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Success brings success

Brewster coach reflects on another national championship season

by Joshua Spaulding
Sports Editor - Granite State News, Carroll County Independent, Meredith News, Gilford Steamer, Winnisquam Echo, Plymouth Record-Enterprise and Baysider

THE BREWSTER hoop boys, seen here after winning the Brewster Invitational, finished the year strong, winning the NEPSAC and national championships. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
March 17, 2014
WOLFEBORO — The Brewster boys' basketball team keeps forcing the school to create more room in the trophy cases.

"We're running out of room to store them," Bobcat coach Jason Smith joked after his team picked up another NEPSAC AAA championship and another national championship in early March.

The Bobcats finished up their season with 22 consecutive wins, including sweeping through the NEPSAC and national championship tournaments.

"But that's the goal every year, hitting our stride right when we're going into the NEPSAC tourney," Smith said.

Smith noted that the strong finish to the season was especially impressive given the league in which the Bobcats play.

"Every year, we're always talking up how tough the competition in our league is, it's the best league in the country," Smith said. "But they don't start to totally get that until early February when it is a constant grind, when you're playing teams with seven or eight DI players on a nightly basis."

The grind of the regular season led into the playoffs, which proved to be just as successful for the Bobcats.

The Bobcat coach also pointed out that keeping the number one seed at the end of the season was a big deal and likely was a big factor in the team's championship.

"It was important (to stay number one) because as number one, if you make it to the semifinals, you played the first game," Smith said. "That's a huge advantage, that's an extra two or three hours to rest."

The national semifinals and finals are played on the same day and with the early game, the Brewster kids had a little extra time to rest up after the semifinal tilt.

"That extra two or three hours is a huge, huge benefit," Smith said, noting that last year, the Bobcats played the second semifinal game and eventually lost in the national championship game.

Smith credited the kids on his team for their commitment to the program, noting it's not always easy to come form a place where you are the star and then blend in with a team full of stars.

"As a group, they were very unselfish," Smith said. "They shared the ball.

"There's 10-12 guys, who before they came to Brewster, they were the man," Smith continued. "They need to switch, to share the ball and defend."

With that sharing of the ball, the Bobcats become a very difficult team to defend, as other squads can't just focus on one or two players. The Bobcats move the ball from player to player until someone is open. Smith said that this year's team certainly has no problem sharing.

"I've had teams that were more talented on paper, but all these guys want is for the team to be successful," Smith said. "They just wanted to win."

In addition to the ability to share the ball, Smith pointed to the ability to defend, which is often overlooked in these days of high-flying dunks and offensive fireworks.

"They all defended really well," Smith said. "That's what we stress right away when they come onto campus in the fall."

Smith said that the scores in his team's games would likely show that the defense continued to step up and get better as the season progressed.

"We told them, at the beginning of the year, scores are in the 80s and 90s, but come March, you better believe our games will all be in the 50s and 60s.

"And if you can defend, you can play anywhere in college," Smith said.

And of course, college success is something that the Bobcat alums are quite used to. And that success continued this past week.

Melvin Ejim, at Iowa State, was named the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year and TJ Warren, at North Carolina State, was named the ACC Player of the Year. Semaj Christon (Xavier) was named All-Big East First Team, Martez Harrison (Kansas City) was named WAC Freshman of the Year and Second Team All-WAC, Warren and CJ Fair (Syracuse) earned First Team All-ACC, Aaron Thomas (Florida State) was All-ACC Honorable Mention, Markus Kennedy (SMU) earned All-AAC Second Team and Fair and Ejim also both earned All-America honors, joining Thomas Robinson as the Brewster grads to earn that distinction.

Smith noted that the success of his alums and the consistent national championship appearances continue to make his job recruiting a little easier, though it's still a 365-day job.

"The goal has been for the last eight or nine years to have the best team in the country," Smith said. "The fact that we have hardware and banners, in this day and age of social media, kids see the product we produce.

"Championships and the success our alumni are having when they get to college, that's when they look into the school and the program," the Bobcat coach continued.

Looking back on the season, Smith had a few games that stood out to him, including the last game of the regular season at Northfield Mount Hermon. The Bobcats were down 18 points and managed to come all the way back and win. Additionally, he noted the Bobcats were down 16 to New Hampton in the NEPSAC tournament.

"When they face adversity, they dig in and take their game to the next level, especially on the defensive end," Smith said. "That's the point I knew we'd have a legitimate shot to win."

And the work continues for the Bobcat coach, who admits that on the way back from the national championship tournament, he had his wife do the driving and he was contacting kids he hopes to bring to Brewster next year. David Crisp, a point guard at Rainier Beach High School in Washington who has already committed to play at the University of Washington, has already committed to come to Brewster next year.

"The first thing we did on the way home from New Haven… I was texting and e-mailing guys I've targeted to come to Brewster next year.

"We're always trying to recruit kids from winning high school programs," he continued, noting Crisp's team has won the Washington state championship and is on to the high school championships.

And with a couple of new trophies and banners in the Smith Center, the Bobcat coach is already looking forward.

"Hopefully we'll be able to compete for another title next year," Smith said.

Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 569-3126 or sportsgsn@salmonpress.com

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