The Woodstock Academy (Conn.)
boys basketball team doesn't practice on the weekends, but it's not because they're slackers.
"I can't have practice on the weekends because they beat the living heck out of each other," Centaurs coach Greg Smith
said. "They work so hard in practice, and they leave nothing on the floor.
"I've been trying to get teams to do it my whole career, and this team does it. They like each other and they work hard."
Woodstock hasn't been known much for its boys basketball. Chances are many Connecticut residents haven't heard of the town, nestled far away in the northeast corner of the state, in a region the locals call, "The Quiet Corner".
The Centaurs have increased awareness of both their town and their team. They're 13-1, including a two-game sweep of perennial state power New London.
"We knew we were going to be good, but we didn't know we'd be this good," Smith said. "The reason we're so good is that these guys were in the weight room all summer long. Chris Lowry
, Will Bourgeois
, John McGinn
, Ian Converse
, Tristan Welch
, they were in there every day. And the senior leadership, a kid like Tristan Welch, he's always been a scorer. This year we asked him to be a defensive stopper."
Lowry and Welch are the only starters back from last season's 9-13 team.
"Hard work — it's a real simple answer with this group," Smith said of the turnaround. "The seniors, they go out and work like everybody else. Jake Almquist
and Cameron Henry
, they're not getting all the minutes, they'll take no crap from anybody. They give 100-percent in practice every single day.
"I said to them (Thursday), as we're breaking from the huddle at the end of practice, ‘I never want this season to end because it's the been best.' It's absolutely the best feeling in the world when everyone is on the same page, everybody has the same goal, and nobody cares who scores or gets their name in the newspaper."
Injuries to two starters haven't even slowed Woodstock down. Bourgeois, a junior forward, tore his ACL after six games. Lowry (12.9 points, 7.9 assists), a junior point guard, has missed the past three games with a chip fracture in his thumb. Woodstock still managed to beat New London without both players on Jan. 25.
The Centaurs won ugly, 32-28, but they put themselves in position to win the Eastern Connecticut Conference Large Division title. Welch played the point in Lowry's absence.
"We're without our best defensive player (Bourgeois) and with our starting point guard sitting on the bench with an injury, and they still go out and win," Smith said, "That's not possible unless all these kids believe in each other.
"Every time something throws a hurdle in front of this team, they jump over it and ask, ‘what's next?'"
Converse, a senior forward, has averaged a team-high 20.4 points and 10.2 rebounds. Senior forward Sullivan Gardner
has averaged 8.1 rebounds.
"Ian Converse has been getting all the ink this season," Smith said. "There's a story for you — as a freshman, he was 5-9 and a point guard. Between then and now he's listed at 6-5. I think he's 6-6. He still has that ability and mentality of a guard, but he can play the post. He didn't play much varsity until the very end of last year, and then he really came on.
"John McGinn is 6-4 and a football player. He just suffered through a 0-10 season on the football team this year. He's come out and done whatever I've asked him to do. He'll play the four and get rebounds. He's played the three when Bourgeois went down. (Friday), he's going to play the two. He's never played the two in his life, and he's going to do it and say, ‘yes sir.' Then he'll come back after the game and ask, ‘did I do all right?'"
"They're a coaches dream, every single one of them."Ned
Griffen has covered high school, college and professional sports in the
Northeast since 1992. A 2003 New England Associated
Press News Executives award winner, he may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org