A mere lack of injuries can hardly explain the astonishing metamorphosis at Wantagh, where the Warriors boys’ basketball team has completely flipped its dismal record of a year ago to stand on the cusp of a conference crown for the first time in nearly a half-century.
Six-foot-7 center Brandon Goldberg twice went down with ankle problems missing eight games last winter, as Wantagh went 1-11 in Conference A-4, 4-15 overall. The Warriors were 1-7 in stretches without the All-County big man – but still only 3-8 with Goldberg, who averaged 19.3 points per game.
Staying healthy throughout, Goldberg has upped his production this season to a conference-best 19.9 points a game on 62 percent shooting from the field, while grabbing a league-high 16.4 rebounds a game to lead Wantagh (15-3 overall) to a tie atop A-4 with Bethpage at 12-1, ahead of each team’s regular season finale Feb. 10. No doubt the senior team captain’s uninterrupted presence has been huge, but this alone wouldn’t seem to account for Wantagh’s massive uptick.
“Everybody has stepped up their game immensely, and the kids are playing with tremendous confidence,” said Wantagh head coach Joe Harclerode, whose team would split the league championship – Wantagh’s first, prospectively, since 1973 – with Bethpage should both teams win out. “Last year injuries got in our way, so we switched things up this year to prevent that with shorter practice times and more rest. But basically, the guys are just playing more aggressively but also more unselfishly, making the extra pass. Combine all those things and it pays off.”
Added Harclerode: “Definitely, not having Brandon hurt us last year. You subtract 20 points a game and eight rebounds, and that changes the complexion of your team. We were losing games by 6 or 10 points.”
Guard Nick Teresky was Wantagh’s main buffer through the team’s swoons last season, scoring 15.1 points per contest. The second-leading scorer on A-4's top offense, Teresky has bumped his average to 16.8 points (third in A-4) with a league-leading 25 3-pointers. “Nick has been very strong, shooting the three very well and leading a lot of fast breaks,” Harclerode said of the two-time All-Conference senior. “He’s also finishing better around the rim.”
Another major breakout component has been the improved floor generalship of junior Jayden Ventura (12.2 ppg), a second-year point guard averaging five assists per game. “Jayden is much more solid as a point guard,” Harclerode said. “He’s seeing everything better, doing a great job running the floor and finding the open guy.”
Returning from a two-year absence to the Class A playoffs starting Feb. 14, Wantagh's best-case scenario looks like a second-through-fourth seed, Harclerode said, adding that his team’s total turnaround seems less astounding seen from the inside than it might appear from without.
“I always knew this team had promise,” the coach said. “They’ve exceeded my expectations, for sure, but I always thought they’d be good. And this year, after four or five games, I could see we had something special.”