The Birthplace Boys are back.
Coming into a new season after making it to the national semifinals for the first time in school history, the program was ranked No. 7 in a preseason poll put out by d3hoops.com in October.
Expectations for the program are high coming into this season, but head coach Charlie Brock isn’t interested in what others expect from his team.
“All the teams in that preseason ranking, to my knowledge, haven’t played a game yet,” said Brock in his office last Tuesday. “The worst thing we can do is think we’re something that we aren’t. The things that happened last year happened for a lot of different reasons. They don’t happen by chance.”
It’s true. Almost everything for the team, from top to bottom, had to come together near-perfectly for the program to progress as far as it did into the tournament last season. And it did.
The first and arguably most important part of that formula was the team’s impeccable leadership. The group was led by three invaluable seniors that led in different ways:
Ben Diamond’s ability to keep things positive on the sideline and in the locker room when things went south. Andy McNulty’s ability to orchestrate the offense as a floor general. Brandon Eckles’ Al Horford-like ability to move the ball fluidly as a big, and hit a three-pointer in big moments.
That core group catalyzed the most amazing run in the program’s history.
Now, they’re gone.
But, looking at this year’s roster closely, one will start to understand just how many minutes on the court are logged onto the team as a collective this year.
Juniors Jake Ross and Heath Post have started almost every game since they were freshmen. Now, they are juniors that have been to the NEWMAC tournament the last two years and were two of the biggest factors in why the team made it to the national semifinals last year. Along with senior outside-shooter Cam Earle and senior big man Kevin Durkin, this year’s’ upperclassmen have been through a lot of big games and have procured a lot of minutes.
For all that last year’s seniors brought to the table, which they brought a tremendous amount, none of them are coming back this year with their national semifinal experience under their belts, but this year’s upperclassmen are.
“There is definitely a changing of the guard. No question,” said Brock on the shift in leadership. “The truth is, we may be more blessed with the scenario the way it is, because as much as Jake (Ross) and Heath (Post) are focal points, the leadership that we have to have to be successful from Trey (Witter), JJ (Richard Jacobson), Cam (Earle) and Durk (Kevin Durkin) has to be there if we are going to be successful. We can’t have any faltering in the leadership roles of those guys. They are our upperclassmen and they are our leaders.”
Player to Watch
One aspect of the team that is so interesting to watch every year is to see how new players get integrated into the system.
The team boasts several new faces this season: Casey Lane, Daryl Costa, Elijah Moreno-Winston, Collin Lindsay, Hunter Bowers and Kendall Baldwin (was a freshman last year but did not play due to injury).
As showcased at tryouts, each newcomer has something they bring to the table that can help the team in the immediate future. But there was one player that had an extra edge to this game: Daryl Costa.
Costa stands at a slender 6 feet, 2 inches 150 pounds. He showcased his knack for shooting off the dribble during the team’s initial tryouts in October. In the Pride’s scrimmage against Roger Williams, he showed that he potentially has what it takes to be one of the team’s primary ball handlers in the future.
During the scrimmage, Costa drove into Roger Williams’ paint. As he made his way in, a defender emerged from the weak side to stop him. Costa passed the ball to a now-open Lane in the corner, who was left wide open due to the defender abandoning him to subdue Costa. Lane elevated, released and cashed in on the three-point opportunity.
“It was a great basketball play,” said Brock. “These are two guys that have played together for two weeks. Our offense had nothing to do with the play, it was just a good instinctual basketball play. Casey was ready, Daryl took a backdoor cut, it was just a great play.”
Although Costa has shown flashes of his ability to handle the ball, the coaching staff believes it is best for him to work as a wing player for the time being.
“I’m not sure that Daryl can’t play the point, but right now it is easier for him to play a wing spot and be successful and do something,” said Brock. “Rather than add onto his overload mentally in trying to learn how to play the point.”
It will take time for Costa and the other newcomers to become fully settled into the team’s offensive movements, but once they do, watch for Costa to be one of the group’s highlight-makers moving forward.
For the last few seasons, Springfield men’s basketball has always been the annoying little brother to the likes of Babson and Amherst. Sure, the team defeated then-No.1 Amherst two seasons ago, but the Pride finished 14-13 that year and lost to Babson in the NEWMAC semifinals. Not many people truly considered the program to be of the same pedigree as Babson and Amherst.
But things have changed.
This season, Babson and Amherst are not even ranked in the preseason top 25. The only other team in the region that is ranked resides in Cambridge with MIT as they are ranked No. 5. There is a new hierarchy in not only the NEWMAC this season, but the Northeast region, and it hasn’t happened by accident.
Last year’s team was a culmination of the lessons that were learned in that semifinals loss to Babson two years ago and the second-year captainship of those three seniors.
This year’s team has a different story. For the last few seasons, the core of this year’s team has been climbing up a figurative mountain. Now, they sit near the top among the region and, potentially, the country’s best.
The No. 1 factor playing into how the team will compete this season is how the players on the team react to holding the mantle of being one of the top dogs.
“The most important thing is to remain humble,” said Post after the team’s last day of tryouts. “It’s the ranking at the end of the season that matters.”
Photo courtesy of Helen Lucas