CROTON-ON-HUDSON – Even in an ever-shrinking basketball world, this year’s Hudson Valley boys basketball team began this week with a bit of an identity crisis, both literal and figurative.
For a group that had never been together prior to Monday, Hudson Valley had to install plays, determine rotations and playing time and find a way to gel before tipping off Friday in the BCANY Summer Hoops Festival. That’s typical in an event that brings together some of the region’s top players quickly and asks them and their coaches to forge an identity from scratch.
But with talent drawn from three counties, two leagues and numerous classifications, members of team Hudson Valley needed some simple getting-to-know-you time too.
“I’m the only guy from Rockland here, so I didn’t really know anyone,” Tappan Zee senior forward Kevin Lynch said. “But we’ve been getting to know each other as the practices have gone along. It’s really cool to be a part of this. I know a lot of other kids who have gone through it before and they were great players, so it’s a great honor to be part of this team.”
Hudson Valley’s crash course for this weekend’s BCANY games was more fluid than usual, but the goal is the same: Gold. The team has been one of the most successful regions since the event was formed in 2011; it has medaled all five years, winning gold in 2012 and 2014 and silver in 2013 and 2015.
The team will open the tournament with one game Friday and three on Saturday before the top four finishers from round-robin play will compete in the semifinals and final on Sunday in Johnson City.
“It’s always fun to play with a target on your back, to know everyone is gunning for you,” Stepinac senior guard Jorden Means said. “We’ve been in the gold medal game the last four years. We want to keep that up.”
Hudson Valley will have to quickly find a means to that end, but that could be a challenge for Bill Thom and his coaching staff. All 10 players on the roster are newcomers to the event and none of the 10 enter with the soaring credentials of past participants.
The team lost its highest recruit, Iona Prep guard Bryce Wills, who withdrew from the event because of a conflict. Means, an all-CHSAA player, and Kennedy’s Malachi de Sousa, the CHSAA ‘A’ division player of the year, headline a roster with plenty of length but a few unanswered questions.
“We’re trying to develop chemistry as quick as we can and figure out how the pieces fit,” said Thom, the recently retired Croton-Harmon boys coach. “On average, this is probably the biggest team we’ve had. We have a lot of length. Our guard play will be a question mark. Besides that, everybody is in the same boat trying to get people better by the time we play on Friday.”
Nearly half of the team will consist of CHSAA players: de Sousa, Means, Iona Prep’s Nick Brennen as well as Fordham Prep’s Pat Mahoney (an Ossining resident). Some of Section 1’s best fill the other half of the roster. They include: Lynch, Byram Hills’ Matt Groll and Skylar Sinon, Beacon’s Xavier Mayo, Saunders’ Sean Bresnan, Ketcham’s Zaahir Woody, Panas’ Brandon Hodge and Peekskill’s C.J. Redd.
Thom said de Sousa had the potential to follow former teammate Elijah Hughes as Hudson Valley’s leading man.
“It’s definitely something I can do, but it doesn’t really matter to me,” said de Sousa, who has offers from Quinnipiac and Saint Peter’s. “I just want to win. That’s all I care about.”
The players all agreed they have a standard to live up to. Hudson Valley has established itself as an annual factor in the BCANY games and this group intends to continue that trend.
“We have a whole bunch of new players and we’re getting used to playing with each other on the court,” de Sousa said. “It’s challenging, but we can do it.”