With only eight games, no playoffs, the recommended wearing of masks on the court and socially distances chairs on the bench, Nassau County basketball conducted a season like no other.
One thing didn’t change — the exceptional play of Elmont’s boys’ team. The Spartans, who won the Nassau Class A title last winter but were unable to test their talents against Amityville since the pandemic forced the cancellation of the Long Island championships, capped a perfect 8-0 campaign last Saturday with a 57-47 victory at Kennedy.
Elmont interim head coach Ryan Straub, who has led the JV program while also serving as an assistant to varsity head coach George Holub, said the Spartans took on a game-by-game mentality and were just happy to have the opportunity to play at all.
“For the longest time, all the kids wanted to do was play,” Straub said. “They did a great job focusing on following all the safety protocols and got behind each other.”
The senior backcourt trio of Jonathan Maldonado, Sharaim Best and Jayden Rayford steered Elmont’s ship. All three scored in double figures along with sophomore Chike Ndefo in a 63-42 victory over Carey on Feb. 25 in a battle of unbeatens at the time. Both teams won their first six games.
Maldonado, who had 15 of his team-leading 20 points against the Seahawks in the first half, averaged 18 points per game and served as a lockdown defender. Best, who transferred back to Elmont after a stint at St. Mary’s, had his perimeter shooting touch on display and scored 15 of his 17 points from behind the arc. Rayford, who added 12 points, features an accurate mid-range game but also brings the ability to get to the rim.
Ndefo is no stranger to the rim, either. He averaged 12 points per game, most coming from the paint, and led the Spartans in blocked shots. “He’s our true anchor in help defense,” Straub noted. Another sophomore, point guard Jayden Watkins, chipped in 7 points per game while serving as one of the offense’s creative sources.
Senior-led Carey goes 7-1
Behind the efforts of its seven seniors, Carey put together a six-game winning streak out of the gate and finished 7-1. The Seahawks were led by All-County guard Chris Toscano, who averaged 20 points per game, and All-Conference 6-foot-6 center James Cosgrove, who averaged double figures in points and rebounds.
“This team was excited to be playing and mentally tough,” head coach Steve Savino said. “We took a tournament-like approach and treated every game like it could be the last one.”
Toscano and Cosgrove helped the Seahawks rally from 23 down against Elmont in the third quarter to get within 9 early in the fourth. Toscano poured in a game-high 25.
Carey’s wins came against Calhoun (twice), Kennedy, Sewanhaka, Garden City, Great Neck North and Jericho. Other key contributors were Alex Pinto, who handled most of the point-guard responsibilities, Michael O’Connell, Joey Orlandino and Cameron Denner.
“It was an unselfish group that communicated well,” Savino said.