For the first time in quite a while, the Suffolk County Class D boys basketball title is up for grabs.
After being a powerhouse in the county for years, Bridgehampton, which won both a county title and the school’s first ever Long Island Championship before suffering a loss to Marathon in the Regional Final in Binghamton last season, falling a win short of reaching the state Final Four, is set to be in a transition season this winter.
The Killer Bees graduated half of their team in J.P. Harding, Jahqur Carr, Jonny DeGroot and Nat DePasquale. Then two of its top players in Nae’Jon Ward and Elijah White decided to transfer to other schools.
With so many losses to graduation and transfers, and with such a young team to play at a varsity level, there was some talk earlier this summer just prior to the school year starting, that the Bees would forgo a varsity season and just play a junior varsity campaign. That idea was quickly dispatched and head coach Ron White said the team is ready to take on all challenges.
“We’ve got a tough hill to climb,” White admitted. “But, we’ve got some really tough guys who love the game of basketball. It’s probably the smallest varsity team on Long Island, and arguably the youngest, but I have a group of kids who come to practice every day, they want to learn and they are students of the game who want to learn the game of basketball, which makes it really exciting.
“Can we promise wins? No. Can we promise that we’ll get to the Class D Championship? No, but you’ll see a gradual progression of a team that’s building for years to come as freshmen,” he added. “We’re praying to stay injury free. Academics won’t be a problem because we have student-athletes who strive both on and off the court. As long as we can stay injury free and sick free, we’ve got a long battle and steep hill to climb but we’ll all stick together no matter what, and learn.”
Bridgehampton is one of three Class D schools in Suffolk this season, along with Shelter Island and Smithtown Christian. All three teams will play in League VIII with four Class C teams in Pierson, Greenport, Southold and the Ross School.
White said that the decision for his son Elijah to transfer to St. Paul’s School, a college preparatory boarding school in Concord, New Hampshire, was a difficult one for their family. Ultimately, after a long discussion, they decided it would be best if he transferred to what is one of the top five academic prep schools in the country, with current basketball players having moved on to very successful NCAA Division I programs.
“If it weren’t for his academic and athletic achievement in Bridgehampton this opportunity never would have never presented itself, so it’s a testament to how rich our Bridgehampton community is and how it’s building our kids for the next level,” Coach White said.
Will Walker is the only returning senior who received a large number of minutes last season. Entering his third season on varsity, Coach White said Walker will be relied upon heavily.
“If we can feed him correctly in the paint, with the majority of the league not having much size, that would apply a lot of pressure to those teams, and we’ll just let him go to work,” he explained. “But we’ve got to get him to understand the significance of him playing and the impacts he could have on the team. He’s a good player. We’re just trying to get him to understand he’s now playing a leadership role. After graduating a very large class, teams typically rely on those who have the most years to be the leader, and we’re hoping he can grow into that capacity.”
David Simms, Anthony Cabrera and Nick Saunders, all sophomores, are returning as well. Joining the team this season from junior high are freshman Dylan Fitzgerald, Jack Boeshore, and brothers Kris and Scott Vinski.
Of course, not to be lost in the shuffle of a brand new team is the final season to be played in the Bee Hive, with a new gym as part of the school’s multi-million dollar expansion set to be ready for next season.
“It’s a transition,” Coach White said. “We’ve been blessed to get this expansion, and as monumental and epic of an event as it is, that’s something for our community to enjoy. We can definitely tell our kids we were the last team to play in the gym. We respect that and are grateful to be that last team, but we’re focused on trying to be competitive and continue the process of learning as a team on the court.”
Bridgehampton was set to open its season at Westhampton Beach in a non-league game on December 4 at 4:30 p.m. It will open its league season at Southold on December 10 at 5 p.m.