Sixth-year coach Jeremy Milligan’s Cortland High boys’ basketball team carries an even mix of six veterans and six newcomersinto Wednesday’s 7 p.m. season-opener with Waverly in a 7 p.m. non-leaguer in Shafer Gym.
The Purple Tigers head into the first year of the Salt City Athletic Conference Empire Division having lost four of the five starters from last year (2-11 in the OHSL Freedom National, 5-15 overall) to graduation. Most Valuable Player Sheridan Crane (guard) led the team in scoring, at 11.6 points per game, and rebounding, with 6.1 per contest. His Co-MVP, guard Garrett Reagan, led the team in assists (68), steals (31) and deflections (36) while forward Duff Steve, the Most Improved Player, was the thirdleading scorer (7.0 ppg) and was second in rebounding (94) and Coaches’Award winner Will Pace was the second-leading scorer (7.4).
Three of the six returnees — 5-3 senior guard Izeah Williams, 6-7 junior center Jay T. Atkins and 6-3 junior guard Rory Hines — saw time as starters last season. Also back are 5-9 senior guard Kyle Behrenfeld, 6-4 senior forward John Blanchard II and 6-4 senior center Lucas Rivera.
“Izeah started some games, and returns with a fair amount of court experience,” Milligan said. “He was second in assists (38) last season. Izeah was a spark plug for us last year, providing much energy and extra effort on the court. His energy and positive energy was constantly felt. This year he will be asked to lead the charge as our point guard using his quickness and speed to help us score in transition.
“Jay T. and Rory both earned starting spots throughout last season and earned court experience. Jay T. makes his presence known at both ends of the court. We will be relaying on him heavily as a defensive force blocking shots, altering shots, and collecting defensive boards. Offensively, Jay T. has been putting in time working on his footwork and moves with his back to the basket. Rory is one of most athletic players we have. He can get out and run in transition, slash to the basket, and has a quick release on 3-point shooting.”
In continuing his thoughts on his veterans, Milligan said that “Kyle is a hard worker, a smart player, and executes well moving without the ball. John Blanchard saw limited time last year but has worked on his game in the off season. At 6-4 he gets to the rim slashing but also has impressed us early with his shooting. Lucas is also 6-4 and strong. He has improved his footwork in the paint with his back to the basket and is able to block and alter shots.”
This winter’s newcomers are all juniors — guards Ricky G. Young (5-8), Daniel Ruggiero (5-10) and Christian Watson (5-8), forwards Caleb Thompson (6-1) and Josh Henry (6-3) and 5-11 guard/forward Noah Barber.
“RickyG, a point guard, is a good ball handler, is quick to the basket and able to finish around the rim, quick off his feet and rebounds well,” Milligan said. “I’m happy with his adjustment to varsity pace thus far. Daniel is a threat from deep range, has improved his foot speed and ball handling. Christian is an athletic player who has showed his ability to shoot and take the ball to the rim, is a hard worker and has put in lots of time in off season.
“Caleb injured his foot prior to the season and has been sidelined to date. Josh is athletic, hard working and has a nice midrange shot. Noah is a work horse, athletic and a strong rebounder.”
In addressing the upcoming season and what will determine how much success Cortland has, Milligan said that “Using our size/length and quickness to our advantage will be a key for us. “We believe that by using the speed we have at the guard position, coupled with guards and forwards who can shoot the 3-ball, we will have lots of opportunities to score in transition. The team seems to be gelling together nicely early on and is playing selfless ball.
“Defensively, we do not yet feel we have an identity. With our size and length, we are well suited for zone with certain player combinations. With other combinations we have speed, allowing for opportunities to play man. Either way, our players will compete. We want to return to sectional play (after missing out last season) and qualify as a state scholar-athlete team.”
In addition to the Purple Tigers, the SCAC Empire Division includes Auburn, Central Square, East Syracuse-Minoa, Fowler, Fulton, Jamesville-DeWitt and Oswego. Each team’s league schedule consists of home and road games with each of the other seven teams for a total of 14 games.
“We are excited for the start of this new league with opponents who are all comparable in size to Cortland,” Milligan said. “We are the smallest A school in this newly-formed division with 544 students. The largest A school is Oswego at 835. The top divisional opponents, in my opinion, will be J-D and Auburn. Both return many experienced players who compete and play basketball year-round.”
Milligan’s assistant coaches are Tom Neugebauer (22nd year with the program) and Derek Allen (second year). Head JV coach Tom Murphy and his assistant, Jonathan Prior, are both in their second seasons.
Former varsity coach Mick Lowie and long-time assistant Rick Miller will be in charge of the freshman team this season. Yale Hughes and his son Y.B. Hughes will coach the eighth-grade team and Ben Albright is back as the seventh-grade coach.