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High five

Brewster celebrates undefeated season and fifth national championship

Joshua Spaulding image
by Joshua Spaulding
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Sports Editor - Salmon Press Newspapers

THE BREWSTER hoop team won its fifth national championship on March 16. Courtesy Photo. (click for larger version)
March 20, 2017
WOLFEBORO — As the regular season drew to a close, the Brewster boys' basketball team had a couple of close games that tested the team.

And when the finals in the National Prep Tournament championship game rolled around on Thursday, March 9, the Bobcats knew they could pull out a close game.

And as it turned out, they needed that, as they pulled out a 72-71 win over Northfield Mount Hermon in the national championship game, claiming the school's fifth national championship.

"The last month, we had five or six games where the last three minutes or so it was a one or two possession game," said coach Jason Smith, less than a week after his team returned from New Haven, Conn. with the national championship.

The National Prep Championship format has the semifinals and finals on the same day, meaning there was not a lot of chance for the Bobcats to make adjustments once they realized who they were playing in the finals. And Smith was not thrilled that Northfield Mount Hermon was the opponent.

"Northfield Mount Hermon is not who I wanted to play in the finals," Smith said. "We had just played them in the finals in the New Englands (NEPSAC).

"It's hard to beat a team three times how about four times," Smith said. "Northfield is very talented and very well-coached.

"And every time we played them, we put in a couple of new plays," Smith continued. "But we didn't have the luxury of getting to add stuff."

The Bobcats trailed by six points at halftime but the Bobcats pushed through and took the lead in the second half. Brewster's lead was up to nine with about three minutes to go, but Smith was not totally comfortable, since NMH is a good three-point shooting team, with guards who are heading to North Carolina and Davidson.

NMH hit a couple of three-pointers to cut into the lead but Brewster held tight. Curtis Haywood hit a free throw with 12 seconds to go to make it a two-possession game and NMH hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to make it a one-point final score.

This year's team was also able to make a claim that no other team in Brewster history has made, as the Bobcats finished at 33-0, the first team in Brewster history to complete an undefeated season. The last team to record a NEPSAC top division undefeated season was back in 1998.

"This league is so tough, everyone is so talented," Smith said of the NEPSAC competition. To that note, Brewster was one of three NEPSAC AAA teams in the national championship and NEPSAC's second division, AA, had a pair of teams in the tournament.

And while the Bobcats made their pitch to become the best Brewster team ever with the undefeated record, Smith said from the beginning, back in November when the season began and even before in preseason, the team had that as a goal in mind.

"Even in the preseason, it's something we set out a goal to do and be possibly the best team to come through the doors at Brewster," Smith said. "The goal was to be as good as the teams we've had.

"They were completely motivated," Smith said, noting that there were numerous reports that the team was "not the most talented Brewster team, on paper."

"They were like 'why can't we be the best Brewster team?'" Smith said. "If you run the table, you do something no other Brewster team has accomplished."

And adding to the intrigue for the Bobcats was the fact that Brewster has three players out of the top seven or eight in Smith's rotation that will be back for another season. That included leading scorer Sydney Wilson Jr., starting center Lukas Kisunas and forward Nate Roberts.

"The only player we had returning this year was Semih (Say)," Smith said. "And in 2015, we lost everybody when we won the national championship."

And with three players coming back next year, Smith's recruiting job, which is never over, gets a bit easier.

However, as is normally the case, Smith went back to recruiting right after the national championship game.

"Recruiting is every day," Smith said, touting a saying he heard somewhere along the line comparing recruiting to shaving. "If you don't do it every day, you'll end up looking like a bum."

However, Smith isn't just recruiting for next season, but is looking further ahead as well.

"I'm recruiting not just for next year, but a couple kids for two years down the road," Smith said.

He noted that one of the top recruits in the class of 2017 is coming for a post-graduate year next season and Smith said that was a relationship that has been cultivated not only by his own work, but by former players who've talked up the program.

"I went to visit him last August and one of my former players was in the area and knew the kid and came along on the interview," Smith said. Former Bobcat Will Harris, who runs a gym in the Albany area, knew the kid from the gym and talked about his time at Brewster. And former Bobcat Mark Lyons knew the kid as well and reached out to him.

"They're the ones that do the recruiting," Smith said. "They tell me if he'll be a good fit in the Brewster community."

Smith has also developed relationships with parents at events long before their kids become targets of Brewster and continues to cultivate those relationships and when the kid is ready to choose his path, Brewster is in the discussion. He cited a kid who is a top 50 consensus player who's father he met three years earlier and kept in touch with as his kid moved through high school.

Smith also pointed out that not only is basketball important, but the kid needs to fit in the Brewster community and that's something that he looks at when recruiting.

And kids who transfer from other prep schools have shown that they have the ability to be away from home and focus on basketball.

"We've had so many kids transfer here from other boarding schools," Smith said. "And the last 25 kids that have transferred to Brewster from other boarding schools, every single one has won 30 games or more.

"And since the fall of 2006, every kid who's been here for multiple years has won either a national championship or a NEPSAC championship," Smith said, noting championships make recruiting even easier.

"Kids like to win," Smith said.

Smith said that when he and assistant coach Josh Lee figured out that stat, he was surprised.

"Even as a coach, I didn't know that," the Bobcat coach noted. "You just stop and look at it and look at it."

And with five players currently on active rosters in the NBA and two more on rosters in the NBA D-League, it's obvious that success follows many of the talented kids who have donned the Brewster uniform.

Smith said that former players Donovan Mitchell at Louisville and Devonte Graham at Kansas have been getting some pre-draft attention and should they declare they'd likely get selected. Additionally, alum Jonah Bolden, who played at UCLA but is now playing in China, is also receiving interest and could likely get drafted.

And with 16 players involved on teams competing in this year's NCAA tournament, there was still plenty of Brewster basketball to watch even after the undefeated season drew to a close.

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

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