To some, blocking shots is an art. To others, it’s an attitude.
Lawrence Woodmere girls basketball coach Karim Shabazz is equal parts both. Shabazz, a 7-2 former center who spent 10 years at various levels of professional basketball, knows a thing or two about the art — or attitude — of rejection.
“Blocking shots, for me, it was all about angles and timing,” said Shabazz, the 2004 NBA D-League Defensive Player of the Year. “Knowing that I was so tall that I could really, really wait until the last moment to block somebody’s shot.”
Shabazz said young basketball players often fall into bad habits, like swinging at the ball to get the emphatic rejections often seen on ESPN. Instead, “positioning is key,” he said.
The Long Island girls basketball scene has several prolific shot-blockers, including two who stand well over six-feet. In Shabazz’s opinion, that’s the equivalent of having a seven-footer in men’s basketball because of how it can alter an offensive gameplan.
“It’s an intimidation factor because you are basically telling them, ‘This is my area. You’re not going to be able to score in here today,’ ” he said.
Here's a look at three of the most high-profile shot-rejecters on Long Island.
Danielle Hippner, East Meadow
Few interior defenders anticipate like Hippner, a 6-3 junior pacing the Jets’ strong start to the season.
“She just has a real good knack at knowing when to go for the ball,” coach Peter Olenik said. “She plays the ball very well.”
Olenik said Hippner also knows when to leave her spot to provide help defense, and she’s been an anchor for East Meadow, which has already clinched a playoff berth in Nassau AA-II. Olenik said she averages about six or seven blocks per game but said that number would be higher if his team played more man defense.
Most opposing players stand little chance against Hippner, who usually doesn’t have to jump to swat a shot away.
Hippner came to Olenik as a lanky freshman with obvious potential. It took time to refine her skills, but she’s upped her playmaking ability in a short time. Offensively, she’s averaging 22.4 points per game — fourth-most in Nassau through play on Friday.
“The type of player that she’s become in three years, it’s been remarkable,” Olenik said. “As a freshman, she was very lanky and just needed time to grow into her body.”
Rachel Mahler, Syosset
Braves coach Michael Ferreira calls Mahler a rim-runner. It’s not rare for Mahler to block a shot on one end, run the floor in transition and then drain a straightaway three-pointer.
The 6-1 senior bound for Washington-St. Louis has improved her athleticism this season, and Ferreira said it’s done wonders for her production.
“You talk about a big who’s running with our guards and coming top three in sprints,” Ferreira said. “I think she’s just so focused on improving every facet of her game.”
Offenses learn quickly that Mahler is as agile as they come in the paint. She’s athletic enough to defend outside the arc, too, but everyone knows her true skills are showcased under the basket.
Mahler’s season-high for blocks is 12. She has two triple-doubles with double-digit blocks. She’s averaging 5.6 blocks per game.
“She does most of her shot-blocking from help defense,” Ferreira said. “It’s just her willingness to get in good position. She’s so smart. Her timing is so spot-on. She’s baiting players to come into her house so she can turn them away.”
Lauren Romito, Hauppauge
Romito is a true game-changer. She’s 6-3 with long arms, making her a nightmare for smaller guards to score on. Recording double-digit blocks in a game has become routine.
“She does a great job not fouling,” coach Jamie Edson said after Hauppauge’s 48-30 win over Harborfields on Jan. 3.
That can go unnoticed, but in girls basketball, players with imposing size advantages can be on the wrong end of foul calls on physical plays. Romito uses her positioning and length to let the ball come to her, making it easier to deny shots.
“The way that we play defense, when we can get her in the middle, I mean, you can’t get layups, you can’t get easy shots,” Edson said. “Even though she’s inside, she sets the tone for our outside defense because we know we can get out on shooters.”
Players who quickly realize they can’t drive against Hauppauge when Romito is in the game instead opt for rushed midrange jumpers. Still, those shots need to be quick because Romito reacts quickly and extends her arms to meet shooters.
“She’s the whole key defensively for us,” Edson said.
Other shot-blockers to watch: Raiana Brown (North Babylon), Emily Cohen (Roslyn), Lilah Grubman (Syosset), Cathryn Kramer (Island Trees), Janay Lagagneur (Valley Stream Central), Meaghan McCaffrey (Mineola), Colleen Moulder (Kellenberg), Keleysha Petit-Frere (Farmingdale), Victoria Venus (Mineola).