December 06, 2006

Bonac Hoops on Fast Track

Independent / James J. Mackin East Hampton's Mikey Russell may be small in stature, but he provides big headaches for opposition coaches. (click for larger version)
In coach Ed Petrie's 50 years of coaching high school basketball, he has perhaps not had a team as capable of running the fast break effectively as the 2006-07 Bonackers. In a scrimmage last Saturday against an athletic Longwood team, East Hampton demonstrated an exciting brand of basketball.

Noted for their tough team defense that limited the opposition to less than 40 points for nine consecutive games last season, this year's Bonac contingent looks to excel in that area again. Despite not having exceptional height, they are trained to box out taller opponents, rebound the ball, and this season it's off to the races.

The centerpiece of the fast break is All-Long Island standout and Suffolk County Player of the Year Mikey Russell, a junior. Russell, always in tip-top shape, is the player the Bonackers look for after rebounding or stealing the ball.

But unlike many young, explosive players, Russell is content to run the break under control. He always seems to pass the ball at exactly the right time, disdaining the fancy and utilizing the simple chest pass and bounce pass to perfection without leaving his feet.

Russell has a low center of gravity, impeccable ball control, is literally a blur when he gets up a head of steam, and can stop on a dime and shoot balanced jump shots. If there's even a sliver of daylight, watch out! He will take the ball to the hole strong and probably record more three-point plays in that manner than anyone in Suffolk County.

Having no trouble keeping up with Russell are returning starters Zach Brenneman, a senior, and Marcus Edwards, a junior. Brenneman, who recently signed a letter of intent to attend Notre Dame on a lacrosse scholarship, never gets winded. Nor does Edwards, who has been globetrotting with Russell for two years with Terell Dozier's AAU basketball team in places as far away as Houston, Texas.

With a Petrie coached team, rest assured that running the fast break does not mean they are undisciplined. Against Longwood, when the Bonackers did not have a clear advantage, they slowed the ball down and ran their continuity offense with no one, not even Russell, monopolizing the ball. What remains to be seen is if this team will run the court as vigorously on transition defense as they do on offense.

Petrie feels that Kings Park, Huntington and Eastport-South Manor (which knocked the Bonackers off last year) will be their stiffest competition. But the coach is not selling his own team short. "Marcus, Mikey and Zach are all stronger players than last year," Petrie said. "Mikey is demonstrating the leadership skills of a true point guard by encouraging his teammates and leading by example."

Although the other two starting positions are up for grabs, senior Alex Stipenov, who saw plenty of action last season, and Jerome Russell, up from the junior varsity, have the inside track at the present time. According to Petrie, Jerome, who is former standout Jenel Russell's younger brother, has good ball handling skills, but needs to improve his outside shooting.

Also up from the JV are Liam Lee, Ahkim Amada and Hayden Ward. Ward, well over six feet tall, is only 15. "He's on the varsity for now," Petrie said. "But I don't believe in sitting young talent on the bench. If he's ready, he'll play. Otherwise he will play on the junior varsity." Rounding out the roster are Brett Herlihy, Pierce Kelley and Michael Rodriquez.

"Don't forget our Sixth Man," said assistant coach Billy McKee. "Our 'Bleacher Creatures' intimidate opposing teams. Nobody likes to play in East Hampton."

East Hampton opens its non-league season against Greenport at home next Tuesday at 6 p.m. Greenport, who has taken the league and county title over Bridgehampton the past two seasons, has Ryan Creighton, one of the strongest players in Suffolk County. On December 15, Babylon comes to town with sophomore sensation James Tate.

On December 23, Chris Barber, the county's leading scorer last year (having edged Russell by one point), leads his Wyandanch team into East Hampton. "We tried to schedule non-league teams who have outstanding young players," Petrie said.

And although cross-town rival Southampton was a bit down last season, they will surely be up for East Hampton when the Bonackers invade the Mariners' gym on December 27.

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