LuHi boys, girls top-ranked teams have mutual respect
Bob HerzogBob Herzog
Herzog covers high school sports as a writer and columnist.
High up in the seats at the Times Union Center late Friday morning, Long Island Lutheran solidarity was on display.
Down on the court, Taylor Byrne went to the foul line in the final minute of the Class A Federation semifinal. The Lady Crusaders led by two, and these were two huge free throws. Of course the girls linked arms on the bench. That's standard operating procedure, where every move, on and off the court, appears choreographed.
But in the stands, the boys team did something spontaneous. They gathered together in one row and linked arms as well. Byrne made both free throws and the girls were on their way to a victory.
The boys did their part late Friday night, with the girls cheering them on.
"From the administration on down, we've created a family atmosphere at Lutheran,'' girls coach Rich Slater said, fresh off his team's Federation title achieved Saturday afternoon, which John Buck and his boys team were trying to duplicate Saturday night.
Indeed, LuHi is the first family of basketball on Long Island. For the first time in school history, both teams entered the Federation tournament -- independent schools do not participate in the state's public school tournament -- ranked No. 1 in New York State.
"The kids know that basketball is a storied tradition at the school,'' athletic director Todd Huebner said. "They love being a part of that. Now other sports are trying to have that reputation. They're saying, 'Why can't we build a rep for football? Why can't we build a rep for wrestling?' ''
Boys basketball's tradition of excellence goes way back to the Reggie Carter/Wayne McKoy days of the 1970s. They bused upstate this year with a state-record seven Federation championships, including titles under Buck in 2010 and 2011.
The girls are late to the Federation party, but have crashed it with gusto. Saturday's championship was the second under Slater and the fourth time in five years the girls have made the bus ride north.
Speaking of bus rides, that's part of LuHi solidarity, too. When both teams qualify for the Feds, they ride the same bus. They don't sit in separate aisles, either.
"They mingle,'' Huebner said. "I sense a mutual respect for each other's program from the kids and I know that's the case between the coaches.''
While some years there might be a debate over which DVD movie to show, that wasn't an issue this year because the DVD player was broken. One way the kids passed the time on the Thruway was "a pretty good Harlem Shake,'' Huebner said.
Huebner and Buck share a history. Huebner taught math to Buck at Lutheran. "I'm dating myself, but John got 100 on the Sequential 2 regents,'' Huebner said. "Now he teaches math at our school.''
Both coaches are workaholics who are always looking for an angle. Both studied tape into the wee hours before Saturday's games. They amicably work out the practice schedule for using the main gym at Lutheran. Sometimes they brainstorm.
"We've shared a few plays,'' LuHi girls forward Stacy Barrett said. "That's our little secret! But the season is over, so I don't care who knows.''
The boys sat much closer to the action Saturday, perching themselves under the basket nearest to the girls bench, offering vocal and moral support.
"Of course I saw them!'' point guard and tourney MVP Boogie Brozoski said with a big smile. "They were making noise and everything.''
That sort of family bonding serves Lutheran well because while they have strong school support, the community of Brookville doesn't rally around them all that much because there are no hometown players. As an independent school, it draws players from all over the region and in some cases -- such as boys star center Kentan Facey, who is from the island of Jamaica -- internationally.
"We're fortunate to have two coaches who like and respect each other,'' Huebner said of Buck and Slater, who is a chiropractor and does not teach at LuHi, but is very active with summer AAU coaching on Long Island. "They both take the job seriously. They both work hard. They both demand a lot of their players as far as conditioning and offseason workouts. If you do all those things, you'll have success.''
What LuHi has in its two basketball programs is a fully functional family.