Amid the tears, hugs and heartbreaks that engulfed the Brentwood boys basketball team after walking off the court with a loss in the Class AA state final last year was a glimmer of hope.
Unlike most teams that reach the state final four in Binghamton -- especially the large schools -- Brentwood’s starting lineup didn’t feature a single senior. That meant the Indians wouldn’t need to worry about rebuilding for the following season . They could be back playing in the same game 12 months later.
“It was heartbreaking,” point guard Kenny Lazo said of the loss. “I remember we were all crying, me and Jordan [Riley] were together, hugging each other, and telling each other we have to use this as fuel because we want to be back here next year.”
The defeat still remains at the forefront of the team’s thoughts. Not only has Brentwood never won a state title in boys basketball, no Long Island public school team has won a Class AA state title since it was introduced in 2004. The Indians hope to change that.
“Myself, like everyone else, would love to be the first ones to do it, but we’re going to take it one day at a time,” coach Anthony Jimenez said. “We have some heavy duty competition in front of us.”
Along with the playmaking backcourt of Lazo and Riley, Brentwood returns Alan Houston and Romello Wright from last year’s starting lineup, which finished 25-3. With Bryce Harris, a Newsday All-Long Island selection last season, transferring to Greensboro Day in North Carolina, Jimenez expects Amari Isaacs to see increased minutes and have a strong season.
The team’s chemistry is evident, even by just attending a practice.
“It plays a big role because we are already used to each other,” Lazo said. “So we come in and we know what somebody can do and what somebody can’t do, so it makes it easier for us to play together.”
And for Lazo at point guard, the camaraderie makes him more efficient. As a throwback, pass-first point guard but also possessing the ability to create his own shot, he averaged 14 points and five assists last season.
“I want to get my teammates involved, I want them all involved,” the senior said. “I don’t want anybody left out. I want to make sure everybody’s getting their touches and everybody’s happy because when everybody’s happy it makes a winning team.”
One player in particular Lazo likes to find is Riley. The 6-3 junior guard has drawn high Division-I interest, including offers from Seton Hall and Rutgers, Jimenez said. Riley, who averaged 17 points and four assists last season, said he spent much of the offseason working on his ballhandling abilities and improving his overall game.
“He doesn’t take that natural gift and just take it for granted,” Jimenez said. “When great talent stops working, people surpass them and he’s not going to let that happen.”
But Riley is more focused on helping to lead Brentwood back to the championship game.
“We’re just looking to get right back to the position we were in last year,” Riley said. “Everybody wants to win and we just want to make history.”
Brentwood will have some competition in its quest for a second straight Suffolk Class AA title. Deer Park returns Malik Edmead, a dynamic playmaker who averaged 25 points per game. Half Hollow Hills East, Central Islip, Ward Melville, Bay Shore, Commack and Northport figure to be in the mix as well.
In Class A, Amityville features a tough lineup led by the duo of Myles Goddard and Divaahd Lucas. Half Hollow Hills West, Kings Park, Miller Place, Mount Sinai and defending champion Wyandanch should have strong teams.
There was some shakeup in the smaller schools, Following the graduation of a talented senior class at Center Moriches, the Red Devils have been bolstered by the additions of transfers Ahkee Anderson (Greenport) and Nae'jon Ward (Bridgehampton) to complement an already strong Class B lineup.
And after falling just short of a state title last year, Brentwood hopes experience will help bring the school -- and Long Island -- a championship.
“People say ‘Next year, next year, next year,” Jimenez said. “But it’s incredibly difficult to get off Long Island and there are so many good teams and so many good coaches and so many close games.”