There’s one inbounds play Riverhead coach John Rossetti keeps in his back-pocket, the kind of play that can catch an unsuspecting team by surprise with a resounding result.
Not every year, however, does Rossetti have the kind of player who can finish it.
Brandon Tolliver is one of those players.
With the Blue Waves off to a flying start in the second half Thursday night against Patchogue-Medford in a quarterfinal playoff game of the Town of Brookhaven Summer League, Rossetti called the inbounds play. Guard Ryan Bitzer — the team’s best passer — took the ball on the baseline to right of the basket. Tolliver waited up top for his moment, then darted down the middle of the lane. Bitzer threw a perfectly timed pass that Tolliver grabbed with two hands and threw down for an emphatic dunk that wowed the small crowd inside Patchogue-Medford High School.
It capped a 12-2 run for the Blue Waves, who never looked back in a 56-45 victory that improves their summer league record to 7-2-1. They’ll play again Tuesday in the next round of the playoffs.
“I’ve run that out-of-bounds play for years,” Rossetti said. “This year I have a kid who can finish with it.”
Rossetti said the play works against a zone.
“We flood two areas where the defense has to collapse, which leaves the middle a little bit open and we take a gamble,” he said. “It was a situation in the game where we can take a gamble. It’s not always going to work, but you know how dunks are, they bring a lot of energy to the kids on the court.”
Tolliver can do more than dunk. The versatile forward can contribute in all areas, from inside scoring, to rebounding and defense.
The Blue Waves were looking toward Tolliver to be a key player going into the regular season last year. But an injury derailed his season before it could really get going. He eventually made his way back late in the season, but didn’t have the kind of impact at that point that the Blue Waves knew he could really provide.
Now he’s getting back into form, playing with the Blue Waves in the summer league in addition to AAU ball.
“It’s nice to see Brandon playing like Brandon again,” Rossetti said. “That’s where he was playing last year before his injury. He came back and we might have rushed him a little bit because it was a situation where we needed him.”
Tolliver’s confidence is back in his game, Rossetti said, which only helps everyone else on the court.
“He loosens things up for other kids,” Rossetti said.
Tolliver finished with 13 points for Riverhead Thursday. He also showed off his range from outside, hitting a 3-pointer early in the second half off an assist from Bitzer. The Blue Waves trailed by two going into the second half. Tolliver’s 3-pointer was the 10th straight point Riverhead scored to start the second half as the Blue Waves went ahead 38-30. They never gave up the lead.
Bitzer had a big game for Riverhead as well. Based on his season last year as a junior, it comes as no surprise. He had 10 points to go with several assists and steals.
Rossetti said Bitzer can expect to have a target on his back when the regular season begins in the winter.
“Last year he gained a lot of respect in the county on his game,” he said.
Another returning varsity player who’s helped the Blue Waves this summer has been Markim Austin. He led the Blue Waves with 15 points against the Raiders.
He scored in a variety of ways, including converting two conventional three-point plays. He caught a long outlet pass from Tolliver in transition and scored plus a foul to start the second half. Earlier in the first half he converted on the break after catching a great pass from Bitzer and was fouled for a three-point play.
Rossetti called the trio of Bitzer, Tolliver and Austin a “three-headed monster.”
For a team that won an outbracket playoff game last winter, the future looks bright for the upcoming varsity season.
Rossetti said the players have put in a lot of work in the summer, even as many of them play other sports. Several players arrived at Thursday’s game right after leaving a football mini-camp.
“We came out a little sluggish today,” Rossetti said. “They had to get their football legs out of them and their basketball legs into them.”