From 2016 to 2018, the Wheatley varsity boys basketball team accounted for 10 total wins. This year’s team has already matched that total with five games remaining and a chance at a postseason berth on the line.
After three years of rebuilding the program, head coach Jim Curcio has a team of “passionate and hungry athletes,” he said in an interview. In his 22 years of coaching at Wheatley, Curcio said, rebuilding was “nothing new” to him and that years like this make coaching special.
“With our program, the rebuilding stage is something I’m very familiar with,” he said. “It’s all about developing talent from the JV level and getting positive team energy when the season starts and maintaining it the whole way through.”
Curcio said that despite the recent “excitement and buzz” around this year’s Wildcats, his team must take each game and practice without feeling as if it had earned anything yet.
“Of course I’m proud of the team and how we have performed this year,” he said. “But the minute we lose focus of the next game or practice we have and start getting ahead of ourselves, that’s trouble.”
The Wildcats are currently 10-4 overall and 5-2 in Conference B/C play. They trail only Academy Charter (8-1) for the top spot in the conference. Curcio said an uptick in defensive intensity was one reason for success.
“We have definitely played and practiced at a higher level than in years past,” Curcio said. “It also helps when players enjoy being at practice and have good chemistry. The guys this year have shown that they will do what it takes to step up and win more games.”
Curcio said that this year’s team is a good mix of younger players who made strides playing on the junior varsity last year, along with four seniors. Though he has seen improvements in most players that have stepped on the court, it was difficult for Curcio to choose one that stood out.
“I really couldn’t pinpoint that one player, mainly because it would be unfair to the rest of the team,” Curcio said with a chuckle. “I think it’s a combination of everyone on the team knowing their role and enjoying each other’s company.”
Curcio added, “Guys like Matt Ferrone, Kyle Eberlein, James O’Connell and Jason Koty have been pretty instrumental in setting the tone for us every game.”
When it comes to trying to harvest the next crop of young talent that comes through Wheatley, Curcio says he thinks that he figured out a plan to try and mitigate the rebuilding years as much as possible.
“There are a lot of great coaches throughout this program and our district,” Curcio said. “I think staying in contact with coaches at a younger level will help get a good gauge on years to come.”
Without thinking too much into the future, Curcio said that he and his team remain focused on winning games. Despite their next three opponents having losing records, Curcio knows to never count out conference opponents.
“We especially know that conference teams are always looking for a rivalry win, despite where they are in the standings,” he said. “We’re going to have to come out strong and earn every point we get against those teams.”
The Wildcats play three out of their last five games on the road, with a trip to 3-11 Oyster Bay on the schedule for Wednesday at 7 p.m.