Port basketball embraces youth, eyes return to county championship in 2020

Port basketball embraces youth, eyes return to county championship in 2020
The Port Washington Vikings Varsity Boys Basketball team lost seven seniors in 2018, but the goal remains the same for this year; win the county championship. (Photo courtesy of Port Washington Vikings Athletics)

The Port Washington Vikings Varsity Boys Basketball team is building off their first county championship appearance in more than 70 years despite graduating seven seniors in 2018.

The Vikings of Paul D. Schreiber High School are 2-1 on the young year so far.  Though the team doesn’t face any conference opponents until the new year, Head Coach Sean Dooley did not downplay the importance of the next six games.

“Our team likes to take each game at a time, which is important to do when you’re in a transitional phase-in of players like we are,” Dooley said. “These games against non-conference opponents are all going to play a role and set the tone for how we go into the new year.”

Dooley is in his fifteenth year as head coach of the Vikings. 

Last year, he led the team further than any coach had gone in the past 73 yearly attempts.  The Vikings went 17-5 and had a conference record of 10-2. Dooley said the 2018-19 team was one of the most special he’s ever been a part of.

“It all started with the leadership and having seven seniors on the team, six of which were in the regular rotation,” Dooley said.  “But it was also the factor of playing together as a team and silencing the outside criticism of those who didn’t think we could make it to the championship.  It was an incredible run with those guys.”

Last year’s county finals featured the seventh-seeded Vikings against the second-seeded Uniondale Knights. 

The Knights won 51-48, ending Dooley’s chances to win the school’s first county championship since 1947. Dooley said that the experience, while tough to initially process, was a good lesson for this season’s returning players and for himself.

“It was definitely tough to bounce back from that loss to Uniondale,” he said.  “They’re always a well-coached team every time we get to play them. But I think my team knew that they had a real shot of closing out to win that game in the end. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way for us. But now we have this year to prove ourselves again.”

Dooley addressed the fact that the departure of seven seniors drained 90 percent of the team’s offense and “a lot of defensive intensity” as well.  Still, like any coach must do, Dooley viewed the glass as half full, and put faith in his new youth movement.

“We have some dynamic players that possess some great athletic and scoring abilities,” Dooley said.  “Those guys bring tons of energy to each game they play. Now, it’s just a matter of teaching these guys to play with a collective intensity and cohesiveness.”

Dooley said he expects everyone to communicate and play with that same passion and fire as last year’s team did.  There’s also one particular game that Dooley already has marked down in his calendar.  

“Baldwin is always one of the best teams in the entire county,” Dooley said.  “They’ve been an incredibly well-coached and disciplined team for years. Considering that we served them their only two losses from last year, we’re going to be coming into that game with a red bullseye painted on our backs.”

Left with a younger and less experienced crop of athletes, Dooley said he has changed his game plan slightly, to adjust for his current roster. Leadership he said, is something that cannot be forced upon someone. After suffering their first loss of the season against Massapequa, Dooley saw one player in particular step into that role.

 “Brandon [Caslow] has really stepped into that leadership position very nicely,” Dooley said.  “After the loss to Massapequa, he was vocal to the team on the importance of practice, and that games like this reflect us not doing our job to the best of our ability.  He’s a great kid with a sense of togetherness he witnessed first-hand last year.”

The Vikings have a long road ahead to not just make it back to the championship game, but also win it.  According to Dooley, playing non-selfish, team basketball is going to be essential if he and his players wish to accomplish that goal.

“It all starts with how we conduct ourselves in practices,” he said. “Getting the guys to work the ball around and utilize everyone’s skill set is necessary for us to do if we want any shot of winning this year.  I always tell the guys before a practice or game, “If you really love basketball, then the next two hours should be the best time of your life.”

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