Killer Bees Return Ready To Make a Run

J.P. Harding, Will Walker, Nae'Jon Ward and Elijah White will help lead the Bridgehampton boys basketball team this year. Michael Heller photo

Ron White stepped into big shoes when he replaced Carl Johnson as head coach of the Killer Bees basketball program. Johnson had, after all, won multiple state titles as a player and coach at Bridgehampton and left a legacy of winning despite the challenges of being the smallest school in Suffolk County.

But White brought a championship pedigree of his own, having won state titles in the late 1990s as a player under Johnson. Now in his sophomore year as head coach, he welcomes back his entire lineup from last season as the Killer Bees look to make a run at state title number 10.

“You have an idea of what to expect,” White said this week, “but every year is a new year and you hope you can continue to grow as a coach.”

White’s key players are seniors J.P. Harding and Jonny DeGroot and juniors Nae’Jon Ward, Will Walker and Elijah White, the coach’s son. They make up a formidable lineup with the addition of seniors Jacqhr Carr and Nat Despasquale, one that is sure to contend for county, regional and possibly even state titles at the Class D level this season.

“Everyone has grown for sure,” Coach White said. “And most importantly, they’re starting to become students of the game. I don’t care how physical or athletic you are; smarts and being a student of the game will always trump that.”

White began his first year as coach with Ward, his starting point guard, in a Southampton uniform. He transferred back to Bridgehampton halfway through the season and immediately sparked the Killer Bees to a solid year and a playoff run that came up just short of a trip upstate with a loss to Newfield Central in the Southeast Regional final.

Since that day, the team’s top players — Harding, Ward, White and DeGroot — have all improved, according to their head coach. Harding will benefit from a more balanced attack and will not need to handle such a big chunk of the scoring load, while Ward has grown physically since last year and will be more of a factor outside just passing. DeGroot is the team’s “work horse,” according to his coach, with tenacious defense and rebounding and White AAU over the summer alongside Ward and has also improved his overall game.

“This guy has put in so much time and effort into his craft, whether it’s football, academics or basketball, and I’m just very proud to be his dad,” the elder White said. “He wants it and he’s hungry.”

Rounding out the roster will be junior Miguel Maradiaga and sophomores David Simms and Nicholas Saunders. The journey through Class D in Suffolk County is expected to be more challenging this season, with Shelter Island, which knocked off Class C Pierson to start the season on Saturday, Smithtown Christian and the Ross School all fielding competitive teams. Pierson, Southold and Greenport, all Class C schools, round out the rest of League VII, with the Porters standing alone as the clear favorites to repeat as league champions.

“It’s going to be a fight. It’s 50-50 games,” White said. “It’s going to be a dogfight across the board and we just have to remain composed and stick together.”

Bridgehampton opened the season with an impressive 74-47 win over Babylon on December 3, followed a day later by a 56-55 loss at Eastport/South Manor on Tuesday. The Bees will face local rival Southampton on Friday night to kick off the Kendall Madison Tip-Off Classic at East Hampton High School at 5:30 p.m. East Hampton will face Mattituck in the nightcap, with the four teams swapping opponents for Saturday, and the Killer Bees playing Mattituck at 5:30 p.m.

Bridgehampton’s first home game will be January 8 against Pierson at 6 p.m.