The first season without Carl Johnson at the helm of the Bridgehampton boys basketball team started off a bit rocky last year. The Killer Bees lost their first six games, and at times, qualifying for the postseason seemed to be a lofty goal.Bridgehampton went 8-4 in league play, though, and turned things around to become the Suffolk County Class D representative in the Southeast Regional semifinal, where it defeated Livingston Manor before falling one win short of reaching the New York State Final Four, in a loss to Newfield.
Ron White, who had the tough task of taking over for a community icon in Johnson as head coach of the storied Killer Bees, said with just two players with varsity experience returning in his son, Elijah White, and J.P. Harding, the start of last season was a transitional period. When Nae’Jon Ward returned to Bridgehampton midway through the season after starting in Southampton, things started to fall into place.
Fast forward a full calendar year, and with every single player back from last season, the Bees are now a seasoned group ready to take on all challenges.
“I think we all were trying to determine what to expect. We didn’t have much of an expectation,” Coach White said of last season. “Nae’Jon came back in the second portion of the season, we got our second wind, became a little bit more organized, we coached them up a bit and it all started coming together.
“They’ve been putting in the work. They know now what to look for,” he added. “Up until last year this was all new, so now that they’ve done it and they’ve been through it, they know what to expect, they know what they’re looking for, and it’ll be a little easier this year now that they know what to anticipate.”
Seniors J.P. Harding, Jacqhr Carr, Jonny De Groot and Nat Depasquale all return along with juniors Elijah White, Nae’Jon Ward and Will Walker. Junior Miguel Maradiaga and sophomores David Simms and Nicholas Saunders round out the rest of the group, which is the early favorite to represent Suffolk County’s Class D once again this season—but they’ll have to do so against some stiff competition.
For the first time in quite a while there are more Class D teams in League VII this season than Class C teams, so there will be plenty of competition for this year’s Class D county title. Smithtown Christian, Ross, and Shelter Island are all Class D schools and will push the Bees for the top spot. Pierson, Southold and Greenport are all Class C schools who round out the rest of the league.
“We made a pact as a team not to take any team lightly,” Coach White said. “We’re preparing to be the best that we can, and we’re going to count every game we play as a championship game, a must-win. We’re not overlooking anyone because all of the teams we play, their objective is to win the game too. Shelter Island is not going to be a team to overlook, neither is Smithtown Christian, and Ross has always been athletic.”
In a bit of a scheduling quirk, Bridgehampton—which is entering its final full season in the Bee Hive before the school completes its multi-million dollar renovation that includes a new gym—will not play its first home game until January 8 against cross-town rival Pierson. Each one of its non-league games prior to that and its two league games are all on the road, including its two games in the Kendall Madison Tournament in East Hampton on December 7 and 8, and two games in the Reverend Marvin Dozier Memorial Tournament at Southampton on December 21 and 22.
“The kids appear to be very hungry,” Coach White said. “The coaching staff is working hard together on strategy to make sure we’re prepared for everything. This won’t be a season where we lose a game due to not being prepared.
“Now it’s just about them personally conditioning themselves to be ready for the season,” he added. “We are low in numbers. Most teams have about 10 guys they can put in at a time. We just don’t have that, so most of the guys know they’ll be getting the bulk of the minutes, and we’ll deal with the issues that arise out of that on a day-to-day basis.”