One is a bolt of crackling lightning, a talkative slasher who seemingly can get to the basket at will. The other rolls in silent thunder, with a quiet demeanor but a noisy offensive game.
Senior guards and best friends Savion Lewis and Julien Crittendon are on the verge of creating a perfect storm for Half Hollow Hills East this season. “Savion is more of a vocal guy; Julien is more of a let-my-actions-speak-louder-than-my-words guy,” Hills East coach Peter Basel said.
Each has expanded his game, adding skills from the other’s repertoire, and both are strongly motivated to take the Thunderbirds to the state tournament for the first time in school history after an excruciating last-second loss to Westbury in last season’s Long Island Class AA final that still haunts and drives them.
“We were one point short last year and knowing that one possession, one free throw could’ve made the difference makes us mad,” said Lewis, the speedy one who averaged 20 points per game last season and signed in the fall to play at Division I Quinnipiac. “We’re OK with winning counties [for the first time], but we should’ve won the whole thing. We’re coming back hungry and stronger.”
Or as Crittendon, the soft-spoken shooter who averaged 17.8 points and made 41 three-pointers last season, put it, “We definitely have a chip on our shoulders after that loss in the LIC.”
Knocking that chip off will be a challenge for opponents because of their versatility. Is Lewis, with his blazing speed and strength to get to the rim, the point guard? Or is Crittendon the playmaker because he can draw the defense with his shooting range and newly developed Euro-step? “We’ve been playing together since the fifth grade. I know what he’s going to do; he knows what I’m going to do,” Crittendon said. “We can mess with the defense’s head because we’re hard to deal with. Each of us can be the 1 or the 2.”
They’ve played those roles against each other for years, on playgrounds and hardwood courts from Long Island to the Bronx on the AAU circuit. They are fierce competitors as well as fast friends. “Our relationship off the court helps our relationship on the court,” Lewis said. “We’ve had ups and downs. I can yell at him; he can yell at me. We understand. There’s no ego problem.”
Basel intends to exploit that bond. “They’re very interchangeable. We’re going to try to get Savion off the ball this year instead of him always running the offense,” Basel said. “That means Julien will take the role of being the point guard. Savion can break people down, but he’ll look to pass. Julien is a prolific scorer. He wows me with some of the things he does.”
Long Island’s most dynamic backcourt is the primary reason Hills East, with four starters back from a 21-5 team, is considered a strong favorite to dominate Class AA this season. But with great expectations comes great pressure. Lewis and Crittendon embrace both.
“I want to set the bar high,” Lewis said. “I want to be the first Hills East team to go to states. We already did counties and that was cool, but the expectations are high this year. With Julien being my best friend on and off the court, there’s definitely emotion. Why not win it all this one last time?”
Why not, indeed? “There will be a lot of pressure on us, but we know what we have to do,” Crittendon said. “We have the league and county banners from 2017. We want to put up another one.”
They spent the summer trying to turn that dream into a reality. “I worked on my midrange shot, my ballhandling and my decision-making,” said Crittendon, deadly from downtown and on the recruiting radar of several Division II colleges. “I like to switch it up. I can shoot the three pretty consistently, but I can also push it and take it to the basket. I would say I’m crafty around the rim. You never know what I’m going to do.”
Lewis needed to add range to complement his rocket-to-the-rim bursts. “I wanted to improve my three-point game. I worked all summer — early morning, late nights. I’m ready to showcase it,” Lewis said. “I’m probably the fastest and savviest guard on Long Island. And I have a killer’s mindset. I don’t think anyone I’m playing against is bring the same mindset.
“My role this year is to be more of a leader,” Lewis added. “The scoring and dishing will come, but the other players have to be involved. It’s not just the ‘me and Julien show.’ ’’
The Thunderbirds already have created a buzz around Long Island. “We go over to Hills West for a scrimmage and the place was packed,” Basel said. “We went to Amityville and the place was jammed like it was a game. I told the kids, ‘People are coming to see you. Put on a show but respect our opponents. You guys are like a traveling rock-star band.’ ’’
The Fabulous Thunderbirds?
NEWSDAY’S TOP 10
1. Long Island Lutheran
2. Half Hollow Hills East
3. St. Anthony’s
7. Lawrence Woodmere
8. Holy Trinity
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Taliq Abdul-Rahim, Valley Stream North, G, 5-11 Sr.
Athletic guard with the ability to attack the rim and facilitate the Spartans’ offense.
Ahkee Anderson, Greenport, G, 5-10, Soph.
Averaged 18 points, eight assists, four rebounds and four steals last season as a freshman and is one of the most dynamic players in Suffolk VIII.
Danny Ashley, Uniondale, G, 5-10, Sr.
Averaged 17 points, seven assists and three steals a game and plays some of the toughest defense on Long Island. The Newsday All-Long Island selection has received college interest from schools including, LIU Post, St. Thomas Aquinas and Sacred Heart.
Isaiah Bien-Aise, Westbury, 6-5, G/F, Sr.
The versatile combo player averaged more than nine points a game for the defending Long Island Class AA champions, including scoring nine points with 10 rebounds in a 61-60 victory over Half Hollow Hills East in the final.
Sean Braithwaite, Center Moriches, 6-5, G/F, Jr.
Averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, receiving Division I and Division II college interest. A triple-double threat nearly every game, he had 24 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in an 80-60 victory over Oyster Bay in the Long Island Class B championship.
Bobby Connors, Chaminade, 6-4, G/F, Sr.
Averaged 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists for the Long Island CHSAA champions. He scored 20 points in a 85-65 victory over Holy Trinity in the title game.
Chris Crespo, Smithtown West, G, 6-3, Sr.
Leads the defending Suffolk III champions after averaging 13 points, six assists, three rebounds and three steals a game last season.
Julien Crittendon, Half Hollow Hills East, G, 6-2, Sr.
With a knack for the big moment, Crittendeon, who averaged 15 points a game last season, scored nine of his 18 points in the fourth quarter of a 64-62 victory over Bay Shore to win the Suffolk AA championship last year.
Nasim Cylin, Baldwin, F, 6-4, Sr.
Averaged 10 points last season as an athletic outside player and will be taking on a larger role in the offense this season.
Andrew DeSantis, Garden City, G, 6-4, Sr.
Also a standout on the gridiron, DeSantis averaged 26 points and seven rebounds last season, including a streak of four-straight 30-point games.
Jon Harewood, St. Anthony’s, G, 6-1, Sr.
Receiving interest from schools like LIU Post, Queens, Molloy,
and St. Francis College, he averaged 16 points and three assists last season. Can lead and play off the ball for the offense.
Alyjah Hill, Hewlett, G, 6-0, Sr.
A quick guard with great decision-making ability, Hill leads a Hewlett team looking for a deep postseason run. He averaged 18.8 points last season, including a 40-point outburst against Roslyn.
Aidan Igiehon, Lawrence-Woodmere Academy, 6-10, C, Jr.
Being recruited by nearly every school in the country, Igiehon continues to improve his game and own the paint. He averaged 21 points and 15 rebounds last season for the PSAA champions.
Zed Key, Brentwood, F/C, 6-8, Soph.
With offers currently from Stony Brook, Iona, Cincinnati and UMass, Key is an athletic big man with size and speed and the ability to handle the ball in space. He averaged 12 points and 10 assists last season.
Donatas Kupsas, Long Island Lutheran, F, 6-9, Sr.
Receiving interest from schools like Hofstra, Weber State,
Fordham and Vermont, he averaged 13 points and 10 rebounds last season as LuHi reached the Class AA state Federation semifinals.
Savion Lewis, Half Hollow Hills East, G, 6-1, Sr.
A four-year varsity player, Lewis led Half Hollow Hills East to the Suffolk AA championship, averaging 21 points. Lewis, committed to Quinnipiac, is a returning Newsday All-Long Island selection and had three 30-point games last season.
Tyrone Lyons, St. Anthony’s, G/F, 6-6, Sr.
Averaged 14.5 points and nine rebounds last season as a dynamic force with great size and speed. He is committed to North Carolina A&T but looks to lead St. Anthony’s to a CHSAA title this year.
Essam Mostafa, Long Island Lutheran, F/C, 6-9, Jr.
A force in the paint, he averaged 12 points and 11 rebounds last season and will be one of three 6-9 players for LuHi this season.
Victor Olawoye, Elmont, G, 6-1, Sr.
A quick guard, he averaged 15 points, four assists and three rebounds for the Nassau A champions and will be even more of an offensive focal point this season.
Josh Serrano, Amityville, G, 5-11, Sr.
Able to dominate a game with his shot and facilitate with the pass, the Newsday All-Long Island selection averaged 26 points and seven assists last season.
Tyler Small, Holy Trinity, G, 6-2, Sr.
Averaged 15 points and six rebounds last season and is not a player you want to give an open look to.
Michael Snowden, Copiague, G, 6-4, Sr.
A big, strong guard, he averaged 16 points last season and is receiving interest from NYIT and John Jay.
Alex Sobel, Ward Melville, 6-8, C, Sr.
One of the tallest players in Suffolk, Sobel controls the paint every night, including a 22-point, 24-rebound performance against Sachem North last season. He averaged 17.8 points last season.
Jacob Wiener, Syosset, G/F, 6-0, Sr.
He averaged 12 points and led Nassau AA-I in three-point field goals and free-throw percentage last season, coach Greg Cardona said.
Jarrell White, Bellport, F, 6-4, Jr.
Completely dominant in the paint, he averaged 23.8 points and 14.5 rebounds last season and built up his strength even more during the offseason.