Deep into the fourth quarter, down by a substantial margin, the Runnin’ Rebels, Stuyvesant’s boys’ basketball team, watched their roller coaster of a season dwindle away one second at a time in Staten Island, where they took on the New Dorp Cougars. The team came out rusty and had no answer for the Cougars’ defense, putting up only two points in the first quarter compared to the 17 that New Dorp scored.
This lopsided game continued as the Rebels managed to hold the Cougars to 29 points in the following three quarters but simply could not score. Seniors and co-captains Tobias Lange and Michael Feinberg combined for 19 points in the game compared to the combined 32.5 they averaged during the regular season. Ultimately, the Rebels fell to New Dorp in the first round of the playoffs by a final score of 46-25, ending their 2016-17 season.
Despite the disappointing early playoff exit, this Rebels team ended the season with quite a bit to be proud of. Coming off a 1-13 season in 2016, not many expected much of the Rebels entering the 2017 season. Going into nearly every game, the Rebels were seen as underdogs because of the physical disadvantage they had. In addition, the team endured a 0-3 start to the season, the departure of longtime head coach Philip Fisher midway through the year, and an injury to Feinberg, the Rebels’ leading scorer, along the way. However, they played hard and played their own brand of basketball to take advantage of their own skills. Running their more organized, slow-tempo, passing offensive style compared to the “street-ball” style many of their opponents played proved to have a significant impact, as the team was rewarded with their first playoff berth in three seasons and proved many wrong.
The team overcame what emerged as somewhat of a losing culture in Stuyvesant’s boys’ basketball program to finish the season with a .500 record (improved from .071 and .375 in the 2015-16 and 2014-15 seasons, respectively) and advance to the elimination rounds of the competitive A division. Both were feats that had not been accomplished since the 2013-2014 season. A key factor for the team’s success proved to be their depth. “I think the biggest difference this year was being able to rely on more people to score, as we had three people average over 10 points per game,” junior Michael Gillow said. This proved to have a big impact on the team’s efficiency, as the 2015-16 team, with a lack of depth, averaged 49.02 points points per game (PPG), while this season’s team averaged 58.21 PPG. The team’s defensive efficiency also improved from last year. The team gave up an average of 52.18 PPG to opposing teams this season (during the regular season), compared to the 63.42 they gave up the season before. The vast improvements on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball lead to the significant improvement on the team’s win total. This was huge, as it contributed to many memorable moments this season, which included beating rivals Hunter by over 30 points in Fisher’s last game and beating many division rivals in front of their passionate home court.
In addition, experience proved to be a crucial factor in their impressive seven win turnaround. Retaining their core from last season, including three players from the 2014-2015 season, allowed them to grow and improve as a team and learn to play together and master the varsity system at a high level. “I would say the biggest difference between this year’s team and last year’s team would be on court experience. Last year, there were only one or two players who had had consistent minutes the previous year, so the fact that we had four starters back this year made a huge difference in the season,” Feinberg said. This knowledge of and experience in the system was reflected in their substantial increase in assists this season. The Rebels averaged a total of 12.26 assists per game (APG), up from 7.9 APG the previous season. Clearly, the team saw more success running the offensive system.
The Rebels believe that they can move forward and build on this successful 2016-2017 season. Many juniors saw significant playing time and made contributions in key moments, and they will look to step up and lead the team next year. “Hopefully, every single one of the juniors can step up and help the team next year. I hope they can work hard and repeat the success we had this year, while also helping incoming teammates improve and prepare for the future,” Feinberg said.