BOYS BASKETBALL PREVIEW: Height and speed put Riverhead in a good position

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | At 6 feet 5 inches tall, Alex Sakhno is a force under the boards for Riverhead.

This will be one of those rare high school boys basketball seasons when the Riverhead Blue Waves have height to go with speed. John Rossetti, who is entering his fourth season as the team’s coach, said the Blue Waves will need both to excel.

“We have speed, we have quickness; we have to utilize that to our advantage,” he said. “But to be a high quality team we have to be good at the half-court sets. That’s the key to this team, can we be good at both?”

Also critical to the team’s success will be the play of its three returning starters. Guards Ben Edmund and Elwood Lamb III and center Alex Sakhno are all seniors. Lamb averaged close to 10 points per game last season.

“They know their roles and what the expectations are,” Rossetti said. “They know what to expect at the varsity level. I have complete faith in all three of those guys.”

At 6 feet 5 inches tall, Sakhno provides valuable height under the boards along with another varsity veteran, Tim Clement, a 6-3 junior forward. Two seniors, guard Rodney Rollins and forward Glenn Patriss, also bring varsity experience to the court.

Rossetti envisions mixing and matching players depending upon the pace and tempo of the given game. He may turn to some of the team’s new members: Roderick Henderson, Brandon Tolliver, Trevon Ward, Reggie Moore, O’Shane Perkins, Ryan Bitzer, Quinn Funn, Earnest McMillon and Jake Maccagli. Perkins, a senior power forward, is a transfer who played for the Copiague junior varsity team two years ago.

When tryouts began, Rossetti said he expected to carry 12 players on the roster. But since he had 15 uniforms available and the quality of competition was good, he went with 15. “We have a lot of guys competing for minutes right now,” he said.

Last season Riverhead went 6-12 and failed to reach the playoffs after qualifying for the postseason the previous two years. The team has been moved from League IV to League III this season and will tangle with the likes of the Copiague Eagles and the North Babylon Bulldogs.

Rossetti said he likes Riverhead’s chemistry and maturity and believes it has the talent to earn a playoff spot. He said his biggest concern is his team’s ability to develop consistency. “Teams that tend to be consistent tend to do well,” he said. “You know what you’re getting on a given night.”

So much is new with the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs (2-16 in 2009-10) this season: a new gym floor, new uniforms and new warmup suits, not to mention new assistant coaches in Skip Gehring and Steve Mears.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Junior forward Danny Hartmann is Bishop McGann-Mercy's only returning starter.

What is a discomforting thought, though, is the sense that this season could bring more of the same to the Monarchs (in other words, more losing).

For a variety of reasons, McGann-Mercy lost six players, all of whom could have been starters. So much for the good feelings Coach Mike Clauberg had last season when he looked for better days ahead.

“It hurts,” said Clauberg, who is going into his ninth season as McGann-Mercy’s coach. “You build, you build, you invest your time, and then, boom, they’re gone. It looks like it’s going to be an uphill battle.”

Danny Hartmann, a junior forward in his third varsity season, is the sole returning starter. The only other returning players from last season are guard Justin Vasquez, power forward Liam McArdle and center Chris Bender. They are all seniors.

The team’s new additions are Junior Paul, Peter Sarich, Ray Ellis, Christian Lynch, Lucas Zenna, Brian Willet and Joe Crosser.

Seven players will be entering their first varsity season. Last season McGann-Mercy had 13 first-year varsity players.

It doesn’t help matters for the Monarchs, either, that for the second year in a row they will compete in demanding Suffolk County League VII. Clauberg said, “There are no easy nights.”

A new season for the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats represents a new opportunity, a clean slate to erase the memories of an injury-plagued and disappointing season in 2009-10.

After a run to the playoffs in 2008, the Wildcats entered last season with higher expectations. Things unraveled quickly, led by a shoulder injury to starting point guard Kevin Davis, and the Wildcats never gained any traction, finishing the season 3-11 in League VI.

“Kids put in good time, a lot of work in the summer, the fall,” Coach Kevin Culhane said. “We look at it as a clean slate. I think health is a big factor. But I think we have more depth this year than we had last year.”

The Wildcats return most of their lineup from last season and, most importantly, a healthy lineup. Culhane said he knows his team has athletic ability, even if it isn’t all basketball ability just yet.

The Wildcats will look to work an inside/outside game on offense. They hope with some success inside, it can free up some of their shooters on the outside for better looks.

“We need to have an inside presence so it takes the pressure off the outside guys,” Culhane said.

Davis will run the point next to Ryan McAlary at the shooting guard. McAlary, a strong outside shooter, is a two-time all-conference player. John Kovach will provide an inside threat. C.J. Higgins will play small forward and is a strong defensive player. Mike Clancy, a third-year varsity player and second-year starter, returns to play forward.

Kevin Galligan provides offense off the bench with the ability to score from the inside and outside. Brandon Warner is another strong defensive player with an improved game from last year, Culhane said. Chris Mahoney will be one of the team’s top rebounders.

On defense, Culhane said the team will mix up both zone and man-to-man coverages.

On offense they will look to get out on the break when they can. If they can force turnovers off a press, it will help spark the running game.

“I want us to understand and really work the offense so we get good shots,” Culhane said. “So when we need it in clutch time, we’re running an offense we can run correctly.”

The Wildcats will open up their non-league season Tuesday at Hampton Bays and will kick off the League VI season Dec. 17 against the Elwood/John Glenn Knights.

Culhane said he expects the Amityville Warriors to be the top competition along with the Bayport-Blue Point Phantoms and Westhampton Beach Hurricanes.

“This crew here, if we’re healthy and we play within the team concept, we should be good,” Culhane said.

Joe Werkmeister contributed to this story.

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