HUNTINGTON STATION, New York, Jan. 1
BY: Andrew Wroblewski
It’s simple; for Head Coach Thomas Fitzpatrick and the Wildcats of the Walt Whitman boys basketball team, the goal is to play more offense than defense. That is how points are scored, of course, but this season the Wildcats have struggled a bit in that regard and, instead, are working to convert stops and steals on defense into points on offense.
“We don’t have a guy that we can pencil in for 15-20 points each game – and that’s OK,” Fitzpatrick said. “Since day one, we’ve said that by playing good defense we’ll stay in the games… So we’re focusing on that end of the basketball by being in good help positions, limiting teams to one shot, getting the rebound and going.”
With this mentality, the Wildcats are hoping to spark their offense and have found success – especially in junior guard Willie Petro. On Dec. 16, when the Wildcats claimed their first League II win of the season 58-36 over Lindenhurst (0-5), Petro led the team in scoring with 12 points that came mostly off baskets in transition, Fitzpatrick said.
“That was a game we needed to win,” he said of the triumph over the Bulldogs. “Everybody contributed.”
After that, though, Whitman (3-3) dropped a heartbreaker to division-leader Central Islip (4-1) on Dec. 19. Pitted against a team Fitzpatrick said he believes to be a contender for this year’s final four of the Suffolk County Class AA playoffs, Whitman kept the contest close and fell by just 3 points, 34-31. Jordan Aiken, a senior guard, led the Wildcats in scoring with 11 points in the setback.
“It was a close game; both teams played solid defense,” Fitzpatrick said. “We had an opportunity at the buzzer to tie it, but unfortunately some of our shots just wouldn’t go in.”
Now enjoying a break from league play, the Wildcats continue to work hard on their defense, Fitzpatrick said.
That hard work paid off on Monday as Whitman earned a 38-33 win over Jericho (2-3) in the first round of the 26th annual Frank Gugliotta Memorial Boys Basketball Tournament sponsored by the Wildcats Booster Club and Whitman’s athletic department. Behind Andre Harris, a 6-foot-4 senior center, who led the Wildcats with 14 points and 9 rebounds, Whitman found success. The defense is clicking, too, as the Wildcats were allowing just 34.3 points per game in its last three contests as of press time Tuesday.
“We’re really putting a lot of effort into the man-to-man defense and using the zone when the matchup enables us to do so,” Fitzpatrick said.
With the victory, Whitman advanced to the finals on Tuesday night where it faced Saunders Trades and Technical High School (5-2) of Yonkers, N.Y. The contest was played after press time, however, so the Wildcats will be back in action on Jan. 6 as league-play resumes with a home game against Connetquot (4-2), scheduled to tipoff at 6 p.m. in the north gym.
Originally published: Long Islander News: The Long Islander
(Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015; A35)