“Every game has its own story.”
It’s a phrase that Uniondale boys basketball coach Tom Diana uses often and as his Knights battled Oceanside in the third quarter on Tuesday, the game’s story was unfolding more like a nightmare than a triumph. The Sailors’ Jaden Jenkins sent a long three-pointer ripping through the net with 1:30 left in the period,cutting a Uniondale lead that had been 10 to just two.
Diana called a timeout. Then Jo Jo Wright changed the story’s narrative. The freshman point guard assisted or scored on the last three Knights possessions in the quarter, restoring the margin to nine, and kept it up through the fourth as host Uniondale accelerated away for a 71-46 Nassau AA-I triumph.
Wright had four points and six assists when Diana called that timeout. He finished with 21 points and nine assists to lead the Knights (7-1, 3-0).
“I told him he wasn’t going to get the whole lead back on one play, I told him to play his game and stop forcing,” Diana said. “When he is seeing the court and involving the other players it is just amazing to watch.”
“He woke me up and I started getting everyone involved,” said Wright, who logged serious minutes as an eighth-grader last season as Uniondale repeated as county champion. “When I’m doing that, everyone is playing harder on both ends because we’re having fun.”
Out of the timeout, he found Jason Charles for a layup. On the next Uniondale possession, he drove left to the baseline for a fadeaway. And he closed the third with a three-pointer from the wing for a 48-39 lead. He assisted or scored on eight of the first 10 Knights points in the fourth as the lead grew to 58-41.
“He’s not afraid of the moment,” Diana said. “He’s played big minutes in big games.”
Senior guard Isaiah Joseph-Brock continued to emerge as a key player for the Knights with 15 points and Jayden Freeman added 10 points. Dimitri Garrett had 12 points for Oceanside (4-7, 2-2).
Uniondale has players who competed on the big stage a year ago, but no returning starters and thus is a work in progress. It has two things though that already give it a daunting look: a high octane pace and a rotation of eight to 11 players, making it hard for other teams to keep up.
“We wear teams down because we’re much more than just five good players,” Joseph-Brock said. “We can take their legs faster because we’re deep.”
That was apparent in the final quarter, when the Sailors managed only one field goal.
“We’re Uniondale and everybody comes at us with their best,” Wright said. “We needed a push, but once we got it you could see what we can do. There’s more work do to and I only see us getting better.”