Howard Wood and his assistant, Louis O’Neal, spoke many times last season about the need for the East Hampton High School girls basketball team’s players to practice in the off-season.
Apparently, however, not many did, aside from Kaelyn Ward, the junior point guard from whom more big things are expected this year, and Quincy King, Ward’s sister, a sophomore.
Nevertheless, Wood, the 6-foot-8-inch former pro, said, once he’d made his way to a folding chair at the sidelines in order to rest a nagging back during Saturday’s practice, he was reasonably optimistic that the Bonac girls, who made the playoffs last season for the first time in 17 years, would do so again.
He had begun Saturday’s practice at 8 a.m., as usual, even though four of his players — Ward, Christina Cangiolosi, Gaby Penati, and Katrina Raspa — were taking a mock ACT exam elsewhere in the high school building. “We practice at 8 on Saturdays and holidays, and I don’t want to change it, it gets them out of their rhythm,” the coach said.
For most of Saturday’s session, Wood worked with his inside players, foremost among them the senior Sarah Johnson, who’s close to 6 feet, nudging them repeatedly out of their comfort zones as they backed toward the basket looking for layups or, after head fakes and ball fakes, hook shots.
Meanwhile, O’Neal was working at the other end of the court on freeing up perimeter shooters for shots.
“They’re working hard — they’re excited to continue,” Wood said as he rested his sore back. “We’ve got a lot of new ones — six from last year. Fifteen in all. A good number. We definitely want to improve. I’ve told them girls basketball still doesn’t have a banner on the wall. It’s not that far-fetched to think we can win one. The only team we didn’t beat in league play last year was John Glenn.”
While he agreed that Johnson — and Ward as well — had grown some in the past year, what impressed him most, Wood said, was “her wingspan.” Because of that, she could play as if she were 6-plus.
Back to last year, “If we’d made half our layups we would have averaged 50 points a game . . . but we’d hear footsteps, even though I have yet to see someone catch up and block a layup from behind,” as his younger brother, Kenny, had in the state tournament at Glens Falls in 1989.
To give her some extra incentive, Wood has told Ward that “this year she can reach 1,000 points. In other words, by the time she finishes her senior season — her fifth year on the varsity — she could put that career scoring record out of reach. It would be very tough to break.”
As Wood spoke, the girls began to practice foul shots. “If they miss, they run the length of the court,” said Wood, who added, as the group, following a miss, took off, “Run hard!”
The core of the team, then, would be Ward, Johnson, and Nicole Miksinski, a forward who’s not afraid to mix it up. As for the other starters, it remained, he said, to be seen.
“Sarah will be a force underneath, for sure — she really came on last year. We’ve got to find a second and a third scorer to take the heat off Kaelyn. We’re looking for another ballhandler too, again to take the pressure off Kaelyn. We know they can do it. . . . We definitely have girls who can shoot from the perimeter. We know they can, but they have to believe it too.”
“Defensively,” Wood continued, “we intend to press. They tried it last year, but they didn’t get it. The key is not playing three or four feet back in practice. In practice you forget that you have friends. Because, if you don’t practice with that in-your-face attitude, by gametime, when all hell breaks loose, it’s too late. We want them to practice so hard that the game is easy.”
Scrimmages have been scheduled for the first week in December, with Southold here next Thursday, at Center Moriches on Dec. 3, and here with the Ross School on Dec. 5.