It’s expected that at some point soon, perhaps several games into this high school boys basketball season, Xavier Allen will hit a basket or sink a free throw and achieve a milestone that a Mattituck player hasn’t reached in over 40 years.
Allen will enter his fourth varsity season with 931 career points. He’s closing in on the 1,000-point mark, something a Mattituck player hasn’t done since Don Wilcenski in 1978, according to coach Paul Ellwood.
An All-County player last season for the Tuckers (12-10), Allen averaged 21 points and seven rebounds per game. Although listed as a guard, he can play on the wing and in the post as well as point guard.
“He’s the most versatile player I ever had, the best player I ever had,” said Ellwood, who takes a 128-186 record into his 16th season coaching the team. “Every year he’s taken a huge step, so he’s going to be fun to watch this year. He looks tremendous. He’s played a lot and worked on his game and gotten stronger and bigger. He’s going to do everything for us.”
Rashad Lawson, a 6-3 junior forward who was brought up from the junior varsity team halfway through last season, is an impact player as well. “He’s going to have to contribute a great deal for us to have success,” said Ellwood.
Sophomore point guard Luke Woods will control the offense and pace of the game.
Senior forward Chris Nicholson, a defensive specialist, is “just a great kid to have on the team,” Ellwood said. “He doesn’t are about stats. He’ll get a ton of rebounds.”
Isaiah Johnson, a senior guard who missed all of last season with an injury after starting as a sophomore, offers varsity experience along with junior guard Nate Demchak and senior guard Bryan Flores.
Four juniors are new to the team: guards Sean Kobel and Declan Martin, and forwards Nikita Palianok and John Jacobs.
Last season Mattituck upset Southampton in a semifinal and reached the Suffolk County Class B final before losing to one of the strongest Center Moriches teams in recent memory.
Comparing his team of last season to the current squad, Ellwood said: “We’re a little bit more athletic, we’re quicker, even though we’re a little smaller. I think we’re still a very good team … but in a different way.”
With four Nicks and two sets of twins, Southold (12-8) has an interesting team. The First Settlers may also have a county Class C championship contender.
After losing to Greenport in last season’s county final, Southold wants to take things a step further.
“I feel very strongly about our potential,” coach Lucas Grigonis said. “This is a season that we’ve been building, honestly, for four years. It started with Steven Russell as a freshman and then Nick Grathwohl and Cole Brigham coming up as sophomores. Last year we met almost every season team goal that we set out for ourselves. I feel like this year we’re confident.”
There’s good cause for that. Southold is built to win now.
The Settlers have nine seniors, led by All-Conference shooting guard Grathwohl (19.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists per game), All-League small forward Russell (16.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists), point guard Brigham and small forward Nick Eckhardt.
Grigonis said Grathwohl “can be a very intense player and in games that fuels him. When Nick is challenged, he tends to rise to the occasion.”
As for Russell, Grigonis said: “Steven does everything well. I’d say it’s his enthusiasm that kind of sets him apart from other players in the league.”
Eckhardt’s brother, Justin, a senior shooting guard, also returns along with senior twin forwards Barry and James Asip and senior small forward Jack Cosmadelis.
Junior shooting guard Sean Szynaka, a transfer from St. Anthony’s, and senior point guard Paul Jordan (his middle name is Michael), a transfer from North Carolina, are new to the team along with senior power forward Nick Carr, junior guards Jaishaun McRae and Nick DeNicola and junior power forward John Kaelin.
Grigonis said the team’s mindset is its strength. “We know how to be successful,” he said. “I think we’re willing to learn from our mistakes.”
Greenport (21-3), coming off a wild triple-overtime loss to Cooperstown in a state semifinal last season, has undergone dramatic change since that crazy game in Binghamton.
“Reboot,” said coach Ev Corwin (74-53, seventh season).
A good deal of recalibrating is required. That’s what happens when a team loses eight — eight! — of its top 10 players, as the Porters have. Among them are some high-quality players. Ahkee Anderson transferred to Center Moriches for his senior year. Jaxan Swann and his brother Jude graduated.
Welcome to life without Anderson and the Swanns.
Corwin took a philosophical view, as in, it had to happen sooner or later. “At one time we lost Ryan Creighton,” he said. “At one time we lost Gerald Crenshaw.”
The Porters have only eight players on the team. Senior shooting guard Joshua Santacroce and sophomore point guard Ev Corwin, the coach’s son, are the only remaining players who were on the varsity team for the entire 2018-19 season. They started most games.
Sophomore guard Jahmeek Freeman is back. So is sophomore guard Kevin Azama, who was brought up from the JV team for the playoffs.
The new additions are senior forward Jalen Stilley, sophomore forward Donovan Lawrence, 6-4 sophomore center Jordan Hubbard and senior forward Demetrios Mantzopoulos.
“I’m hoping to surprise a lot of people, and I tell them there’s no reason we can’t win our league,” Coach Corwin said. “I really believe that.”
With the severe lack of depth, he also believes the Porters must avoid injuries. “One or two injuries will destroy us,” he said.
Rebounding hadn’t been something Greenport had to worry about in recent years, with Jude Swann in the paint. Now it’s a question mark.
“As great as Jaxan and Ahkee were, you can’t replace 6-4, about 260 [pounds] of the best rebounder around,” Coach Corwin said. “He starts the break. He stops penetration. It’s almost an irreplaceable type of thing … You can’t teach that size.”
Greenport will count on the 6-1 Stilley and Hubbard to bring down boards. “Jordan Hubbard is going to get thrown into the fire whether he’s ready or not,” said Coach Corwin.
It’s clearly a new chapter for Greenport.
“You’re talking about sophomores across the board pretty much and a couple of seniors,” the coach said. “There’s going to be growing pains. There’s no way around it.”
Photo caption: Xavier Allen is 69 points away from becoming the first Mattituck player since 1978 to score his 1,000th career point. (Credit: Daniel De Mato, file)