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You gotta hand it to Central Islip star Tim McKenzie: 3 thumb surgeries and a firm grip on team's success

Central Islip's Timothy McKenzie watches the trajectory of

Central Islip's Timothy McKenzie watches the trajectory of a free throw during a game against Northport. (Feb. 1, 2013) Credit: James Escher

If you want to give Tim McKenzie a thumbs-up review after one of his typical fill-up-the-stat-sheet performances, make it the right thumb.

The 6-4 senior swingman from Central Islip still can't palm the ball with his shooting hand because he had three different surgeries on his left thumb, which he injured while playing hoops during the summer before his junior year.

"I'd get surgery, go back out there, try to palm it with my left hand and hurt it again," said McKenzie, the key player for the Musketeers, one of the top Class AA teams in Suffolk with a 14-3 overall record. "Finally, after the third operation, they put a pin in there."

Maybe McKenzie can't dunk with one hand, but there's little else the southpaw can't do. He leads Central Islip in scoring (15.5 points per game) and rebounding (10.0) and also averages 3.5 assists and 2.3 steals, according to coach Jim Mott, a perfectionist who said with a coaches-will-be-coaches smirk, "He's filling up the turnover column, too."

That's just collateral damage from having the ball in McKenzie's hands so often, even though his younger brother, David, a sophomore, is the team's capable point guard.

"He's obviously our best player and our go-to guy," Mott said. "He's unselfish in the open court and looks to make his teammates better. We like his energy on the defensive end and his rebounding."

The Musketeers are known for what McKenzie called "our 2-3 Syracuse zone" and a variety of full-court trapping schemes that create scoring chances. "When I see a steal coming and the floor is open, that really gets me going," McKenzie said. "In the open court, I like dishing it more than dunking it."

That share-the-wealth philosophy began when McKenzie made the varsity as a freshman and found the lineup stocked with high-scoring guards. "My main job then was to get some rebounds and play defense," he said of a role that extended through his sophomore year.

It was only last year that he emerged as a dangerous scorer. Said McKenzie, "I've always had the mind-set to do anything I can to help my team win."

McKenzie almost got to play with his older brother, Paul, who would have been a senior starter in Tim's freshman year, but Paul tore his ACL in summer ball and never played on the varsity again.

"He realizes how fortunate he's been, to come back after three surgeries on his thumb," said his father, George, a music teacher at Central Islip who admits that because of his sons, he's become a bit of a big man on campus, too.

His dad added, "He knows there are no guarantees." Except that Tim will be Central Islip's hands-on leader every game.

"No one passes it like me, so I don't feel right until I get my teammates going first," McKenzie said. "I'll let the game come to me. I like to slash from the corner or the top of the key, but I'll take the perimeter three if it's there."

If he does get to the rim, it'll be a soft layup or a two-handed slam. The one-handed dunks will have to wait until college. He's drawn interest from schools such as Lafayette, Dowling, Newberry (S.C.) College, Assumption (Mass.) and Brockport.

McKenzie says he's certain he'll be ready for the next level because it will be preceded by a touch of déjà vu. "I think,'' he said, "I might need another operation on my thumb after the season."

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