BEVERLY, Mass. – Championships are not won merely by assembling talent and rolling out the basketballs. Jason Smith already understood this well, and that was driven home again on Sunday. The good thing for the Brewster Academy head coach is that the result of it was positive, a thrilling 68-63 win over New Hampton in the NEPSAC Class AAA championship.
Brewster Academy won the Class AAA championship for the second year in a row and has now won four NEPSAC titles in the past seven seasons. While in recent years the Bobcats have annually had the most talent in Class AAA, that hasn’t always translated into a title. Talent alone doesn’t do it, and it’s not just because NEPSAC is so competitive, although Smith offered plenty of words about that after the game.
“It’s the best high school league in the country, I just wish the rest of the population would realize how great of a league this is,” said Smith, now in his 14th season leading the program. “Everyone talks about the Oak Hills, the Findlays. I would love to play them because we would kick the absolute crap out of them.”
Smith went on to say that a number of schools in Class AAA could play with those schools. His team nearly found that out the hard way on Sunday after they at times made it look easy leading up to the game, which had him worried about overconfidence. He said the team seemed to be coasting at times, as if they felt no urgent need to get better since they were winning games, including against the teams they had to play again in the tournament. Chalk that up to 14- to 18-year-olds being, well, 14- to 18-year-olds, in part, and let that be an example of why coaching plays a role.
New Hampton scored the game’s first nine points and ran out to a 23-7 lead. Colorado-bound Tory Miller (6’8″ Sr. PF, Lees Summit (MO)) was abusing Brewster’s post players inside for baskets, while Elijah Bryant (6’4″ Sr. SG, Braselton (GA)) was the best player on the floor in the first half as he scored all 16 of his points in that frame. For good measure, Syracuse-bound Tyler Lydon (6’8″ Jr. SF-PF, Elizaville (NY)) was hitting three-pointers and even scoring inside. Brewster slowly rallied, then picked up steam with about six minutes to go in the half. New Hampton still never gave up the lead in the opening frame.
In fact, New Hampton kept the lead until a post basket by Georgetown signee Isaac Copeland (6’9″ Sr. SF-PF, Raleigh (NC)) gave Brewster a 55-54 lead with 6:02 left. The Huskies then looked like they were in trouble, as the psychological blow of losing a lead they had all game seemed to hit them.
The biggest difference was better defense, although at times New Hampton broke through pretty well. Miller got more baskets when they got the ball to him, but Bryant and Lydon were quiet in the second half. A big key with the former was MVP Donovan Mitchell (6’3″ So. SG, Greenwich (CT)). While Mitchell’s 15 points, including four big free throws, would stand out at first glance, he had a big hand in defending Bryant in the second half and also had a key steal in the final seconds.
As talented as he is, Mitchell might have seemed an unlikely hero back in September. He certainly looked like someone with plenty of potential, but he was in a whole new setting and had some growing pains.
“He’s a totally different kid now,” said Jared Terrell (6’3″ Sr. SG, Weymouth (MA)), who scored 14 points. “He was this out of control kid taking wild shots because he was coming from a school where he could do that. He had to change his game a bit, and he’s done that.”
Smith is well-versed in the challenges of coaching a group of very talented players by now, especially with the vast majority being there for just one year. He has a great feel for his team and demands a lot from them, and knows that in their youth they don’t always understand the urgency of many things just yet. He knew what he was up against with his team on Sunday, and while he wouldn’t mind being wrong about it, he won’t complain about another championship.