The562’s coverage of Long Beach Wilson Athletics is sponsored by Joel Bitonio, Class of 2009.
Last year Wilson finished 18-10 overall and tied for second place in the Moore League with an 8-4 record. Head coach James Boykin’s squad was one of just two teams in the league to finish the year with a winning record, led by the two-headed monster of Sean Oliver and Keon Young, both of whom earned first team All-Moore League honors.
This year? The Bruins will be without Oliver and Young as well as second-team All-League player Michael Kirley, as all three graduated, and without their other all-league player, Lincoln Dean, who transferred to Cabrillo.
“It’s a totally different team, we probably lost 95% of our scoring,” said Boykin. “We’re going from a team with two guys who were a walking 20-25 points per game to more of a collective group effort offensively.”
While the offense could be a big of a work in progress, Boykin absolutely loves what he’s seeing from his team defensively, where he’s had buy-in across the roster. That’s let Wilson put up some impressive performances in the Summer and Fall as they’ve surprised teams with their multiple-look defense.
“I really like these guys defensively, they play really hard, that’s going to be our identity this year for sure,” said Boykin. “They rotate, they help, they’re really scrappy. We’re not overly big but we aren’t small either, it’s a lot of hard-working 6-2, 6-4 guys.”
The Bruins are seven deep with interchangeable talent, all of which Boykin said is capable of starting. Hayden Rodriguez is 6’4” with a wingspan bigger than his height, and will be a critical part of the Bruins’ defensive effort.
“We’re excited, we’re a young team but we’ve been grinding during this offseason,” said Rodriguez. The senior also agreed with his coach about the defensive identity of his team. “We just had a Fall league game on Monday and we held them to zero points in the third quarter, that was big for us. Defense is what’s going to keep us in the game.”
Senior Airus Allen is the only returning player with big minutes under his belt, and Nathaniel Parris will be another pivotal defensive player.
“Those two guys are relentless, they’re going to get you extra possessions,” said Boykin.
They also return Jeremiah Graham, a sophomore who was on varsity last year but missed most of the season with a broken wrist. Evan Mack is an incoming freshman with great defensive instincts, and the Bruins will also look to Jeremy Sok, Niles Rivers, and Karim Caldwell to contribute.
Boykin’s defense will see his team in zone, in man, in matchup zones–whatever will surprise the opponent and catch them off guard.
“Whatever kind of defense I’m running, these guys work hard,” said Boykin. “It’ll be a lot of different calls and our guys know what they’re supposed to do. Their effort is relentless.”
Boykin said he’s gotten compliments throughout the Fall about how hard his teams play.
“That’s what we’re hanging our hat on,” he said. “Every single day we’re making it hard for other teams to score.”