by Tom Pedulla –
Defending a championship at any level represents one of the greatest challenges in sports. Just ask the Dobbs Ferry boys basketball team.
After graduating seven seniors, including four starters, from a memorable team that produced the school’s first Section 1 Class B crown in 52 years, coach Scott Patrillo describes the current squad as a “work in progress.”
“We’re still trying to figure out our identity, who we are,” said Patrillo, in his 16th season. “Right now, we’re inconsistent, and the goal is to be consistent. We do good things at times. We need to get consistent, though.”
Nothing demonstrates that better than the Eagles’ performances against Valhalla. The Eagles were guilty of a sloppy outing and were no match for their rivals in a lopsided 73-46 setback in a Slam-Dunk Tournament Challenge Game at the County Center on December 20. Approximately one week later, Dobbs Ferry defeated Iona Prep’s B Team before topping Valhalla 58-46 to win its holiday tournament.
Although the Eagles swept 11 of their first 15 games, players are the first to acknowledge that they must step up their collective games if are to secure another Gold Ball as sectional champions.
“We’ve just got to believe in ourselves, work together,” said Lester McCarthy, the lone returning starter. “The chemistry has to get better.”
Issues with team chemistry can almost certainly be traced to the need for many players to take on added responsibilities.
“If you were a role player the previous year, trying to step up and be a key contributor can be very, very difficult,” Patrillo said. “We told guys over the summer league ‘You’ve got to be ready to play 32 minutes a night’ whereas last year they may have had to give us a four-minute spurt a night. There is a big difference.”
Chase Rowland, for instance, found himself deep on the bench at the beginning of last season but gradually worked his way into the playing rotation. Now, he is a fixture in the starting lineup as a senior forward.
As Rowland can attest, the challenge of playing a full game is both physical and mental, a testing combination.
“We all want another Gold Ball. To do that, we all have to keep the same energy every single game,” said Rowland. “There are games where we don’t show energy and we start to miss shots and it’s just not fun. I think it’s just staying focused, staying in the zone with what we want to do.”
Luke Distefano, a senior starter, is confident the potential is there for another post-season run. “Talent-wise, we know what we’re capable of,” he said. “We have to come together, talking and communicating more.”
Ryan McHugh, a formidable inside presence as a senior center, referred to a need for better concentration over four quarters.
“We have to start policing each other about staying in the game,” he said. “Everyone has to buy in for the same goal. We all have to buy in to get the Gold Ball.”
Patrillo sees this season, in particular, as a great learning experience.
“If you can help them realize ‘I was this last year but now I’m this important piece,’ it will help them move forward in life because they take on added responsibility, they are able to handle pressure situations,” the coach said. “These are all life lessons from the game of basketball, which is what we are big on here.”
McHugh is confident an up-and-down season will end well.
“When we all play together,” he said, “it’s really scary.”