The season plan seemed sensible. Oceanside’s young boys’ basketball squad would feature a two-man nucleus handling most of the scoring load, while a constellation of role players lent support and learned on the job.
This was the short-notice strategy of first-year head coach Ryan Freely, and after a brief bout of growing pains the Sailors’ gears had meshed – just in time for league play, as Oceanside climbed to .500 overall with a 2-0 start in Conference AA-1, beating visitors Freeport and Hempstead.
Then the nucleus split: All-Conference guard Ralph Amitrano went down with a knee sprain Dec. 23 at Valley Stream South, leaving fellow senior Dimitri Garrett, a breakout first-year forward, alone to shoulder the Sailors’ offense; and the fallout was a 1-6 slide, placing Oceanside at 2-4 in conference, 4-9 overall, as it heads into the last half of conference competition.
“We got off to a good start in league, and were starting to play well,” Freely said. “But without Ralph, teams are just keying on Dimitri. Everyone knows he’s getting the ball, and he still manages to play at a high level.”
Garrett averaged 8.6 points per game a year ago as a reserve, while Amitrano’s 12 ppg was tops for the Sailors last season. The injured guard had raised his production to 15.3 ppg this winter before his worsening knee flare-ups – which had lingered since the summer – forced a curtailment of Amitrano’s minutes preceding his placement on the injured list. Garrett, meanwhile, has set a pace among the league’s elite scoring 16.3 ppg with 35 3-pointers, and led all scorers with a season-high 28 points in Oceanside’s win against Hempstead Dec. 19.
“Dimitri’s done everything we’ve asked,” Freely said. “He’s always been our hardest worker and it shows on the court. All his hard work in the offseason has given him the freedom to make all kinds of plays, and we need that from him. Right now, in Ralph’s absence, we’ve got a lot of younger players trying to do a little too much, more than they’re capable of at this point.”
Though yet to produce a big No. 3 scorer, Oceanside’s backcourt has seen some flashes from Junior Matt McCabe (8.8 ppg) and 6-foot-3 freshman Logan Lyson (6.2 ppg.) McCabe had 19 points in a Dec. 17 loss to Freeport, while Lyson had 10 in the loss to VSS. Freshman guard Anthony Rodriguez has averaged 6.3 points through four starts, with a season-high 14 on Dec. 28 in a home win over West Hempstead.
Amitrano's return could come as early as this Friday, Freely said, when Oceanside ends a 10-day break to face league foe Freeport on the road. This timeframe would seem a prerequisite if Oceanside is to have any chance of finishing .500 in league – a qualifying standard for the playoffs.
“That has to be the goal, to make the playoffs and keep playing as long as possible,” Freely said. “Next year we’ll have more time to prepare, but we’re not giving up on this season.”