SOMERS, N.Y.— With half of his team busy on the gridiron helping lead Somers to a state title in football in late November, one would think a coach might be worried that his squad might be a little rusty heading into basketball season.
Fifth-year coach Chris DiCintio is looking at the other side of the coin, however, and believes that the confidence the team gained from being state champions will carry over onto the hardwood. Most of the team members have also been playing basketball together for years.
“Even though we’re coming off a football (state) championship where you would expect them to be behind, because they’ve been playing together for so long, outside of getting into basketball shape, they’re pretty much in tune with their chemistry and knowing the system that we’re running,” DiCintio said.
The Tuskers return four out of five starters and 13 players total. They are led by two senior captains in 5-11 guard Matt Pires, who is coming off an all-state football season, and 6-2 forward Marc Maestri. Both players have been on varsity since their sophomore years.
“Matty Pires was our starting point guard last year,” DiCintio said. “We’re looking to possibly move him to the wing at times. Matty’s speed is night and day from last year because last year he broke his ankle during the football season. He’s coming in healthy and he’s extremely quick. His confidence is at an all-time high. Marc has had a very strong preseason. He’s a tremendous leader and a great athlete. He can rebound, shoot the three and play in the post. He’s strong and he’s versatile. Between Matty and Marc, we have two very experienced captains.”
The Tuskers have eight juniors who all saw minutes last season. Those eight players, who have been playing together year-round in AAU, are 5-8 point guard Gio Tradito, 6-6 center Nick Gargiulo, 6-3 forward Jack Gilroy, 5-11 guard Chris DiCintio, 6-1 forward Lorenzo Bicknese, 5-11 guard Kevin Olifiers, 5-9 guard Vinny DiFilippo and 6-0 guard Justin Lancaster.
“Gio Tradito has developed tremendously in the offseason,” Coach DiCintio said. “He’s playing great basketball. Matty (Pires) and Gio will be used almost by committee as the one (point guard) and two (shooting guard). Gio is probably the most natural, talented basketball player on the team. He’s got a tremendous handle and is extremely quick to the basket. Gargiulo is a bull inside protecting the rim and rebounding.
“Jack Gilroy is an outstanding post player and has the ability to extend the defense by shooting the three. My son Chris was probably our team’s best defender last year or certainly one of the top defenders. As the coach’s son, he certainly knows basketball and is smart on the court. Lorenzo is a very strong post player and an outstanding rebounder. He’s also one of our best three-point shooters. He can play either the two, three or the four. Kevin Olifiers, the quarterback on the football team, has the confidence and composure that shows on the football field running the team. He’s got that same confidence and composure on the basketball court. He’s a true competitor and gives you everything he has. Vinny is a very strong, athletic individual. He’s a true blue-collar player. He’s another top defender on the team. Then you have Justin Lancaster, who is very athletic and has the ability to shoot the three, but also has a quick step to the basket.”
Gargiulo, Olifiers, DiFilippo, DiCintio, Gilroy, Lancaster and Pires were all members of the football team.
DiCintio is hoping that a year of experience as sophomores will aid a Somers team that went through its share of growing pains last season with a 7-14 record while being knocked out of the playoffs by Pelham in the Class A outbracket round. Somers did come on strong in the second half of the season on its way to finishing second in its league behind Class AA champion Fox Lane.
“Between last year’s experience playing basketball and winning a state championship in football, the kids are very confident and ready to go mentally,” DiCintio said. “They feel like winners. How quickly they can acclimate to basketball, knocking down shots and getting up and down the floor with their cardio, we have to see. They’ve only been in the gym for a week. I would be surprised if they don’t turn it on pretty quickly because they’re already showing pretty positive signs.”
Somers has three other seniors on the roster in 6-4 forward Ross Dietrich, 5-10 guard Ryan Maloney and 6-1 guard Pearse Martin.
Junior 6-0 guard Kevin Halper is the team’s lone newcomer.
Somers boasts incredible depth with a rotation that goes over 10 players deep.
“We have a deep team and we have experience,” DiCintio said. “Even though we’re still relatively young with nine juniors, we do have an experienced team. It helps us tremendously that we have that depth especially because it’s going to take us a little bit of time coming off the football field. Our depth helps in that we can use different guys when they wear down a little bit or get tired, especially early in the season because of not being in the proper shape. When they’re all ready to go, having the depth that we have, it will allow us to play an up-tempo game, run a lot and try to wear other teams down. Defensively, it allows us to be very physical. When you’re playing physical and you get tired, we can just come in with that second wave.”
Somers will compete at the Westchester County Center twice in late December. The Tuskers take on Rye, who DiCintio used to coach, at 3:30 p.m. before the Westchester Knicks game on Dec. 23. They then will compete in a Challenge Game of the Slam Dunk Tournament against Sleepy Hollow at 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 27.
Somers opens the season on the road against Albertus Magnus at 7 p.m. on Dec. 13. They’ll then host the Michael DePaoli Memorial Tournament next weekend.
DiCintio has set a goal of winning a league championship and is hoping that the football and boys soccer team’s success will motivate the squad. Somers is in a league with Walter Panas, Lakeland, John Jay-Cross River and Brewster.
“When you can say that you have a state championship soccer team and a state championship football team, not only in the same year, but in the same season, is extraordinary,” DiCintio said. “The boys basketball team hasn’t won a league title in 27 years. What better year to set our sights on a league championship than a year when the boys have won the soccer and football championships. Our number one goal is to win our league and obviously to play our best basketball at the end of the season and hopefully get the best seed that we can get in the playoffs. I truly believe that with our depth and our experience, if we’re playing our best basketball, they will give themselves a solid opportunity to get to the County Center.”