Just call Long Island Lutheran's boys basketball program the department of defense.
Defense of their state Federation championships -- LuHi has won the last two Class A crowns but moves up to Class AA this season -- is the paramount goal for this elite team without a league. And defense -- the ball-pressuring, shot-blocking variety -- is key to achieving that goal.
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"This team is about defense first," coach John Buck said. "We like to pressure the ball, use our athleticism and really get out in transition to create a tempo that other teams are uncomfortable with."
That formula is working so far. The Crusaders, playing their typically brutal schedule, have dispatched of three of Long Island's best public schools -- Farmingdale, Deer Park and Harborfields -- with smothering defensive efforts.
Buck starts three ball-hawking guards -- superb sophomore Chris Atkinson at point and Tim Quashie and Mical-Ryan Boyd on the wings. They apply full-court pressure that most teams can't handle. And when opponents do beat the press, 6-9 shot-blocker Kentan Facey is a serious deterrent. Facey's defensive skills and athleticism were impressive enough to earn him a scholarship to Connecticut.
"Last year, he was less confident offensively. He's definitely improved," Buck said, pointing to recent 23- and 19-point performances. "He's more confident; has more offensive moves. His touch has improved. But that is still the part of his game that needs to develop. His strengths are defense and rebounding."
Atkinson may be the Crusaders' next big-time recruit. He's only a sophomore but already is the acknowledged team leader with myriad skills. "Chris is our guy," Buck said. "He did a great job as a freshman. This year, I'm going to demand even more. We value his presence on the floor."
Last season's unbeaten IPPSAL champion Portledge features a natural scorer in Terence Simpson, who has range but can also get to the rim with ease. The 6-3 junior guard averaged 21.4 points per game en route to being named league player of the year. He is joined by David Lustberg and 6-5 center Matt Goldstein. Solomon Schechter has one of the league's best shooters in Jacob Katz and talented freshman point guard Cole Eiber. Waldorf is led by an all-around player in Caleb Yuan.
PSAA champion Lawrence Woodmere Academy returns 6-4 power forward Rokas Lapsys, a tough match-up because of his size and speed, and Tristan Braverman, an outside threat.
With Mike Gavin