Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Shooting Like Reggie

Ryan Basso is not your workaday Section 1 guard--never has been.

Never will be.

The Putnam Valley guard's work ethic, nose for the open man, corner 3-pointers, the lob passes and proclivity for triggering the transition game, it all makes him an essential cog in Mike McDonnell's system.

On Monday night, the spindly 6-foot, 160-pound guard erupted for a hailstorm of 3-pointers, six in a row at one point, to propel Putnam Valley to a resounding 69-45 thrashing of Irvington in the Section 1 semifinal at the County Center. Basso finished 7-for-11 from beyond the arc, pouring in a game-best 29 points.

The Tigers have come a long way since a then-dreadful varsity stumbled into the bottom bunk back in 2011.

Never the biggest dog in the kennel but never one to shy away from the challenge--even if that meant outgunning veteran seniors for meaningful minutes as an underclassman- the kid who arrived at the doorstep sporting pipe cleaner arms never squandered his insatiable thirst for competition.

On Monday night, the veteran stood out while subsequently proving he's stood the test of time. Putnam Valley emerged from a basketball fetal position last season, winning a program record 18 games with a battle-tested core.

The County Center, due to its maddening depth perception and Ziplock-tight rims, can be a sheer shooter's nightmare.

Unpredictable basketball sanctuary that it is, this fabled proving ground can hurl any deadeye 3-point assassin into an 0-for-7 quagmire or a 3-for-13 brickfest.

The creaky proving ground has slashed and burned the resume of myriad snipers.

The amphitheater style atmosphere of the County Center is foreign to most high school players outside of Mount Vernon. It can turn a stud into a dud in a single half of basketball. It's a tough place to lose.

 It's also an incomparable place to win, with a swarm of ecstatic fans representing their school to the fullest.

Basso's steady salvo of 3-pointers Monday night, each one louder than he next, had fans filing out to the exit signs with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

Basso's shooting form, which he's never tweaked over the years, was sustained in controlled, video game fashion.

In what seemed as effortless as tossing rocks into the Hudson River while yacht-side, it was Basso who played possessed.

The junior, known for his lobs to high-rising forward Jelani Bell-Isaac, put on a 3-point shooting display that mirrors those of Chad Charney (Port Chester) vs Greeley or Jason Weltman (Lakeland) vs Peekskill in County Center lore.

Irvington, which ripped through the schedule and may possess the sleeper for Coach of the Year in Mike Auerbach, was workmanlike in the first half.

Despite Putnam Valley's rigid team defense and most notably a loud block/spike from Bell-Isaac, the Bulldogs stayed within a hunter's range for much of the first half.

 Junior guard Andrew Brennan developed the hot hand in the first half, but Basso's shooting spree and pivotal buckets from the balanced core created distance.

While Bell-Isaac's defense set the tone in the first half, it was senior Zach Coleman who sparked the shooting spree.

The 6-foot-2 Coleman, an innate scorer in half-court sets (Bell-Isaac has to be the featured scorer when the running game is maximized) connected four of his first five shots and capped he night when he pickpocketed a pass and flushed home a double-fisted fast break dunk, revving up the black-clad fan base.

 Zack Nolan, another legit threat from beyond the arc, was as hyped as ever for his teammate.

It was that sequence that closed the night.

The sight of Coleman launching into the open court and levitating above the rim was the true hammer.

Coleman not only launched above the rim, he cleared the dark cloud hovering over this program, which was so quick and confusing in forcing Ed Wallach out the door.

You likely haven't heard Basso's name mentioned in the conversation with this current crop of top-profile guards. You likely won't find the typical 12-15 NCAA coaches politicking around the County Center (often tossing business cards around) trying to digest every crumb of information about Basso's game.

Basso's game is tactical. He churns out very few turnovers and is an active presence in the passing lanes. His coaching staff takes notes of this, throughout McDonnell's own self-designed rewards system.

As serene and and chilled-to-the-core as Basso is fielding post-game questions, he's same way on the court. And so he's savored his position as the Tigers' calming influence, a third option but a key trigger man when nights like Monday green-light him for the spotlight.

Not bad for the once-shy Basso, who as a freshman had barely enough confidence to speak up. While his game has grown, physically and mentally, he's helped steer Putnam Valley out of Section 1's gutter.

When teammate Zack Nolan was 14, he and a bevy of underclassmen faced the rigors of rectifying a floundering Putnam Valley program wallowing under disinterest and zero depth.

Back to the future.

Every so often, Mike McDonnell will receive a phone call from somewhere in the Kentucky bluegrass. His brother, Port Chester native Dan McDonnell, is the head baseball coach at Louisville University. He frequently tells Mike, "Be Where Your Feet Are."

McDonnell supplanted Wallach and immediately dipped his feet in the Putnam County testing waters, getting a feel for a balanced, athletic team that thrives with a high-flying run-and-gun attack.

From the early stages, he got the ball bouncing.

He ran swiss cheese-sized holes in the team's sneakers with through new, painstaking conditioning drills necessary for late-February/March survival.

 Now, he is where his feet is, at the door of a sectional matchup between an unsung Woodlands team that's proven themselves as one of the tournament's sleeper teams.

On Monday night, Basso stole the spotlight. He got loose on the corner. He ran off screens. He pulled up without hesitation.

Now Putnam Valley, which went 18-3 last season, is re-writing the program's thin and largely unmarked history book.

 A Section 1 title has never been attained.

They must get through a polished and defensively-tough, quick Woodlands team in order to finally snatch the Gold Ball.

The Falcons nearly spit out an early cushion against Rye Neck, but snapped out of a third quarter funk when Ross Joseph fought for power buckets and Pierre Lys got into the driving lanes.

Heading into County Center week, there may have been teams without much of a read on Basso.

After splashing 3-pointers in succession, coming into the annual County Center shooting show with nothing short of a rifle, forcing Irvington's bigger defenders away from the basket, it's safe to assume they know about him now.