By BOB YORK –
When you play basketball at Deerfield Academy, you need to bring your A-game to the court every night. And on some nights, not even that’s enough.
Playing Class A roundball in the New England Prep School Athletic Conference can be a tough gig. It’s the home to some pretty serious basketball. Then, by the time you get through sprinkling some Class AAA and AA teams throughout your season, there’s no chance that schedule is going to remind you of the good … the bad … and the ugly. Now you’re staring at the good … the better … and the best. And this season, coach Conrad Pitcher’s charges can honestly say they took it one step further – this winter’s Big Green schedule put it up against an opponent who would end up proving to be the best of the very best.
Archrival Northfield Mount Hermon School will fill that claim to fame quite nicely, thank you, as it rang up the National Prep School Basketball Tournament crown this winter. The Hoggers, who captured the regular-season Class AAA crown were just the tip of the oppositional iceberg, however, as Deerfield also tangled with Cushing Academy, the Class AA tournament champion, as well as Kimball Union Academy, which drew a three-seed in AA tourney.
As for the A bracket, the Big Green went toe-to-toe with each and every team that eventually crammed its way into that eight-team tournament field, while it also found time to tangle with Suffield Academy, the eventual Class B champion.
“We won most of the games we should have won this season,” said Pitcher, whose club finished with an overall mark of 6-15, but went winless in 10 starts against teams that would move on to tournament play. “We went 5-9 in league games, which is just about what we expected, but a 7-7 record would likely have put us in the tourney.”
As is normally the case at Deerfield, and was no exception this winter, Big Green basketball lures talented athletes to its roster. The only problem being the majority of these athletes are majoring in other sports, such as football and/or lacrosse. If Pitcher could only find some way of making these guys feel a little more at home on the basketball court during the winter months, he might well go undefeated the rest of his career.
We know the rules of the sport would never allow tackling, even if a seven-foot, one-inch opponent was driving unopposed to the basket primed for an in-your-face 360-degree spinning slam dunk. Maybe a basketball helmet equipped with a facemask, might lull these guys into greener pastures, or maybe sneakers with cleats might do the trick. Anything that can help bring the outdoors indoors. If so, Pitcher might just have it made.
Take John Dillon (’13) for example. The 6-2, 190-pounder who spends his autumns playing linebacker for the Big Green football team and will be doing the same at Williams College, played forward for Pitcher and led Deerfield in scoring, averaging a dozen points a game. He hauled in about four rebounds a night as well.
Then there’s Billy Smith (’13), who could be found scrambling all over his grandfather’s yard – Jim Smith Field – this past fall. He spent his time playing quarterback, wide receiver and defensive back and was handed the team’s prestigious Thomas Ashley Award for his various contributions.
The three-sport standout, who plays baseball in the spring, took to the hard court this winter and got to concentrate on just one position: guard. It paid off, too, as he came away with even more hardware, winning the Deerfield Basketball Trophy as the team’s most valuable player. Smith earned the award by heading up the Big Green’s backcourt, a three-guard system devised by Pitcher to take advantage of this team’s speed, quickness and overall shooting ability. Smith finished the campaign averaging 11 points per game, while Matt Ching (’14), logged about 11 points per night as well.
T.J. Randall (’13), who rounded out the backcourt boys, chipped in an average of 10 points a game and won a prime spot on Deerfield’s highlight film: A three-pointer at the buzzer to beat Andover, 57-55.
The other award winner in this winter’s lineup was Liam Kennedy (’13), who, like many of his teammates, is well versed in varsity athletics. The three-sport standout, who is headed to Notre Dame to play lacrosse, was the recipient of the Most Improved Player Award.
“He was our defensive specialist,” said Pitcher of Kennedy, who probably learned that “Stuck on You” trait by playing defensive back in football. “I’d stick him on the opponent’s top outside shooter, and night in and night out he did a pretty darn good job keeping them off the scoreboard.”
Joining Dillon under the boards in the two-forward, three-guard offense was Patrick Ononibaku, where the 6-4 junior co-captain led the team in rebounding with an average of seven per game. Supplying depth up front were Colton Dana (’13), as well as Charlie Brahaney, and Ian Kagame, a pair of still-growing 6-5 freshmen.