The Kingston High boys’ varsity basketball team isn’t likely to catch anyone off guard this season, one year removed from a surprising 17-win campaign. But even if the Tigers don’t explode right out of the gate in 2016, they should be hitting their stride heading into the new year.
The Tigers won just two games during the 2014-15 season, but they more than bounced back last year with a 17-5 run and a playoff run that ended in the Section IX semis. They’ll look to build on that momentum for 2016-17 through a youth movement with as many as four sophomores expected to make significant contributions to the team’s successes. Head coach Ron Kelder, beginning his 20th year steering the ship, said the sky is the limit.
“We have some lofty goals,” he said. “Obviously our target is the section championship this year, so we’re going toward that. We want to work hard in practice and try to get better each day. This group is going to maybe not achieve some things early on that last year’s team did, but I think that it’s going to improve as the season goes on. We won our first game and lost our second game, and we just had a scrimmage on Saturday, and just from Thursday’s game to the scrimmage there was major improvement and major changes made. I think we’re a group that can get better as a team each and every week and each and every game. I think that’s our target and our emphasis right now.”
The Tigers opened the season with a dominant 70-46 win over Spackenkill in the Poughkeepsie Hall of Fame Tournament on Dec. 3. Kingston opened the game with an 18-8 first quarter run that Kelder said was all about energy. The second half opened with a 25-9 third quarter that all but put the game away.
Kingston was led by Damani Thomas (17 points, eight rebounds), Chris Wright (13 points, seven assists, seven steals, five rebounds) and Tre’Shon Rashada (13 points), who did most of his damage from behind the arc. Chris Lacey (nine points, six rebounds) and sophomores Skilar Ryan (nine points, nine rebounds) and Jimmy Moot (six points) also contributed.
The Tigers returned home on Thursday, Dec. 8 to host John S. Burke Catholic in a game where they let up just enough on defense to lose 62-58. Kingston was up 24-19 at the half, but the Eagles hit six three-pointers after the break to earn the narrow win.
“We didn’t stick to our game plan,” said Kelder. “The reason they started hitting their shots is we allowed dribble penetration through the middle of the floor. As soon as the ball got to the middle of the floor they had their kick-out threes. We’ve got to deny ball reversal and keep the ball on the sideline when we get it on the sideline. If we get people on the sideline we’ve got to keep them there. We totally didn’t do what we did in the first half in the second half. It happened four times for 12 points. It’s unacceptable.”
Rashada scored 16 points off the bench to lead Kingston, while Wright (13 points), Lacey (nine points), and Damani Thomas (eight points, five assists) also pitched in.
The Tigers lost a pair of important players from last season when Andrai Bailey and Alex Karamanos graduated; Dante Nardi, a junior guard last year, transferred to a prep school for his senior season. Returning to the fold are seniors Lacey, Rashada, Jasir Hymes and Reid Jordan; and juniors Wright and Thomas. Sophomores Ryan, Garrett Warnecke, Tyquan Watson, and Jimmy Moot are all expected to make major contributions this season, and Brian Moore, a sophomore transfer from New York City, will also come off the bench.
“It’s public education, so you’ve got to go with what you’ve got,” said Kelder. “Our sophomores are guys that are definitely good enough to be there, and we’re looking forward to them making direct impacts right away. One or two of them could start on any given night, and two others are going to play a lot. We’re definitely going to lean on them. Right now we’ve got Skilar Ryan starting, and we’ve got the others coming off the bench. And there’s going to be games where all of them are major contributors, and there’s going to be games where it might just be two of them who are major contributors. But there’s going to be a piece of them that are going to contribute every night.”
The Tigers saw their next game, a trip to Watervliet on Monday, postponed because of a winter storm that closed schools across the region. They’re home against Valley Central on Friday, Dec. 16, and they’ll also host Minisink Valley on Thursday, Dec. 22. After three games on the road as 2016 rolls into 2017, Kingston will welcome rival Newburgh Free Academy to the Kate Walton Field House on Friday, Jan. 6. The Tigers play four of their seven games at home in January before spending most of their two-week February schedule on the road. They’ll play their final home game of the regular season against Pine Bush on Wednesday, Feb. 8.
Kelder said the schedule and Kingston’s opponents are a much smaller piece of the puzzle than what the Tigers can do collectively. Their fate is very much in their own hands for the 2016-17 season.
“I look at pretty much every game as a barometer,” Kelder said. “This year’s team is more about us and not the opponent. I’m going to look at each game and seeing if we’re getting better as a team, and are we executing defensively, are we helping each other and recovering, are we making the extra pass, are we reversing the ball to the open man and getting to the rim? If we’re doing that as a team, that’s the barometer I’m looking at.”