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Boys Basketball: Persistence landed Jantzen roster spot

Will Jantzen took his seat at the end of the row of chairs on the bench, the furthest away from the scorer’s table. He knew full well he wouldn’t see much action on the basketball court, if any at all.

To hear Jantzen talk about it, that doesn’t matter much to him. What really matters to the Shoreham-Wading River High School senior is the mere fact that he’s wearing a Wildcats uniform. That’s something he didn’t do — as much as he wanted to — the last three seasons.

Call it determination, call it resolve, call it what you will, but Jantzen’s story is an inspiring one. He had tried out for the team as a freshman and was cut. The following year as a sophomore he tried out again and didn’t make the team. Undeterred, he tried out yet again as a junior and was cut a third time.

It was around this time last year when Jantzen was questioning himself about whether he would try out for the team this past November.

“He was on the edge of playing or not,” said Matt Cook, Jantzen’s friend, neighbor and SWR’s senior captain.

With encouragement from Cook, Jantzen opted to give it another try. This time, the result was different. In this case, the fourth time was the charm.

After the tryouts concluded, SWR coach Kevin Culhane delivered the news to Jantzen. Jantzen recalled: “He was like, ‘You got cut in ninth grade, 10th grade and last year, and we’re not going to let you get cut this year.’ It definitely was a great feeling.”

Persistence paid off.

“He got cut the first three seasons, unfortunately, but that didn’t stop him from continuing to try to never let it get to him,” Cook said. “Like, some kids just stop playing. He wanted it. He wanted to make that next step.”

Culhane said Jantzen’s roster spot wasn’t given to him; it was earned.

“He came to me at the end of the school year last year and he said he really wanted to try to get better, so he asked if he could be involved with our offseason workouts,” Culhane said. “So I said, ‘Yes.’ He came to our camp, played summer league, did a nice job, really worked hard. If you look up the word ‘perseverance’ in the dictionary, his face would be next to it.”

“That’s why he made the team,” the coach continued. “I admired the fact that he stayed with it. You reward somebody like that with that attitude.”

Jantzen is a little-used team member, but his value to the squad is unquestioned.

“Everyone loves him,” Cook said.” He brings that personality to the team that hypes everyone up. He’s always the first one to give you a high-five.”

Jantzen doesn’t play much, but he did get to play the final 2 minutes and 49 seconds of a 63-40 Suffolk County League V loss at Miller Place Saturday. The 6-1 forward blocked two shots in that time.

SWR (4-12, 1-11) faced a tough test against first-place Miller Place (14-3, 11-2), which is vying for its fifth league championship and first since 1994-95.

“We have a lot of pieces,” Miller Place coach Brian Sztabnik said. “We have some height. We have some skill. We have inside shooters. We have outside shooters.”

And the Panthers had their fourth straight win thanks to the strong foursome of Thomas Cirrito (18 points, seven assists), Timothy Hirdt (13 points, 15 rebounds, five assists), Thomas Nealis (11 points, 15 rebounds) and Matt Frank (10 points). Miller Place has an interesting roster makeup. All 12 players listed on its roster are juniors except for Nealis, a senior.

Miller Place scored the game’s first 11 points and built an 18-4 lead with the aid of Frank’s eight first-quarter points.

SWR, which never led, ran off 14 straight points to close the first half and extended that run to 16-0 with a Tom Bell layup early in the third quarter, tying it at 26-26. But Miller Place’s response was strong. The Panthers ran off 13 straight points for a 39-26 lead. With a 47-27 rebounding advantage, Miller Place pulled away, twice stretching the margin to 23 points.

“We played an excellent second quarter and then we missed shots right after that,” Cook (10 points) said. “The third quarter killed us.”

SWR shot 3-for-15 from the field in the third quarter. It was the ninth consecutive loss for SWR, playing its fifth straight road game.

The Jantzen name is a big one in SWR athletics. Three of Jantzen’s cousins — Jesse (wrestling), Corey (wrestling) and Debi-Michelle (field hockey) — have made their marks.

Will Jantzen said, “I’ve always loved basketball ever since I was playing in the second grade and stuff, so I’ve just never stopped loving the game itself and just wanted to keep pursuing it.”

It’s called persistence.

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Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River senior Will Jantzen was cut three times before making the team this season. (Credit: Bob Liepa)