The Valley Stream Central gymnasium, built during the 1920s, features a basketball court that is shorter and narrower than a regulation high school court. Against the ferocious full-court pressure defense applied by Baldwin Friday, the VSC players must have felt as if they were trapped in an elevator.
Baldwin showed why it belongs with Long Island Lutheran and Brentwood in the penthouse of Long Island's boys basketball teams this season, routing Valley Stream Central, 82-37, in a Nassau AA-II game.
In improving to 4-0 (3-0 in league), the Bruins led 27-9 after one, 56-20 at halftime and when the starters were pulled five minutes into the third quarter, they had 71 points. Shane Gatling scored 26, including four three-pointers, and fellow guard Daraja Rodwell had 24, including six from downtown.
"We like to create chaos and get steals. That's how he gets those three-pointers," Gatling said pointing to Rodwell, who has 23 threes in the team's first four games, many on open looks as the Bruins quickly shift from defense to offense.
"The guys like to pass me the ball," Rodwell said. "They'll find me in transition."
Frequently, they'll find him in the corner, his favorite shooting spot, which Friday was a tight squeeze. There is only about a step's worth of room outside the arc in which to maneuver, but Rodwell had no problem catching or shooting in the ancient gym, which has an old-fashioned second level of bleachers and wrestling mats hanging along one wall where there is hardly any out-of-bounds area.
"The smaller court plays to our strength," Baldwin coach Darius Burton said. "We create havoc. Our best offense is our defense. We get easy baskets after steals and we try to wear down our opponents."
The Bruins continued that trend against Valley Stream Central (0-2 league, 2-2 overall). "Knock on wood, we've gotten off to fast starts in all four games," Burton said.
Said Rodwell, who had 19 first-half points, including five threes: "We come out with a lot of energy to start games. It's something we started working on in the summer."
Gatling scored nine points during an opening 16-3 run and had 14 first-quarter points and 20 at halftime. 'We want to get the early lead so everybody can play at the end," said Gatling, who wears hot pink sneakers and a lime green headband.
"I like to stand out on the court," he said with a grin. Friday, Gatling's attire was like a flashlight inside a dark phone booth.