The shoulder pads have been switched for sneakers. The football has been replaced with a basketball. The position is no longer quarterback, but point guard. Yet Uniondale’s Rolando Meyers-Turner remains a team leader.
The Knights’ senior, who last month was selected to Newsday’s all-Long Island second team in football, scored 21 points and was the steady hand Wednesday night that helped guide Uniondale through the final minutes of a 49-46 Nassau AA-I boys basketball victory over gritty host Syosset.
Meyers-Turner is the only returning starter on the defending county champion Knights (9-1, 5-0), but he has them aiming high once again.
Syosset (6-5, 1-3) is the early-season master of heartbreak, having lost its last three games by a total of six points.
Jayden Freeman broke a 43-43 tie when he caught an inbounds pass, saw no one in his path to the basket and drove for a layup. Meyers-Turner scored Uniondale’s last four points to keep it ahead, including both ends of a one-and-one with 9.9 seconds to play and the Knights up by one. Syosset’s final possession ended with a turnover.
“When I got the pass, my goal was to go right at them,” Freeman said. “I didn’t really expect the chance . . . but you have to expect the best from yourself.”
Syosset followed with an empty possession and then Turner weaved through the Braves’ defense for a layup with 26 seconds left for a 47-43 lead. Cyriac Puthussery converted a three-point play with 11.7 seconds left to make it a one-point margin and then Meyers-Turner was fouled and made the two free throws.
“He has the heart of a lion,” Knights coach Rich Diana said. “What can’t you say about him? He’s got experience, he’s been in pivotal situations and he knows what to do.”
Meyers-Turner also had four steals, three of which he turned into layups, and Latrell Williams had 10 points and nine rebounds for Uniondale. Rob Berland had 16 points, Puthussery 12 points and Rob Kurla 11 points for the Braves.
Meyers-Turner carries things over from football to basketball — “the toughness, the next-play attitude and the team mentality,” he said — and he has to lead as the Knights lack experience.
And he saw this win as important because “when you get to the playoffs, there’s a lot of close games and they can go back and forth, possession bypossession,” he said. “It’s good to win them now, even though you don’t want to be in close games, because you learn how to win them.”
“We’re getting better in spurts,” Diana said. “When we’re active and we play real hard, we’re pretty good. And when we have four guys playing hard and one who is not sure of himself, we’re not. Because of the inexperience, sometimes they’re just not sure of themselves.”
Fortunately the Knights have Meyers-Turner, who always is.