Baldwin's Rhyjon Blackwell 

Baldwin's Rhyjon Blackwell  Credit: James Escher

They’ve got next.

From 2012 to 2016, Baldwin was the preeminent force in Nassau AA boys basketball, capturing four of five county titles. However it’s now been two years without one. This edition of the team wants the mini drought to end.

“It’s been happening for Baldwin players for a long time, but not for us,” senior point guard Rhyjon Blackwell said. “That’s been missing, but now it’s our time. It’s Baldwin’s turn.”

There are plenty of reasons to believe. The Bruins went 16-5 last season, falling to Uniondale in the Nassau title game. Blackwell explained that “we were very inexperienced last year. We got a taste of the ’ship and it didn’t work out. This team is experienced and ready for whatever is coming.”

Darius Burton, the 19th-year coach who has piloted the Bruins to 304 wins through Monday, sees a team capable of going far if it stays mentally tough.

“We’ve got pretty good size and we have athleticism. We have everything a coach would want,” he said. “We have good guard play, kids who shoot it and they really work hard at it.”

The team is also deep enough to play a nine- or 10-man rotation, which means fresh legs to apply 32 minutes of full-court pressure that ignites a quick-transition offense.

Baldwin basketball coach Darius Burton in 2016

Baldwin basketball coach Darius Burton in 2016 Credit: Richard T. Slattery

However if there is one big difference between last year and this year, it may be the arrival of 6-2 small forward Tavin Pierre Phillipe, who transferred from Christ the King  in Queens for his senior season after coming off the bench for the Royals as a junior.

“He’s going to be the ‘3,’ but he can do everything,” Burton said. “He can handle the ball, post up and play 1-through-4 on defense or on offense. We’re hoping to create a lot of mismatches with him.”

Pierre Philippe’s family relocated from Elmont two summers ago and he said the commute to Christ the King was about two hours,  He is hoping, however, to do more than cut down on travel time with this season at Baldwin.

“Don’t get me wrong: I had a good role at Christ the King,” Pierre Philippe said. “But I felt I could do more. I wanted to be out there a little more, to show more of my skill set. At Christ the King, I was outside and shot a lot of threes and only attacking the basket once in a while. But I want to show people I can do everything.”

Clearly a Division I talent, Pierre Philippe has the interest of Oklahoma State as well as a handful of mid-majors. It’s possible that playing a pivotal role with the Bruins could catrch the attention of more high majors and, he said, “it would be great if that happened.”

Pierre Philippe and Blackwell played together on a pair of summer travel teams and built a chemistry that is helping the newcomer blend in. Blackwell will be joined in the starting backcourt by one of two seniors, Dwight Levy or Peter Bateman Jr. Pierre Philippe will be alongside 6-6 senior center Tre Wiggins or 6-3 junior Isiah Walker in the frontcourt.

“Tavin is excellent,” Blackwell said. “He has explosive athleticism. He’s smart. He can score at will. He does it all.”

The Bruins already have a sense they will be wearing the bulls-eye this season because of the returning talent and Pierre Philippe. And they made a statement in their opener last Saturday with 95-51 win over defending Section IX AA champ Pine Bush in the Upstate-Downstate Challenge at Uniondale.

“The word is out there that we’re pretty good, I’m sure,” Burton said.

“I love this program. Everyone wants to win — our season started the day we lost [to Uniondale],” Blackwell said. “The way I see it, our biggest obstacle is going to be ourselves. It’s about mentality. If we break down as a team, it’ll be bad. If we keep believing in each other and stay high energy with a good attitude, we’re going to be fine.”

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