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Lincoln relying on youth to defend dynasty

Dwayne (Tiny) Morton has a message he often repeats to his young, inexperienced Lincoln boys basketball team: you have nothing to do with the last four city championships or eight straight trips to Madison Square Garden.

“They weren’t part of that team, even the guys that were here, this is a new team,” the 13th-year coach said.

The record-setting Lance Stephenson-Darwin (Buddha) Ellis-James Padgett Railsplitters are in the past, part of the Coney Island basketball program’s famed tradition that includes Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair. This new group, headed by junior guard Shaquille Stokes, is looking to create its own identity.

It’s based on learning, growing and developing.

“Every game is gonna be a new experience,” Morton said.

Morton hasn’t changed %u2013 he’s as fiery and intense as ever %u2013 although he is teaching fundamentals more. He is spending more time at the school, making sure his players are, in his words, “doing the right thing, in and out of the classroom.”

In fact, Morton, the only coach in PSAL history to win four straight boys titles, is enjoying himself. He can mold this team, that includes three promising freshman guards: Telfair’s younger brother, Ethan, Morton’s son, Trevon, and Shaquille Davis. There is also raw but talented 6-foot-11 center Jordan Dickerson, a Virginia transplant, 6-foot-8 forward Devante Brown, who was academically ineligible last year, and Nazareth transfer Reuben King, a slashing 6-foot-3 wing.

“I like that we’re young and guys soak up what I have to say,” Morton said. “I don’t have any headaches.”

Morton doesn’t yet have a set starting lineup. In fact, he may go with a different five depending on the opponent. Virtually everyone on the Lincoln roster, he said, will play.

Stokes, Lazaro Martinez, Codion Becker and Raymond O’Loughlin, a quartet of returning guards, and 6-foot-6 junior Mike White, make up the nucleus and should do the bulk of the scoring. Stokes, the only returning starter, averaged 10 points and five assists per game last year and has taken on the mantle of team leader. He will run the point and play off the ball, depending on the game.

“He has a lot of confidence,” Morton said.

Perhaps the most important figure is Dickerson, a rail-thin shot-blocking machine. A junior, he played JV last year in Virginia but lacked basic footwork when he got to Lincoln. Even if his offensive game takes time to develop, he should make an impact at the defensive end, recruiting guru Tom Konchalski said. In a recent scrimmage against Forest Hills, he swatted nine shots, including three in one brief sequence.

“A lot of teams might be intimidated by him,” Stokes said.

The current group of Railsplitters are in the same boat: they’re mostly a bunch of juniors looking for notoriety. Stokes might be the closest thing the Railsplitters have to a star.

“Last year was good, but I feel we’re more of a team now,” O’Loughlin said, taking a subtle swipe at the departed seniors.

Expectations have been lowered, at least from outside sources. Lincoln, which is usually everybody’s favorite, won’t be starting the year atop many rankings.

“We want people to doubt us,” Stokes said. “It’s our time for us to show everybody what we’re made of.”

Konchalski expects Lincoln to be formidable, if only because of Morton’s presence, citing his seven titles and nine trips to the Garden in 10 years, and the young talent. He especailly likes Ethan Telfair, who has soft hands and a softer jump shot.

“He’s a very good coach and they’ll get better as the year goes on,” Konchalski said.

In a way, the past is part of this group, even if Morton doesn’t see the connection. They will be judged against the previous teams, all champions. The 2008-09 city championship banner, after all, hangs in the lobby of the school. It’s impossible to miss, the first thing you see upon entering Lincoln

“Everybody wants another one,” O’Loughlin said. “We chase it every year.”

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