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Long Island City carries on without shining stars

Long Island City's Sadji Camara has been an integral part of the balance to continue the team's success. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

Long Island City’s success this season is rooted in its four seniors’ determination to prove themselves. Two years ago, they heard about Jeremiah Brown; last year it was Aaron Williams. The two transfers, who starred for LIC one year after the next, were on hand last week afternoon at LIC to see how far their former basketball teammates have come.

What they saw was a consistent, selfless approach that resulted in another victory, the Bulldogs jumping all over second-place Newtown and cruising to a dominant 80-40 home victory. The win was typical of 12-1 LIC’s season — balance and relentless energy at both ends of the floor from the team’s key seniors Arthur Santanna, Xavier Jones, Sadji Camara and Kevin Green Jr.

“I’m proud of the way these kids are playing — one game at a time, forgetting about what we’ve done,” LIC Coach Harley Watstein said after his team extended its lead in Queens A West to two full games. “Now is their time to shine and they’re doing it.”

The scene on the second-floor gymnasium — packed stands erupting on every made basket by the home team — was in stark contrast to the place the program found itself in three years ago. LIC was a losing team, near the basement in Queens AA.

“A lot of people don’t think of ‘AA,’ ‘A’ — they just know you’re losing,” the coach said. “When you win, a lot of problems go away.”

Watstein accepted a demotion to Queens A West for the 2009-10 season and, as luck would have it, Brown transferred to LIC from Bishop Loughlin. The Bulldogs reached the playoffs that year, finishing in fourth. Then the following winter Williams came from Christ the King and led LIC all the way to the division crown and the ‘A’ title game.

“Having them transfer here from major [basketball] schools helped us a lot,” said Santanna, who is averaging 12 points and 10 rebounds per game. “They made us better. We learned a lot from them.”

With that said, LIC’s seniors are enjoying this season. They don’t have to defer or take a backseat to anyone. Their success is home grown, borne through hard work and development, not a lucky addition.

“Everyone said we made the championship because of [Williams], but it’s a team effort, it’s not about one person,” Green said. “He did his thing and now it’s our time.”

Santana, Camara and Jones have played through both experiences — last year’s undefeated league season and the 3-15 campaign in ‘AA.’ Green joined them last year, along with Williams. Now, without a Brown or Williams around, they are the team’s backbone, averaging between nine and 15 points per game, and are enjoying similar success, without that one megastar.

What makes them so dangerous, Watstein says, is they all do different things so well. Camara is the best shooter and athlete of the bunch, a talented 6-foot-1 guard. The 6-foot-3 Santanna is LIC’s lone post player; though undersized, he averages a double-double and is its hardest worker. Green is a jack-of-all-trades, a surprisingly sound rebounder for his size, point guard and explosive scorer while Jones has a knack for making the big play.

“We’re winning because they are unselfish, without a doubt,” Watstein said. “You can’t key on one guy.”

The four are in search of a title, to finish what they started last winter. When they break the huddle, LIC chants “1-2-3, Long Island City; 4-5-6, championship.”

“That would be an incredible ending for these kids,” Watstein said.

He is quick to note a title doesn’t make or break this senior class. They will be remembered as turning around the program, excelling as complementary pieces the last two years and continued the recent winning ways this winter, so far at least.

“We’ve been together so long, we have a connection, on the court and off the court,” Green said.

That was clear Dec. 19, with the program’s two recent stars on hand watching the current ensemble turning what was supposed to be a first-place showdown into a rout.

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