The Albert G. Prodell Middle School gym in Shoreham has an undeniable, quaint charm to it. It’s also undeniably small by the standards high school varsity basketball players are accustomed to.
One will not find much room behind either of the two baskets. Two sets of stands are situated on one side of the court only, and there is only one scoreboard.
But the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats call it home.
At least for this season. Desks fill half of the high school gym for classes during this school year of pandemic-style education.
“Honestly, it’s a shorter court and not really good traction, but the team got used to it fast and it’s not terrible,” senior Joey Dwyer said. “It’s not ideal, but we seem fine with it.”
Fine indeed. SWR has been doing quite well in this abbreviated season. The truth is, the Wildcats may be better described as road warriors, having won all of their first three road games and improving to 2-1 at their cozy middle school court Monday. Monday’s game demonstrated just how much SWR has progressed. The Wildcats were good enough to not only beat LeBron and his friends, but did so convincingly.
LeBron, by the way, would be LeBron Napier, and his friends are the rest of the Southampton Mariners. Southampton was a Suffolk County Class B finalist last year.
A memorable night by Tom Bell, who tallied a career-high 30 points, highlighted a 75-55 SWR victory — its fifth in a row — that put the Wildcats in a better position to earn a playoff berth. The top two teams in each of Suffolk’s leagues will play in conference semifinals.
“We have a lot of chemistry and everyone’s on the same page,” Dwyer said. “I’m just happy with the way we’re playing. We’re playing team basketball.”
Both teams were 4-1 (3-1 in League VII) entering the game.
With the win in its final home regular-season game, SWR will close out its seven-game regular season at Wyandanch Wednesday. “Whoever wins that, I believe, is going to make the playoffs,” said SWR coach Kevin Culhane, whose team reached the playoffs last year for the first time in four years.
Should the Wildcats make a return trip to the postseason, they can be thankful to a number of people, but perhaps no one moreso than Bell, a senior who was an all-conference player last season. The guard had 20 points by halftime.
“If Tom isn’t all-county, I don’t know who is,” said Culhane.
Asked if he had ever played a better game for SWR, Bell answered: “I can’t recall, but it doesn’t matter how good I play as long as we win. That’s all that’s important to me.”
SWR never trailed and ran off a 15-2 spell — 11 of those points coming from Bell — for a 25-10 lead early in the second quarter.
Southampton pulled as close as five points after that when an old-fashioned three-point play by Billy Malone made it 45-40 with 4 minutes, 48 seconds left in the third quarter.
SWR was determined, though, and netted 12 of the next 14 points. The Wildcats reeled off the game’s final four baskets for the largest margin of the contest.
Dwyer finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists and Liam Leonard added 14 points. SWR’s reserves outscored Southampton’s bench, 22-6. The Wildcats hit 48.3% of their field-goal attempts and forced 20 turnovers. And SWR did all of this without one of its senior captains, Tristan Costello, who was unavailable.
Napier brought Southampton 22 points, Matt Silverberg (four three-pointers) had 14 and Derek Reed passed for 14 assists.
Afterward, SWR’s five seniors, including 6-foot-7 Adam Gawreluk and Cayden Mulroy, enjoyed a socially distanced Senior Day celebration with their parents.
“We really didn’t think anything good was going to happen with the COVID and stuff, but it’s a blessing,” a grateful Bell said. “It’s more than we can ask for.”
“We’re just happy we have something,” Dwyer said of this strangest of seasons. “It’s going to be one to remember.”