Matt Cook firmly believes better days are ahead for the Shoreham-Wading River High School boys basketball team in the next couple of years. It’s just that he will not be around to see them.
Does that bother the SWR captain, one of only two seniors on the young team?
“I try not to think about that yet,” he said.
Cook would prefer to enjoy the remaining nine regular-season games of his final season with the Wildcats. With each loss, the playoffs become less likely for SWR, but if it’s any consolation, the team has shown remarkable gains since going 1-19 last season. While the results have been slow in coming, the eye test doesn’t lie. The Wildcats have been hanging with some tough competition, just like they did Thursday when they battled one of the best teams in Suffolk County League V, Mount Sinai, only to be left with a 62-55 loss on their home court. Unlike green SWR, which started three sophomores (Tom Bell, Tristan Costello and Adam Gawreluk), Mount Sinai is a veteran group, composed entirely of seniors and juniors.
“They’re a young bunch,” SWR coach Kevin Culhane said of his players. “Right now they’re going through a lot of trials and tribulations. I think they’re growing, but they’re definitely getting a baptism by fire.”
With the loss to Mount Sinai (10-1, 6-1), SWR (4-7, 1-6) lost its fifth straight game. SWR’s record is a bit misleading, though. Culhane pointed out that four of SWR’s losses have come by 12 points.
The Wildcats have cause to feel good about their future. Still, it’s not easy being a senior on a team of the future.
Cook has done his part in SWR’s rebuilding. Culhane said Cook was instrumental in organizing offseason workouts to help the team raise its game.
At the same time, Cook has raised his game. The 6-1 forward, who saw limited playing time last season, is a starter who often draws the assignment of guarding the opposing team’s top scoring threat.
“He’s become a far better player than he was last season,” Culhane said. “It’s not even close.”
Cook had to deal with foul trouble Thursday, picking up his third personal foul in the second quarter and his fourth with 1 minute, 15 seconds left in the third quarter. He didn’t foul out, though, finishing with five points, four assists and two rebounds.
“I’m not scoring a lot of points right now, but I’m focusing on doing whatever I can to make everyone else get better,” he said.
Cook drew the unenviable task of guarding Mount Sinai’s high-scoring senior guard, Nick Hurowitz. The 6-3 Hurowitz is tough on the boards and he collected 26 points, 16 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and one steal.
As if that wasn’t enough, Mount Sinai also counted on help from Nick Pintaboa (14 points, 13 rebounds) and Alex Rudolph (eight points, six assists).
Bell, who plays with tremendous heart, led SWR with 19 points and nine assists. Cameron Loschiavo added 17 points and Costello had 10.
SWR trailed by eight points at halftime, but used a 13-2 run in the third quarter to take its first lead, 31-30, since the game’s opening minutes.
That was SWR’s only lead of the second half. Mount Sinai had an answer every time SWR threatened. An 11-2 burst by the Mustangs made it 41-33. After that, SWR pulled to within two points on a steal and layup by Costello and within one on a Bell three-pointer, but Mount Sinai responded with back-to-back threes by Hurowitz and Avery Romelien. The Mustangs finished strong.
Bell’s third three-pointer cut the Mount Sinai lead to 60-55, but there were only 18.4 seconds left. Ryan McNeely sank both ends of a one-and-one with 17.4 seconds remaining to seal things.
“As long as we keep playing like this, the wins will come,” said Bell.
SWR’s other senior is reserve Will Jantzen, who Culhane called “the kind of guy you want on the team because even though he’s not playing, he’s very supportive.”
That’s what Cook is trying to be for his younger teammates. “I’m just trying to help everyone grow and get better,” he said, adding, “We’re going to be good in the future.”