Friday, March 8, 2013

Thoughts on the 07-08 SHS Boys Hoops Team

This month marks the five year anniversary of the Scituate High boys basketball team’s run to the state finals. That 2007-2008 team, on which I was a senior, was the best team ever to play for this town. We finished the season with three losses, by far the most painful of which came in the last possible game we could have played, to Frontier Regional High School in Worcester’s poorly lit and drafty DCU Center.

            On all fronts, we were a perfect high school basketball team. We had size (6’9 Sean McCarthy, 6’7 Blaine O’Brien), a slashing wing scorer (6’2 Keith Fleury), a scrappy, ballhawking point guard who could get to the rim against anyone (Sam Malone), and the best player in Division 3 that year (shooting guard Rodney Beldo). And that was just the starters.
            Sean’s little brother Andrew wasn’t so little at 6’10, and combined with human tanks Anthony Parham and Pat Collins to bring size off the bench. 6’5 Dave Gordon was a force on the front of the second line as well. Senior Harry Rose brought leadership and a deadly 3-point shot. Senior Nick Lombardo was a one-man press break with his mazy dribbling and creative passes. Pat Collins, Rob Carlezon, and Sam Buckley were late-season call-ups to add some bulk to an already stacked front line, and Dean Kennedy and I rounded out the team as seldom-used guards, called on to work the starters hard in practice and support the team in any way we could.
            It speaks to the strength of that team that you could have made a starting five from our bench players and had a very respectable year in the Patriot League.
            But there were plenty of teams that year with talent and size. We weren’t a collection of individuals. We were, in every way, a team.
            Some people don’t understand that term, or have different ideas of what it means. I’m not saying that we beat teams and then all went out for pizza together, or that we all hung out on the weekends as a group. There were cliques, as there always are. The difference was, when we came together in that gym, the lines disappeared. We ran drills and suicides together, shot foul shots together, and got yelled at by our coaches together. When we scrimmaged 5-on-5, it didn’t matter if you were passing the ball to someone you hadn’t spoken to prior to the season. He was your teammate. You didn’t have time to think about anything else.
            If you tried to, your pass would probably get picked off. It wasn’t a team that allowed hesitation.
            Our mindset that year, our singular focus on winning and our near achievement of the ultimate goal of a state championship, was not directly attributed to the players. Of course, we all wanted to win. We knew we were good enough. But our coaches drove us. Coach Kirby and Coach Jordan, both highly knowledgeable about the game of basketball, always had a tweak or a tinker for our defenses. We needed to run like a perfect machine, in lockstep, each player sliding to cover for the other and recovering when the ball was moved, allowing no opponent near our rim. Coach Eromin, a former SHS player himself, had an award named after him, given to the player who displayed not the most skill, or the highest stats, but the best character, work ethic, and team spirit. But the real star of the show was Coach Poirier.
            Coach has been a fixture on the sidelines in Scituate for years, and has coached some extremely talented teams. I have known Coach since I first attended his camps as a 3rd-grader, and I believe he is closer than ever to achieving what he has described as his main goal: to create a basketball culture in this town. His skillful handling of ever-volatile and fragile 16, 17, and 18-year olds has led to multiple deep tournament runs for his teams. And as the momentum builds throughout the season, culminating in raucous chant-battles between fans in the stands during high-stakes tournament games, the next generation of Scituate high players sees what they can accomplish if they work. A self-sustaining cycle of basketball excellence, where winning breeds young fans who decide that they will be the ones to bring glory to our town, this is what Matt Poirier has been working towards.
            He made us believe, that year, that we could win if we only worked hard enough. Every player on that team, from all-everything Rodney to late-addition Sam, had completely bought in to Coach’s style. We were going to run teams out of the gym on offense, and lock them down on defense. And, for the most part, we did. And although you can count on injuries in sports, it still hurt when we lost our big man and resident comedian, Anthony, to a horrific ankle injury halfway through the season. But it couldn’t compare to Scituate’s other loss.
            On February 2nd, Scituate High sophomore Tim Mahoney died in a car accident in Route 3A in Cohasset. Everyone in this town remembers that day, so I don’t want to dwell on it, or dredge up feelings that some have been working through for years. But I’m not sure if many people know how it affected that team.
            Like I said, there were cliques. Harry and I hung out a lot, and I know Pat, Anthony, and Dave were great friends. There was a larger group, numbering five or six, who were always seen together, and Tim was a part of that group as well. One of my best friends from college has a sign in her house that says: “Friends are the family you choose,” and it seemed like these boys were more brothers than friends. Several of them were pallbearers at Tim’s funeral.
            The memory I most associate with Tim’s passing is a basketball practice at Jenkins Elementary School. We were standing under the hoop at one end, and it seems like we had tried to practice for a few minutes as if things were normal. My memory is foggy on the details, but I remember the atmosphere in the gym as if it were around me right now. There was a feeling of overwhelming sorrow; a feeling that nothing we did even mattered. Coach Poirier gathered us together and talked for a few minutes, then let us go home. I forget his exact words, but again I remember his presence. He was consoling without being condescending. He talked to us like we were men. Going through a horrible tragedy, yes, but also men who needed each other now more than ever, and men who could see this through only if we honored Tim’s memory by doing the very opposite of giving up. I’m not sure if it was his words, our team’s desire and skill, or something else entirely, but we didn’t lose a game from February 2nd until the state championship.
            It felt like we didn’t even go to school during the state tournament. I know we did, of course, and we probably even learned things and took tests, but for me every memory I have starts with the drive back to the school from my friend Greg’s house that Harry and I visited before every game. Scenes jump out at me like movie stills: loosening our hastily knotted ties in the locker room and changing into our uniforms, Keith starting a top-volume team-wide singalong to Usher’s “U Got it Bad” before every game, adrenaline sizzling through our veins as we took the floor in our blue long-sleeve warmups and went through pregame drills.
            The games are a blur as well. Of course, the only one I remember is the one everyone remembers: Scituate 66, previously undefeated Medfield 64. If you weren't there, I highly suggest taking the six minutes to watch this. Down three with 34 seconds left to the team that had knocked us out the year before, we tied it on a Rodney Beldo pull-up 12 footer and-1. After he knocked down the free throw, our defense did what they did best: locked down. Sam Malone poked the ball free from a cutting Medfield ballhandler, right into the Keith’s hands. Fleury took off for paydirt like a running back through the hole, with a Medfield player hard to his left. As the clock ticked down to zero, Fleury came in from the right, planted his left foot, pirouetted around the stunned Medfield player and kissed a twisting, backwards, left-handed layup off the glass and in for the victory. I’m not religious, but after this game it was pretty hard to imagine we didn’t have someone named Tim watching over us.
            For whatever reason, we lost the state championship game. It says a lot about how blessed I am that if someone were to ask me to name the worst moment of my life, I might answer with the time spent in that locker room after the game against Frontier. Of course, there were tears. It’s odd, you’d think in that moment that you personally would be so sad that there would be no room to think of others. It speaks to how close we had become as a team that in that locker room, I cried for everyone. For myself, because losing to me is worse than almost anything. For my coaches, because I know how desperately they wanted this, how hard it was to get to where we were, and how unlikely it would be for them to get back again. For my teammates, because they all deserved to be called champions and to have their moment of glory. For Tim, because I wouldn’t dare to assume how some of his best friends felt, but although I had talked to him only a handful of times, I felt like I had let him down.
            I loved playing for that team. I felt the most honest and raw emotions I have ever felt while a member of that team, from the absolute pinnacle of joy to the worst depths of despair. Something happened when we walked through that door each day, for practice or for a game that was bigger than us. We were only a fleeting iteration, a group of young men who can now be referred to by some numbers and letters. But we were a team. We loved each other. We loved our coaches (most of the time). And we loved playing for our town. I defy you to find me something better than making the people you have grown up with, some of your best friends in the world, scream their lungs out with pride and jubilation at your achievements. Every practice was worth it. Every sprint, every drill, every floor slap. Actually, sitting here five years later, it was more than worth it. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to be a part of that team. To play with those young men and be coached by those great coaches. To give my town pride and stature in the world of high school basketball.
            If you’re reading this and you’re a member of a high school sports team, or soon will be, don’t take it for granted. Work hard. Push yourself and your teammates. And look around once in a while and take some mental snapshots. I probably played a total of twenty minutes during the entire 2007-2008 basketball season, but I would not trade my time with that team for anything.


  1. haha grow up pal. you were d3. no chance any of that bench wouldve beaten a patriot league team.

  2. Should have specified: the Patriot League was the name of the high school league we were in. Scituate, Duxbury, Hingham, Silver Lake, etc.