ellwood said. “He has a nice touch. He’s developed an outside game, too. He’s also good defensively. He’s a good shot blocker. He’s a force in the paint, offensively and defensively.”

The 6-3 Ryan Seifert and fellow senior forward Trevor Poole also saw starting time last season, as did senior guard Nick Perino and junior guard Chris Nicholson.

More varsity know-how is provided by point guard Matt Sledjeski, forward Jayden Ford, guard Bryce Grathwohl and guard Tyler Olsen — all seniors.

The new additions are guards Luke Woods, Rashad Lawson, Nate Demchak, Bryan Flores and Adam Kobel.

“A lot of experience,” said Ellwood, who goes into his 15th season at Mattituck with a 116-176 record. “We can kind of hit the ground running. The guys know each other. We’re taking our offense to the next level. We need to be able to get stops and be a good defensive team and I think we’ll be a serious contender.”

In order to prepare for the league season, Ellwood said he put together a tough non-league schedule that he believes will pay dividends down the road.

Max Kruszeski of Southold. (Credit: Bill Landon, file)

Confidence can work wonders for a team.

Southold coach Lucas Grigonis knows that full well, which is why he has to feel good about his team’s mindset approaching the new season.

“It’s exciting to me,” he said. “We’re young with experience. It definitely sets a different tone for us this year. We’re more confident.”

Confidence comes with experience, and Southold (7-14) has experience.

One of Southold’s biggest assets last season was the shooting from beyond the three-point arc by junior small forward Steven Russell (17.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.4 steals) and junior shooting guard Nick Grathwohl (15.4 points, 6 rebounds), who nailed 61 and 42 three-pointers, respectively. Russell earned All-Conference recognition and Grathwohl was All-League.

Senior shooting guard Max Kruszeski (5.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, team-high 2.2 steals) is another key player for the First Settlers. He captains the team along with senior forward Eric Connolly. More veteran experience comes from senior point guard Michael Daddona, senior power forward Van Karsten and junior shooting guard Cole Brigham.

Southold has two sets of junior twins. Small forward Nick Eckhardt and shooting guard Jay Eckhardt are joined by two transfers from Brooklyn, small forwards James Asip and Barry Asip. Also new to the team are junior small forward Jack Cosmadelis and senior small forward Emmett Moloney.

Grigonis said it’s as if his team has matured and grown up since last season. “We’re kind of further along the process now,” he said. “We’re kind of past the immature, inexperienced moments. We still have a lot to learn. Let’s say we have a stronger foundation this year.”

A 62-58 overtime loss to Mercy in a season-ending Suffolk Class C outbracket game did not sit well with Southold. The Settlers made only 12 of 26 free throws in that game.

“Our goal is to win a playoff game,” Grigonis said. “I think last year’s playoff loss in overtime to Mercy, it left kind of a bitter taste. We felt we kind of gave it away. It was a tough one. We played well. We forced overtime. We shot terribly from the free-throw line.”

Perhaps some of the Settlers still have a chip on their shoulder from that loss. Grigonis (13-27 entering his third season as Southold’s coach) likes their will to win.

“They want to win every shooting drill,” he said. “They want to win every scrimmage that we play in practice. They have a competitive driving force.”

Until that first jump ball is tossed up, all the teams are dead even. It’s an exciting time of the year for coaches.

Ellwood said, “Everybody’s undefeated still so all the coaches are still happy.”

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Photo caption: Greenport junior guard Ahkee Anderson, an All-State Class C first team player, takes 993 career points into his third varsity season. (Credit: Garret Meade, file)

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