The past four seasons for West Hempstead’s boys basketball program have been a struggle with just five wins over that span. This winter though, things have changed for the better as the Rams have surpassed that win total (seven) and are in the playoff conversation in Conference B2.
To start, things didn’t look so good for the Rams as they dropped their first five games. However, first-year head coach Eric Rubin understood that the season is a marathon, not a spirit to the finish line.
“There’s a lot of structure this year,” Rubin said. “For the most part, the kids have been very receptive and they’ve really bought in big time.”
After starting 0-5, West Hempstead went on to win four of its next five. During that time, junior Anthony Graffeo-Jackson averaged 19.2 points per game and has been a key offensive contributor during the season. The forward now averages 16.2 points per game and is the second-highest scorer in B2.
“He brings a lot to the table for us,” Rubin said. “He’s someone when we need offense we can turn to and he’s there to pick us up on the defensive end as well.”
Graffeo-Jackson is one of seven juniors on the roster, but the Rams also have a strong senior group headlined by Chris Olivier. One of three seniors, Olivier was named West Hempstead’s lone captain and averages just over six points per game.
“It was a no-brainer decision,” Rubin said. “He’s the example I want the sophomores, juniors, and junior varsity guys to look at how he plays and conducts himself.”
As the season has unfolded, the younger players for West Hempstead have started to make an impact. One of them is sophomore Evan Wilson, who not only gives the team an additional shooting option from junior Chris Young, but Wilson has also improved on the defensive end. “He’s really raised his game defensively,” Rubin said of Wilson. “Early in the season I would take him out in defensive situations, but now I can trust him on the defensive end.”
To start the season, junior Joe Thomas was not seeing much playing time in comparison to others. Now, the guard has become a regular in the Rams rotation thanks to his smarts and defensive effort.
“I have a lot of confidence in him,” Rubin said. “He’s as good as any defender we have and he’s an extremely smart player who knows everything that’s going on.”
West Hempstead improved its chances to make the playoffs with a 63-50 victory over Seaford last Saturday. Young led the way with a double-double of 17 points and 14 assists while Graffeo-Jackson and Jayden Forte scored in double figures as well.
Now sitting at 7-9 overall, the Rams will look to use that momentum from the Seaford win in their final three regular season games and lock up a postseason spot.
“We’re definitely more experienced and know our stuff better,” Rubin said. “Hopefully that translates into good things.”