Lafayette looking to repeat as ‘B’ champ

Lafayette isn’t the same team that won the PSAL Class B girls basketball title and took a memorable trip to the New York State Federation tournament in Glens Falls last year. The Patriots returned just four players from that squad and their two stars – Essence Hopkins and Jodyann Pitt – both graduated.

Yet, with the playoffs less than two weeks away, Lafayette is right back in the ‘B’ mix. And a win against rival Goldstein lastFriday could even make the Patriots the No. 1 seed.

“I still think we can make a run for the championship,” coach Kareem Benson said.

It would be hard to bet against them, but this time the Patriots are the underdogs. They were the No. 2 seed last year after Goldstein, yet had two of the best players in the ‘B’ league. Pitt was a breakdown point guard with incredible speed and quickness and Hopkins was a rarity – a girl who got a Division I scholarship (Southern) from the ‘B.’

This year, Lafayette (14-1 Brooklyn B South) is young and inexperienced. To make matters worse, point guard Ann Rushing went down with a torn ACL last month. To Benson’s surprise, though, other girls, even the ones with little to no organized basketball experience, have emerged and Jasley Mejia has filled in admirably at the point. Players like Vilmarys Quidgley, Carla Pierre and Latiana Hepburn are getting better as the season goes on.

“Different girls are getting more playing time and they’ve been stepping up,” he said. “Their confidence has shot up. They’ve started buying into the system.”

Alaka Albert started buying in back in September. She was a role player last year, but, Benson said, didn’t have a full commitment to basketball. He sat her down in the fall and told her the team needed her to not only play, but to be a leader.

“She took it and ran with it,” Benson said.

There might not be a more improved player in the city. The strong, 5-foot-8 forward went from averaging 4.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game to 26.6 and 19.8, respectively. Albert gives Lafayette that go-to player it had last year with Hopkins and Pitt.

“She always had that talent, she just didn’t apply herself to basketball,” Benson said. … “She’s a beast down low. She’s very strong. She doesn’t know her own strength. I put her up against the boys sometimes and she has them flying, too.”

Lafayette is flying high right now. Benson said blowout losses to ‘AA’ teams Lincoln and Banneker over the holidays woke his team up a bit. The Patriots routed Bushwick, 35-11, at the PSAL ‘B’ Girls Basketball Showcase last Saturday and are excited for their rematch against Goldstein, which hit them with their only league loss Jan. 12.

Plenty of people might have counted Lafayette out considering the absence of Hopkins and Pitt. But, despite the youth, Benson was confident right from the outset that his team could repeat.

“Our goal always is to win a city championship,” he said.

The Patriots figure to have a chance to do just that. Again.