Basketball: Blue Waves summer league kicks off

The Riverhead boys basketball team kicked off its summer league season last Thursday with a new but familiar face at the helm. Patrick Fabian, who was assistant head coach last year, has taken over as head coach from Elwood Lamb, who retired at the end of the school season.

The team hasn’t had a winning record since 2019-20 and won only three games last year. Riverhead has struggled to regain its form since head coach John Rossetti left the program. Riverhead consistently made the playoffs and even won a league championship under Rossetti in 2013. Fabian is trying to bring Riverhead basketball back to its former prominence, and it all starts in the Town of Brookhaven summer league.

“Obviously, in the past few years we haven’t had much success,” Fabian said. “And I think it’s because of a variety of things and factors that play into it. But I think right now the goal isn’t measuring success in the win column. Like, obviously, we want the wins to stack up but first we want accountability, we want kids working hard and we want everyone playing together. Once we change the culture, we’ll start seeing results in the win column.”

This is the second year in a row that Riverhead will compete in the summer and fall leagues offered by the Town of Brookhaven. That helps form more of a cohesiveness among the players by simply playing alongside one another for more than just one school season.

“We need kids to buy in and commit to what we’re trying to do and we’re seeing that with the enrollment in the offseason leagues,” Fabian said. “Basketball can’t end in the winter. You’ve got to be actively trying to get better all year round.”

Fabian has been around the Riverhead boys basketball program now for three years. He knows these kids and their potential. Before he became the varsity assistant head coach last year, he spent two years coaching the junior varsity team. He’s not new to the scene but he’s ready to preach his style of basketball from the top down. 

“I’ve been doing a lot of work on team building and really having each other’s backs,” Fabian said. “We can’t grow just individually; we need to grow as a team and each of us needs that commitment to one another. If we start implementing all the nuances of being a great basketball team now in the summer, it will definitely translate into the school year.”

Summer league work is crucial to any team’s success. And with many large successful programs also participating, it highlights the importance of getting the team together throughout the year. 

“We’re implementing bits and pieces of what we’re trying to do right now in the summer,” Fabian said. “I don’t want to throw too much at them but we’re slowly starting to become the basketball team I know we can be. We’re emphasizing how even doing the smallest seemingly insignificant thing could turn into getting wins.”

Riverhead will feature three impact seniors next year with Liam Lennon, Deshawn Watkins and Jaylen Harding and each will have a major role. Lennon, with his long frame and cutting ability, will impact the paint. He’s the type of player you build around. Someone that can score with ease, rip down rebounds and come up with game-changing blocks. Watkins has a three-ball in his arsenal but can also dominate with his strength as he drives to the hole. Harding is a scrappy player that gets tough shots to fall and brings down crucial rebounds. He can also defend with the best of them.

Outside of the seniors, Peter Lagnena, who showed signs of excellence at times during his sophomore campaign from behind the arc, is naturally getting more comfortable letting it fly. The team is looking for him more often, and his confidence is only growing heading into his junior season.

Anaiis Mitchell, a freshman point guard last year, is also getting more comfortable playing at the varsity level. During the summer league game against Newfield last Thursday, he consistently made next-level passes quick and decisively, leading to open shots. He’s a true point guard.

Riverhead was constantly in motion last Thursday, moving at a scorching pace and looking for layups at the other end. It’s one of the parts of the game Fabian wants to emphasize. The game slowed down a lot last year and he doesn’t think that’s the team’s strength.

“We’re a fast team,” Fabian said. “We have some really good athletes on the court. We have the ability to push the pace offensively and get into guys defensively. But with some of the teams we play, they love to slow the opponent down so it’s really finding that balance of being a team that can run and gun teams out of the gym but also once the game slows down, we need to be able to adjust.”

 But when it comes down to winning close games, Fabian says, the hungrier team usually prevails.

“Win, lose or draw, we’re just trying to play harder than the other team every given night,” Fabian said. “That has to be our mindset. We have to play hard-nose basketball. We have to want it more than the opponents. That’s what’s going to bring wins more than any shooting drill.”

Riverhead returns to action in the summer league July 9 against William Floyd at 6 p.m. The game will be played at Eastport South Manor High School.