Being one of the tallest players on the court doesn’t always come with the most glory. They often aren’t the ones making the flashy drives, knocking down timely three-pointers, or going coast-to-coast for an exciting play. But their importance is unquestioned and can completely change the way an opposing coach attacks a team.
Protection is a word that often comes up when talking with the best paint patrollers on Long Island.
“You have to be the hardest worker out there and get the boards,” said Savannah Swords, a 6-2 forward for Long Island Lutheran. “You don’t have to be the pressure defender on the point guards, but you have [to be] a presence in the paint and protect the hoop.”
“When you see a big post player in the paint, some people may second guess going in or will try to move the ball to different options,” said Destiny Johnson, a 5-9 forward for Copiague. “Having a good presence in the paint is very good for the defense and can help win games.”
And now more than ever, coaches at all levels of basketball are allowing their tallest players to create. Gone are the days when the tallest player on the court had to stand in the middle of the paint and just stay by the basket. Some of the best power forwards and centers on Long Island can also shoot and defend from the outside.
“It takes a lot of versatility in your gameplay,” said Emma Heaney, a 6-1 forward for Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK. “And even though people may think playing down low is all about getting to the basket, I think you also have to have court vision and be selfless. You have to be willing to kick out the ball and I think the biggest thing is being versatile."
Kate Koval, last season’s Newsday Player of the Year from LuHi, stands above nearly every player on every court she stands upon. At 6-5, the Notre Dame commit is one of the toughest players to score on in the paint in the country. The Ukraine native said American basketball is more physical, which she enjoys, and although she is often significantly taller than anyone else on the floor, she enjoys the opportunities to show off her skill set against other tall, physical players.
“I love being able to see other taller girls out there,” Koval said. “We definitely battle against one another, but we’re able to show not only our back-to-the-basket skills, but also our shooting.”
But it’s not all about scoring for the top forwards and centers. They can start the offense with a rebound and an outlet pass, little plays that are key to victory.
“Rebounds are just as important as points, so I take a lot of pride in getting rebounds,” Johnson said. “I want to really hustle and it makes a difference.”
Here’s a look at the 10 best power forwards and centers on Long Island:
Kate Koval, Long Island Lutheran, 6-5, F/C, Sr.
Few players in the country, yet alone on Long Island, can match the combination of size, physicality and skill that Koval possesses. The Notre Dame commit can run the floor with the ease of a guard, always having her hands ready to receive a pass and finish at the basket. Koval is the No. 5 senior in the country in rankings produced by ESPN and is a near-unstoppable force in the paint. But she also knocked down four three-pointers last season and can shoot from the mid-range while averaging 2.3 blocks, making her the whole package.
Shy Hawkins, Long Island Lutheran, 6-2, F, Sr.
The Mastic Beach native is committed to play at Syracuse and is also at her best when running the floor in open space. Unlike many players on this list, she only started playing basketball in the seventh grade, but her natural athleticism as a track star quickly translated to the hardwood. Hawkins, a Newsday second-team All-Long Island selection last season, averaged 7.4 points and 5.3 rebounds while serving as a key defender in a star-filled lineup.
Alex Brauer, St. John the Baptist, 5-10, F/C, Sr.
She creates havoc in the paint on both the offensive and defensive ends as a natural rebounder and shot blocker. Brauer averaged 10 points and 20 rebounds last season and her presence in the paint can change how opposing coaches attack the Cougars.
Emma Heaney, Plainview-Old Bethpage, 6-1, F, Jr.
She averaged 19 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks last winter, yet she models her game like many modern-day forwards with the ability to run the floor. Heaney can finish at the basket with ease, but also knock down the mid-range jumper. Her size and athleticism allows her to guard multiple positions on the defensive end as she’ll find herself guarding both natural centers and wings.
Savannah Swords, Long Island Lutheran, 6-2, F. Soph.
She averaged 9.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists last year and was a key defender in the paint, mostly while playing against much older girls. Despite being one of the team’s tallest players, she was third on the team in three pointers. Swords is the No. 13 sophomore ranked by ESPN.
Annie Kiernan, Sacred Heart, 6-0, F, Sr.
She averaged 17 points and seven rebounds last season and is possibly the best shooting 6-footer on Long Island. The Bentley University commit made 37 three-pointers last season.
Emma Poland, East Rockaway, 6-0, F/C, Sr.
The Molloy commit is an imposing force in the middle of the paint. She averaged 15.1 points, 15.6 rebounds and eight blocks last season and is one of the most impactful defensive centers on Long Island.
Ryan Currier, Kings Park, 6-2, C, Sr.
She averaged 10.5 points, 9.9 rebounds and blocked 110 shots in a 19-3 season for Kings Park. Currier’s paint presence was a key reason the Kingsmen reached the Suffolk Class A final, where she scored 15 points in a loss to Shoreham-Wading River.
Destiny Johnson, Copiague, 5-9, F, Sr.
Although Johnson is one of the shorter players on this list, she is one of the top rebounders on Long Island and knows how to position herself in the best areas to score, rebound and block shots. Johnson averaged 14.9 points and eight rebounds last year while drawing some of the toughest matchups.
Carley Mullins, Islip, 5-11, F, Sr.
She averaged 10.9 points and 10.5 rebounds last season with the rare combination of size, toughness and athleticism that allowed her to guard any position on the floor.