Mattituck boys hoops team gearing up for season

The alphabet soup of Suffolk County boys basketball divisions has gotten a bit more challenging for Mattituck High School this season.

Instead of competing against Class B, C and D schools, the Tuckers will tussle mainly with Class A and some Class B squads.

That means they will play against much larger schools, including Bayport-Blue Point, Shoreham-Wading River and Southampton in League VI.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily spell disaster, but the Tuckers will need to play at the top of their game. The school’s long-running rivalry with Center Moriches, which dates back to 1936, will continue on the hardwood, even though it ended in soccer when the Red Devils became a Class A school and were moved to another league, while Mattituck remained in Class B.

“The league has changed a lot. The state has gone to six classifications. That sent everybody in different directions,” head basketball coach Paul Ellwood said. “Traditionally, we’re used to being in a small-school league. The section decided to put us up with the Class As instead of putting us with the Bs, Cs and Ds, which would have been a nice fit and a perfect league with local rivalries.”

Mattituck will still play traditional rivals Greenport and Southold, who are in League VII, in non-league contests at home on Dec. 12 and 15, respectively.

Southampton is favored to win League VI and the Class A crown, Ellwood said.

“That’s going to be making it tougher for us,” Ellwood said. “The flipside is if we go .500 vs. B schools, and we have [an overall] losing record, we can still make the playoffs.”

Class B schools in the league include favorites Pierson, the defending Class C champion that also moved up, plus Babylon and Port Jefferson.

“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” said 5-foot-9 guard Brady Dwyer, one of five senior starters. “We’re going to just have to get over those obstacles. We’ll see in the early games.”

Amir Christian, a 6-foot-6 senior center, is looking forward to it.

“I don’t think it’s much more of a challenge,” he said. “I think we’re still going to do good this year.”

Alex Clark, a 6-foot senior guard, who recently completed his soccer season and will compete with the lacrosse team in the spring, is one of several three-sport athletes on the squad. He appreciates with the pluses and minuses of facing tougher competition.

“The difference is some of the bigger schools will have players who just play basketball all year or soccer all year round,” he said. “Our team has a bunch of athletes, a few people who may just strictly focus on basketball. A lot of us are just athletes who love playing and working hard.”

Mattituck’s two other senior starters include 6-foot guard Tommy McGunnigle and 6-foot-2 forward Mike Finnegan.

The Tuckers’ starting quintet each played mostly spot minutes last year, but Ellwood feels their experience will be a positive factor.

“The senior leadership is going to be huge with these guys,” he said. “They’re unselfish. They work together. They have good chemistry because they played together as a second unit last year. I’m happy with the way they’re playing right now.”

Chemistry can go a long way.

“I think our seniors are really a close group,” Clark said. “Even the younger kids, they fit in with us. They’re connected and played together well.”

The ultimate goal is to qualify for the playoffs. Mattituck (9-9, 7-5 last year) lost to Babylon 46-36 in the 2023 Class B semifinals.

“It’s definitely going be a challenge, but I think we could do it,” Dwyer said of reaching the postseason.

Ellwood noted that this year’s squad doesn’t have any individual standouts such as Luke Woods, Xavier Allen or Rashad Lawson from previous seasons.

“Last year was the first year we didn’t have a super-stud player and we had really good back court with Trevor Zappulla and Michael Mowdy. Other guys came along. We’re not going to be running the offense through anyone. It’s going to be more of a shared team aspect. It’s going to be fun playing team ball.”

The Tuckers have several non-league games and a preseason tournament on the schedule to get prepared before startiwng their League VI schedule at Southampton on Dec. 20.

“We have a lot of pieces, and the pieces complement each other nicely,” Ellwood said. “It’s not like we’re stocked with one position. Every spot on the floor is covered. As long as we stay healthy, we should be fine.”