Newsday runs a full-court press on Long Island high school boys basketball.
Basketball challenging lax for top billing at Manhasset
If lacrosse is king at Manhasset, might basketball be the new prince?
Nobody will confuse the two programs. Since the boys basketball team’s last county championship in the 1996-97 season, the lacrosse team has won six Nassau titles and three state championships, including the last two.
But the basketball team’s 11-1 start has made the community take notice. The Indians, whose only loss came against CHSAA power Chaminade, had their signature win last Friday — 64-63 over previously undefeated Floral Park. Manhasset was behind by nine going into the third quarter, but Alessandro Troia’s layup with 38 seconds left capped a 21-11 fourth quarter.
Troia finished with a season-high 29 points. After the game, he and his teammates were mobbed by the home fans who stormed the court.
“That comeback was very special for the program,” said coach George Bruns, who is in his ninth season leading the team. “It was important to see how we perform in the limelight. It was a defining moment for now.”
Yet Bruns, who played 13 games for the Nets of the ABA in the 1972-73 season, is well aware of basketball’s place in the Manhasset athletics pecking order. Though lacrosse is a spring sport, many players opt to play year-round rather than participate in other sports.
“It’s lacrosse country here,” he said. “It’s a struggle sometimes to get people interested in basketball. Parents realize lacrosse is a much better vehicle for college. There’s a better opportunity to play college lacrosse than college basketball.”
Troia, a junior who is also the starting running back on the football team, is averaging 21.5 points in seven conference games. He’s a basketball natural. But some of the others are just natural athletes who lack basketball fundamentals.
Bruns’ specialty, he says, is teaching the basics after years coaching Nassau CC’s women’s team and three daughters of his own.
“It’s difficult to teach [the boys] concepts of moving without the ball and playing team basketball based on what they see on TV,” he said. “Part of the sales pitch is, we demand defense.”
Defense is crucial when playing a team like Floral Park, which has two dynamic scorers in Shamoy McIntosh and Justin Wilson. Right now, the Knights appear to be Manhasset’s top competition for a Class A county title. First, they’ll play another regular season game at Floral Park on Feb. 11.
All aspects of the team have been bolstered by the return of Gary Tibbs, a 6-3 forward who missed all of last season after tearing up his knee during football season. He’s had a double-double in three of the last five games.
Tibbs, Dan Merola (14.5 ppg), and point guard Anthony Amitrano have got the Indians thinking big — except for their coach.
Said Bruns: “I didn’t have a lot of expectations, I don’t think too much about that.”
Many at Manhasset didn’t think much of his program. But they do now.