Wantagh girls basketball coach Stan Bujacich talks to his players...

Wantagh girls basketball coach Stan Bujacich talks to his players during a game against Mineola on Friday. Credit: Neil Miller

It really started to hit Stan Bujacich on the drive home. A trip from Wantagh High School back to his house. Something he’s done more times than he can count over his 31 years as the Wantagh girls basketball coach. But this time was different.

Bujacich was driving home after winning his 400th varsity game on January 17, a milestone few coaches on Long Island have reached.

“I’ve been fortunate to coach great kids,” Bujacich said. “I’ve been fortunate to have great support. I get teary-eyed sometimes, and I’m just very fortunate to be coaching this long. Some people are done after 10 years or five years, so this is something pretty cool.”

As he entered the gym for the milestone game against Plainedge, Bujacich knew he was one victory away from  No. 400. But as Wantagh fell behind early, he was so consumed by trying to win the game that he says the mark genuinely wasn’t on his mind. Rather than thinking about the number 400, he was just thinking about number one – as in, getting one victory that day.

Wantagh used a 12-5 fourth quarter to defeat Plainedge, 36-35. After the game, Bujacich was met with balloons, confetti, and a “400” cutout with the zeroes as basketball and posed for photos.

“It was actually pretty cool, I can’t lie to you,” said Bujacich, who currently has 401 victories. “Then on the drive home, it really hit me as I was driving.”

Bujacich, 65, has retired from teaching but said he has no current plans on retiring from coaching. His players are pleased to hear that.

Brighid Smith, a senior center, had sisters on the teams when Bujacich reached 200 and 300 wins. When Smith made varsity as a sophomore, one of her goals was to be on the team for the 400th victory.

“It was always a goal of mine to be able to play under Coach B and now that I’m doing it, I’m very grateful for that opportunity,” Smith said. “I’ve seen every single one of my sisters gain a lot of work ethic from him and the confidence he puts into his players, it helps you to want to go out on the court and do the best job you can.”

Casey Kissinger, a senior guard and four-year varsity player, feels the same way.

“He’s a really great guy,” Kissinger said. “He gets intense at practice, but it’s good. He works us hard, but he can also be our friend at times.”

Bujacich has guided Wantagh to two county titles, four county championship appearances, and 11 conference crowns over his 31 seasons. Wantagh is 13-3, including 6-2 in Nassau Conference A-I, this year.

Bujacich said he never imagined reaching a milestone like 400 wins. He was grateful to the players, administrators and mentors who helped it become possible.

“You don’t even think ahead,” Bujacich said. “You just kind of grind out each day and have fun and enjoy it. Every day’s not going to be perfect, every practice’s not going to be perfect but you just go day by day. I know it’s cliche, but you just have to take it one day at a time and then it just adds up at the end.”

McLuHi

Kayleigh Heckel grew up in Port Chester, N.Y. dreaming of playing in the McDonald’s All American Game. But when she reflects back honestly, Heckel never thought that moment would happen. On Tuesday, it happened not only for Heckel, but also two of her other Long Island Lutheran teammates,  as three Crusaders were selected to play in the 2024 McDonald’s All American Game.

“I always dreamed of being in this game so now that I’m going to be, it just seems surreal,” Heckel said. “Even thinking about it now, knowing that I’m going to be in it, it just seems fake. It’s just such an amazing basketball game to be a part of, so I really never thought I would be.”

LuHi’s Kate Koval and Syla Swords were also two of the 24 girls selected for the game, which will be played April 22 at the Toyota Center in Houston. The game will air on ESPN2 at 6:30 p.m. LuHi became the first girls basketball team in the game’s history to have three players selected.

“I think it’s a really good testament to our team culture,” Swords said. “Our coaches, our players, our teammates, we all really support each other and we all want to see each other do well. It just wouldn’t have been the same if all three of us didn’t get picked, so it’s really cool to be a part of history like that.”

Koval, who grew up in Ukraine, knew about the McDonald’s All-American Game as a younger player. When she arrived at LuHi in her sophomore year and one of her teammates, Paris Clark, made it, Koval wanted to do the same for herself and her country.

“It feels awesome to be honest,” Koval said. “I’m pretty sure we haven’t had any Ukranians before that have played in this game and just being able to put it out there and compete with and against the best players in the country is amazing.”

The Crusaders are 14-1 and ranked No. 2 in the country through Friday.

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