ALBANY – As the buzzer sounded following the biggest win of his 25-year coaching career with the Ossining girls basketball team, head coach Dan Ricci — usually one of the most emphatic coaches in the state — didn’t scream, didn’t fist-pump, or even smile. He grabbed his water bottle and took a swig.
Ricci told his team before the weekend that he had never experienced the feeling of winning a Federation Tournament of Champions title. He celebrated winning seven gold balls, five regional championships, and four state titles, but never a Federation title.
“We knew we were the best public school team in New York State by winning a state championship,” he said, after downing Long Island Lutheran, 64-54, in the Class AA Federation title game Saturday at the Times Union Center. “Then we beat the best team in New York City, and now we beat the Independent (champions), who beat the Catholic school (champions), so that means we’re the best basketball team in New York. That’s a really good feeling.”
Ossining (28-2) trailed by 17 points after the first quarter, and played a good portion of the game without two-time state tournament MVP Shadeen Samuels, who picked up four personal fouls in the first half.
Samuels has been a large part of Ossining’s success during her four-year tenure with the Pride, but in the biggest — and final — game of her high school career, she spent much of it watching from the bench.
“It doesn’t feel good, but I know that my team, they’re deep, and they could hold it down, and they held it down the whole time,” said Samuels, who still finished with 17 points and grabbed tournament MVP honors.
Long Island Lutheran (18-6) has been the only team to consistently get the best of the Pride, winning in all three prior meetings, but even with the redemption of finally handing the Crusaders a loss, Ricci could only praise his team.
“Our team showed the resiliency that we don’t quit, and we can also play without our best player,” Ricci said. “We outscored them 19-4 with Shadeen on the bench. That just shows you a whole lot about who we are.”
Samuels will now pass the torch onto a Pride team rich in young talent, including all-tournament freshmen Aubrey Griffin (22 points) and Kailah Harris (six points), who could reunite with their teammate at Seton Hall in 2020.
Toward the final seconds of the game, Samuels stood on the block for a pair of Ossining free throws and hunched over to look at the floor to take in the moment.
“At that point, I realized we did it,” she said.