SOUTH HUNTINGTON, New York, Feb. 19
BY: Andrew Wroblewski
At the end of the day, Walt Whitman’s head boys basketball coach Thomas Fitzpatrick is proud.
“I’m proud of the kids,” he said. “We really had nobody with [varsity] experience this year so I’m very pleased with the performances. Unfortunately we didn’t make a few plays, but it was a good season overall; the kids stepped up and worked hard every day.”
The Wildcats (8-10) had their season come to a close on Feb. 6 with a League II loss to Northport, 58-33. The loss came in the Wildcats final League II game of the season and kept them one win shy of a playoff spot.
“Except for our first and last league games of the season, we were in [close] games all year,” Fitzpatrick said. “It makes it better to know that we were right there and that a couple bounces one way or the other could have changed things – but unfortunately that didn’t happen.”
Northport (16-2) is now participating in the Suffolk County Class AA playoffs, along with Whitman’s other league-mates, Central Islip (15-3), Hills East (11-7) and Bay Sore (11-7). In total, League II has the highest winning percentage (75 percent) amongst its playoff teams in league games. That’s the highest of the four leagues that participate in the Class AA tournament.
Facing this type of competition all year – Northport and Central Islip have been ranked as top-10 teams on Long Island consistently throughout the season, Fitzpatrick said – the Wildcats are proud that they were able to hang tough and fight for a playoff spot until the final game of the season.
“Three of our four losses against Northport and Central Islip were by 12 points or less,” Fitzpatrick said. “That’s four possessions in those games that we came within winning; we lost six of our games by a total of 26 points.”
Not bad for a team that sported just three players with more than a year of varsity experience: senior captains, Jordan Aiken, Gary Harris and Julian Kleberg. In League II play this season, Aiken, a guard, averaged 8.4 points per game. Harris averaged 5.2 points, and Kleberg averaged 4.7.
“They’re a great group of kids that did an outstanding job as captains,” Fitzpatrick said.
The coach also commended the Wildcats’ remaining seniors, Claude Cajuste, Mohammad Faiz and Andre Harris for their dedication and consistency.
Four Wildcats were given postseason honors: Aiken was named an All-Conference player and Andre Harris was named an All-League player. Matt Kleet is an Academic All-League player, and Willie Petro was given a honorable mention nod for All-League.
Kleet and Petro, as juniors this season – along with sophomore Korey Lee, junior Dylan McNally, junior Matt Stockfeder, and junior Avery McKenzie – are expected to make their return next year and play a major part in Whitman’s future on the court.
“Our goal is always to make the playoffs and go from there,” Fitzpatrick said. “I also want to say thank you to third-year Assistant Coach Ray Eatmon. He’s one of the better assistant coaches in Suffolk County and the kids love being around him.”
Originally published: Long Islander News: The Long Islander
(Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015; A34)