"Calm, collected confidence," is how Brooks School's boys 1st basketball coach John McVeigh described his team's mindset going into the finals of the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council's winter tournament on Sunday evening. The attitude served them well.
After besting fifth-seeded Rivers School 73-49 on Saturday at home, the top-seed squad took down sixth-seeded Marianapolis Preparatory 68-32 at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. the next day, making them Class B NEPSAC champions once again!
"We've had a terrific rivalry with Rivers in recent years," McVeigh said of the semifinals — a rematch of last year's New England championship. After a slow start by both teams, Brooks took control midway through the first half, opening up an 18-point lead by halftime. The undefeated Brooks boys then pulled away with a 31-point lead midway through the third quarter.
"The key to the game, and really, to our whole season, was our team defense," said McVeigh. "We made it very difficult on the usually high-scoring Rivers offense."
Crowd support couldn't have hurt either. Nearly the entire Brooks School student body cheered from the stands in our Athletic Center, as well as a number of alums from the basketball team. "It was an electric scene," added the coach.
Going into the finals on Sunday, McVeigh said, "I think it helped a lot that we'd been in that game before." The matchup marked Brooks fourth straight New England Tournament finals appearance. "There was a calm, collected confidence to our team's approach that you could feel in the locker room beforehand," he said. "We all wanted to finish the job. They knew they had enjoyed an amazing season and wanted to make sure we ended it on a great note."
Teamwork and sharing the ball was the secret of the squad's success. "One of the strengths of our team this year was that there was no one high scorer," explained McVeigh. "Everyone was a threat and everyone was willing to share the basketball. That made it hard to key on any one person. ... We just focused on just taking things one possession at a time."
Fittingly, the highlight of the final game was a touching gesture of camaraderie. "There was a moment right before five of our six sixth-formers — Fru Che, Alex Chaban, Tamenang Choh, Ethan Gabert-Doyon, Isaiah Godwin and Adonis Williams — came out for the final time when they were huddled up as a group, and it was clear it was going to be their last time on the court together," recalled McVeigh. "The sense was that they were just trying to enjoy it as much as they could for as long as possible."
To then secure victory was like wrapping up their successful 20-0 regular season with a bow. "We definitely played our best basketball of the year over the course of that final weekend," said McVeigh proudly.
"It's a wonderful feeling, mainly because I'm so happy for our players, and especially our seniors," he said of winning the NEPSAC title in back-to-back years. "They have worked incredibly hard and are such a tight-knit group that they deserve to have a season like this."
The team is "extraordinary," he declared. "And I mean team in the very best and truest sense of the word. They enjoyed being together and did everything with enthusiasm, whether it was playing basketball or helping with the Special Olympics or just eating dinner together in the Dining Hall. I've never had more fun or been more proud of a team. I feel like I'm the luckiest coach in the world and really appreciate having been a part of something like this."
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