By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
OCEAN CITY — Reese Downey, a 15-year-old freshman from Galloway Township, said she was nervous prior to making her varsity basketball debut on Saturday afternoon at the Ocean City PBA Tipoff Weekend.
Whatever bubble guts she might have had didn’t last long at all, though, as the phenom point guard showed why Absegami coach Bobby Lasko has been singing her praises since the Ocean City Summer League. Downey scored a game-high 18 points, including four 3-pointers, and also added three assists and three steals while committing just two turnovers. The Braves cruised to a 49-16 win over Vineland, jumping out to a 12-4 lead after one quarter then blowing the game open by outscoring the Fighting Clan 20-4 in the second frame.
“I felt great. It was a good start for the team,” Downey said. “At first (I was nervous) but then it kind of went away as we kept playing. I’ve been with the team since the summer, so it’s gotten easier throughout the year, and as we kept playing things got easier.”
“She’s a special kid. When we’re clicking, it’s usually going through her,” Lasko said.
Absegami (1-0, 0-0 Cape-Atlantic League American) didn’t shoot the ball all that well, just 28 percent for the game, but the Braves shot it well early, going 6-of-14 from beyond the 3-point line in the first half and that accounted for a 32-8 halftime advantage over the Fighting Clan (1-1, 1-0 CAL National). They had three players finish in double figures, as seniors Jackie Fortis and Chi Chi Wokocha each scored 12 points. They also combined for 13 rebounds. Another key to the game was Absegami’s defense, which forced 33 turnovers that led to 28 points.
“I like the fact that we executed our plan. Offensively, we made some shots in the beginning and that always makes life a lot easier,” Lasko said. “In the second half we just wanted to get a lot of kids in and run through some of our plays. We have lots of stuff to clean up. We only had one scrimmage, so I think our defense needs to clean up a lot. We weren’t moving off the ball as much as I’d like and we have to protect the paint better. But, overall, I’m happy. The first-game jitters are out of the way and we move on to Atlantic City on Monday.”
This game, however, was all about the debut of Downey, who Lasko said could be one of the top players in the league by season’s end.
“She has the green light. We tell her, ‘if you’re open, it’s you.’ I almost have to coach her into shooting more. When she’s open, it’s a good shot. If you don’t get out on her, we’re going to let her shoot all day long,” Lasko said. “The kid has moxie. It comes naturally to her. She’s just different, that’s all I can say. But the cool thing is we have Jackie Fortis who can help mold her, and when Jackie needs a breather we let Reese take over. She can take over a game when she wants to. She’s a shy kid, but not on the court. We give her and Jackie the keys to the Cadillac and we’re going to ride with them and see where they take us.”
About the only thing the shy freshman showed any sign of struggle with might have been the postgame interview. But she’ll get used to that, coach Lasko said.
“She said to me, ‘coach, what do I say? I don’t know what to say.’ I said, ‘say whatever you want,'” he said. “She’s starting to get practice at that kind of stuff, and that’s a good thing. In a couple of years she’ll be used to all this (attention).”
What’s next: Absegami hosts Atlantic City on Monday at 5:30 p.m. Vineland hosts Pleasantville on Monday at 4:30 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays