Boys Basketball Preview: Wildcats make case for seniority

Shoreham-Wading River may have a peculiar case of senioritis this high school boys basketball season, and it’s not a bad thing.

The Wildcats (8-12 last season) have a senior-laden team this season, with eight 12th-graders among them. Coach Kevin Culhane is more than fine with that.

“They understand what it takes to play at this level, what it takes to make this team, so I think seniors are good,” he said. “They also understand that this is their last rodeo.”

The sole returning starter, however, is a junior, 6-5 center Liam Mahoney, who was good for five rebounds per game last season.

Senior Kyle Boden and sophomore Xavier Arline will flip-flop between point guard and shooting guard and will be the primary ballhandlers. Senior small forward Matt Moran and senior power forward Andrew Blanco will also be starters. Two other seniors, forward Brian Drost and swingman Ryan Anderson, will be significant contributors off the bench.

More help from the bench will come from senior point guard Vinny Montenegro and senior forwards Trey Ekert and James Mirabell. Five players make the jump up from the junior varsity team: junior guards Matt Cook and Chris Simonetti and three sophomores — 6-4 center T.J. Wachter, 6-4 center Matt Zahn and forward Trevor Kessell.

“As a group, I think our strengths are they play well as a team,” Culhane said. “They share the ball very well and they play real good defense. I think the defense is going to be a really big key for us this year.”

Perhaps the biggest difference in the team from last season is the loss of scorer Kenny DeGolyer.

“This year we’re probably going to have to rely on everybody chipping in points,” Culhane said. “I do like our team. I do like our attitude. I’m very pleased with how they practiced last week. There’s no egos involved.”

Once again, Shoreham will compete in League VI, a good league that got better with the additions of Amityville and Miller Place. The Wildcats will also be tangling with Bayport-Blue Point, Elwood/John Glenn, Mount Sinai, Hampton Bays, Wyandanch and Southampton.

“Every game” will be a battle, Culhane said. “A lot of coaches felt that this league might be the toughest league in Suffolk, from top to bottom. There are no easy games in our league at all.”

At the same time, Culhane is confident in his team.

“I think we’re going to compete,” he said. “The kids are very tough-minded players. I think a lot of our success is going to be on how successful we are on defense and rebounding. It’s going to be tough season, but we’re up for the challenge.”

Cristian Pace was an all-league player last year for Riverhead. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk, file)

The biggest difference in Riverhead (3-17), as compared to last season, can be summed up in one word: experience.

“We have some,” coach John Rossetti said. “Last year we had none. We had absolutely none.”

Recalling last season’s team, which had graduated 95 percent of its scoring and rebounding from the season before, Rossetti said: “We didn’t even know who was going to score, how we were going to score and if we could score. Our record indicated that. This year we know we have some guys that have varsity experience and [have] proven that they can score and they know how to compete at a varsity level.”

As Rosetti sees it, Riverhead has a year of growth and a year of experience under its belt that the team didn’t have a year ago. “That way alone, we come back with assets that know how to play,” he said.

All-League junior point guard Cristian Pace (13 points per game) leads a fivesome that Rossetti said showed a lot of growth over this past summer. The other four are a pair of 6-3 junior forwards, Quashiem Miller (eight points, seven rebounds per game) and Robert Tyre, senior shooting guard Cir’rus Davender and sophomore guard Zy’aire Pittman.

Also returning are sophomore guard Albert Daniels and senior Andrew Gallo, who Rossetti said can play any position except point guard.

New to the team are junior point guard Anthony Miller, sophomore forward Kamron Miles and senior shooting guard Tommy Powers.

“We’re going to have to take advantage of the assets that we have and utilize that the best we can,” Rossetti said. “I know we’re going to have a group of kids who work hard. We’re going to push the ball up the court. We’re going to trap. We’re going to look to trap where we can and take advantage of some of our quickness because even though we call people forwards and centers, we really don’t have anyone who’s really that big.”

Rossetti sees Riverhead as being in the middle to upper half of the League II pack.

“Central Islip right now is the clear favorite,” he said. “After that, there’s a bunch of teams that can compete, between Northport, ourselves, Bay Shore. Connetquot has a nice team that’s coming back. It’s going to be a very competitive league and we’re going to go out there and as long as they give us effort, that’s all I care about.”

With eight returning players, including All-League senior forward Allan Zilnicki, Bishop McGann-Mercy (3-17) has some things to feel good about. However, coach Kevin O’Halloran noted, “If we were in any other league, it would be a lot better.”

The competition in League VII should be a stiff test for Mercy, which has been reclassified from Class B to Class C. League VII consists mostly of Class B teams. Mercy’s playoff hopes could rest on how well it fares against Class C competition.

“That’s what we’re going to shoot for,” O’Halloran said of the playoffs. “It’s going to be tough, but I guess we’ll see.”

Zilnicki, who averaged 18 points per game last season while being double-teamed and facing box-and-ones, will help, but he needs help, too.

“We have to give Allan more help,” O’Halloran said of his team captain. “He’s a tough kid. He works very hard. He has a quick release.”

Senior guard John Venesina and junior guard Matt Chilicki are returning starters. Senior forward Matt Kneidl started some games.

Also offering varsity experience are forwards Aidan Martin and Chris Olphie, center Joe Algieri and guard Chris Atkinson. They’re all seniors except for Atkinson, a junior.

Junior guards David Scott and Grant Kneeland have been promoted from the JV team.

“It’s a good group of kids,” O’Halloran said. “They work hard and if we don’t beat ourselves, we’ll be fine.”

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Top photo caption: Liam Mahoney, a 6-5 junior center, is Shoreham-Wading River’s only returning starter. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk, file)