Poly Prep’s future is built around a sophomore core

J.D. Levine is part of a sophomore core that is doing big things at Poly Prep this season. Photo by Rob Abruzzese.

J.D. Levine is part of a sophomore core that is doing big things at Poly Prep this season. Photo by Rob Abruzzese.

The Poly Prep coaches tried to downplay the significance of the game, but sophomore point guard J.D. Levine couldn’t hide his excitement after the Blue Devils avenged their loss during last season’s championship game by beating Riverdale 56-46 in Bay Ridge on Thursday.

“This was a pretty big deal because we wanted to get back at them,” Levine said. “We didn’t play to the best of our ability, but we came in prepared and we knew what to expect. We got the win and that is all that matters.”

The Blue Devils spread the ball around well all game long as just about everyone on the team contributed. Ferran Brown led with nine points and Levine, Najee Taylor, Wolfgang Novogratz and David Dixon each had eight points.

“We were looking forward to this a lot,” Taylor said. “We were really motivated and wanted to win because they beat us last year in the championship game. Everyone was motivated and wanted to do well. We prepared a lot for this and we did pretty well.”

It’s quite the accomplishment for Poly Prep to be able to beat Riverdale in such convincing fashion as it is built on a core of underclassmen. There are seven sophomores and just three seniors. Assistant coach Jamal Murphy, who filled in for Arjay Perovic (out with school imposed disciplinary reasons), explained that even though a younger team is more inconsistent, this squad has been particularly fun to coach.

“We know that they are getting better,” Murphy said. “We’re giving them playing time, guys like David Dixon, he’s a sophomore and a 6-foot-7 kid. We see the upside. Wolfie is a sophomore, Najee Taylor is a sophomore. We do have a lot of young guys. Some are farther along than others, but their upside is ridiculous.”

This game showed off not only the talent of the Blue Devils’ underclassmen, but their diversity too. Taylor, a 6-foot-6 forward, was able to set the tone early by using his power down low. Levine, a 5-foot-10 point guard got everyone involved and then hit a pair of threes to go up 15-5 in the first.

In the second quarter, Poly Prep’s Novogratz showed off his slashing skills when he scored three times in the closing two minutes of the half. Dixon, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, opened the third quarter with a pair of jumpers to show off promising range for a big-man. Throughout it all, Poly Prep remained at least 10 points ahead of the team that beat them in last year’s championship.

The key has been trying to get the young Blue Devils as much experience as possible to catch up with teams that are often older than they are. A big part of that is getting them to face tough competition including the STOP-DWI Holiday Classic in Binghamton. They struggled on that trip, they went 0-3, but the experience, Murphy explained, was invaluable.

“(STOP DWI) opened our eyes a little bit to see who we are,” Taylor said. “When we came back the games felt a little bit easier just because we were more experienced.”

The key has been turning each situation into a learning experience. Their 13-4 record is impressive, but Murphy makes sure that they take something positive away from each game and while they never want to be happy with a win those can be the best learning experiences.

“The thing I think about is that they’re sophomores and you just expect them to get it,” Murphy said. “It takes a special person to get it. Hopefully with all of this experience that they will get it. You can’t take it for granted because kids don’t automatically get better. You have to work on it and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

The Blue Devils are now 13-5 on the season. They play again on Wednesday when they travel to Horace Mann High School, but their next big matchup circled on the calendar is this Saturday when they host rival Collegiate.

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