Blue Waves gear up for basketball season  

With fresh faces on the roster, the Riverhead boys basketball team is set on making the playoffs, regardless of what their record was last year. Only one starter returns from last season’s 4-15 squad, and the Blue Waves will look to build around him.

AJ Austin came into the program mainly as a shooting guard but when no real floor general emerged amongst his peers, Riverhead head coach Elwood Lamb made him the starting point guard. 

“He stepped up last year for what we needed out of him,” Lamb said. “But it’s his team this year. He’s our leader. It’s his time to carry the load.”

There was a learning curve during Austin’s junior season, as he had to adjust from being more scoring-focused to a pass-first type of player. He excelled in that role, Lamb said, but this year he’s going to shift back to more of a two-guard. In a somewhat minimal scoring role last year, Austin averaged 7 points a game. 

“He’s our best player on both sides of the ball,” Lamb said. “Offensively and defensively he’s very athletic. He’s quick and we need him to be our spark plug. Get steals and get out in the open court and make good decisions for us.” The emergence of a new point guard could spare Austin from most of the ball handling duties.

It’s not often a freshman makes the varsity team, but Anaiis Mitchell came into tryouts and instantly impressed. “Mitchell’s a true point guard,” Lamb said. “He’s shown he has the capacity to make good decisions and handle the ball, but if the pressure gets too much for him we can always revert back to Austin or someone else.”

If not Mitchell or Austin, KJ Johnson got some experience at the varsity point last year, while Deshawn Watkins handled the ball on JV. 

“We’ll see how it goes,” Lamb said. “The first couple games we play will dictate a lot for the rest of the season.”

Preston Swenk expects to have a bigger role this year as well. The senior forward should be cemented in one of the open spots in the lineup. 

“I expect Swenk to be a 10-rebound, 6 to 8 points a game contributor for us this year,” Lamb said. “He can hold his own on the block and will get crucial rebounds.”

The starting five is very much up for grabs outside of Austin, Lamb says. Jaylen Harding might fit in one of those openings.

“Harding is one of the hardest-working kids on the team,” Lamb said. “He gets things going with his toughness and competitiveness.”

Part of the excitement for the upcoming season stems from the 6-3 record the team posted in the fall league at Eastport-South Manor High School. It’s the first time Riverhead participated in the fall league after typically only playing in the Town of Brookhaven’s summer league.

“It helped us gel even closer as a team,” Lamb said. “There’s no selfishness on this team. It’s different from the teams in the past. These kids trust and believe in each other and I think our chemistry will hopefully bring us to a playoff spot this year.”

Riverhead will play a handful of scrimmages before opening the season in a non-league game against Connetquot Dec. 6. The league season opens against Pat­ch­ogue-Medford Dec. 12.

“Brentwood and William Floyd are definitely the big hitters this year,” Lamb said. “After them I feel like everyone is kind of even. We definitely have a chance to put together a strong season and get us back to where we were pre-COVID.”