For the first time in more than 15 years, someone other than Ed Cosgrove is West Hempstead boys’ basketball’s bench boss.
Joe Thomas takes over the helm of the Rams and saw a resurgence of interest at tryouts. He kept 14 on the roster and feels the team’s athleticism can separate it from the pack in a wide-open Conference B/C which includes defending county champion Malverne, Friends Academy and East Rockaway.
“It was nice the kids got to play last season but it was tough on them playing in front of hardly any fans,” Thomas said. “The competitiveness is back to where it used to be and I think we can make a name for ourselves and do really well.”
The new coach said he’s challenged senior Simeon Simms, a 6-foot-7 presence in the frontcourt entering his third varsity campaign, to break the program’s single-season shot-blocking record. “He has the talent to dominate on the boards and is capable of a double-double any night,” Thomas said of Simms, who was slowed early in camp by an ankle injury.
Senior Jourdan Mitchell is another big forward and brings the ability to guard anyone on the defensive end. He’s another double-double candidate, Thomas noted, and is a passionate multisport athlete. Senior wing Zadrian Budhoo will help set the defensive tone and create turnovers in addition to chipping in some offense with his moves to the rim.
Senior captain Eli Rubin’s shooting talents from the outside will help the Rams stretch defenses in the half-court, Thomas said. “He’s our best shooter and a leader,” the coach noted. Freshman Isaiah Blunt is a talented lefty point guard with plenty of AAU experience. “It’s just a matter of him getting acclimated to the speed of the varsity game,” Thomas said. Junior newcomer Chris Altidor, another lefty, is a quick guard who passes well and can score.
West Hempstead had no seniors last winter when it played six games, winning its last two. Longtime head coach Chris Van Kovics called it “a sprint,” but said getting everyone considerable playing time was the main benefit of the pandemic-shortened campaign.
“It was nice to give everyone the varsity experience and hopefully we’ll be one of the four best ‘B’ teams in the conference and make the playoffs,” said Van Kovics, who guided the Rams to the Class A tournament in 2019-2020. “This was the most kids we’ve had at tryouts in about 7 years,” he added. “It was good to see.”
Seniors Amanda Healy and Sanaia Estime were instrumental in helping the volleyball team make an incredible run to the county finals and are third-year performers on the hardwood. Healy is an experienced point guard who’ll defend in the paint, Van Kovics said. “Amanda makes really good decisions with the ball and can score and defend,” he said. Estime, a center, is a strong rebounder, shot-blocker and tough to stop from close range.
Senior Isabel Tavarez is the most experienced varsity player on the roster and can run the point occasionally. Tavarez had 18 points in last season’s finale and averaged better than 10 per game. “Isabel can shoot the 3, runs the fast break and attacks the basket,” Van Kovics said.
Junior forward Chance Mingo had 17 points in the next-to-last game and hit five shots from behind the arc. She’s a returning starter with quickness, size and shooting touch. Senior Catherine Andree is another perimeter shooting threat who’ll also contribute in the post.
Senior Mackenzie Cates brings height and grit to the paint. She’ll handle all the important inbounds passes, Van Kovics said. Junior Gianna Cardillo is a speedy three-sport athlete and a defensive spark, while senior Isabella Torres provides depth on the wing.