Home » Columns » Currently Reading:

Phillips Exeter is an unlikely repeat champion

March 3, 2014 Columns No Comments

BEVERLY, Mass. – A year ago, anyone could have predicted this result before the season. This year, not so much.

While any championship feels great, you have to think Phillips Exeter head coach Jay Tilton feels especially good about the one his team took home in dramatic fashion on Sunday by a 49-46 margin over Hotchkiss, their second NEPSAC Class A title in a row.

“This feels completely different,” said Tilton. “It’s a very different team, the road they traveled to this point was very different. The biggest thing where it helped me was that there was less unknown when we got to this point.”

Tilton knows this team was not in the most enviable position. They came up after last season’s team had a great run to the Class A title and a few even thought they might have been the best team in the gym on championship day. While every team is different, this one didn’t have nearly the talent or experience, including that playing together as last season’s team had several who had been teammates on the travel circuit. They were sure to be compared to last year’s team, different though it is.

A lot of things were carried over. Tilton didn’t change how he went about things, from scheduling to making sure the players were on top of academics first and foremost. (To that end, Tilton noted with a laugh, “They have to go back and write papers tonight for exams tomorrow.”) He played a similar style, and at the end of the day this championship is more of a testament to his coaching and not only because they had less talent. Repeating is exceedingly difficult, period.

And at this school, winning is not only not the first order of business, but it’s harder because academics is the overriding mission more so than anywhere else. The players on this team all have the grades and scores to go to just about any school they want to. It’s almost like being in an Ivy League school at the prep school level.

When NEPSAC realigned a few years ago, Phillips Exeter went from the toughest class – the old Class A, which is now Class AAA – into the new Class A. They previously had to compete with all the powerhouse schools at the top of the pecking order. Class A now is not easy, but it’s one where a school like this can win it all. They still play many of the same powerhouse schools on their schedule, in part because the academic demands mean playing games within a reasonable proximity to the school. But Tilton also likes that because it gives the players a chance to play their way into a scholarship, and he could see it pay off here. With those games, this team was battled-tested for the tournament.

Perhaps no one exemplified that better than MVP Jeb Helmers (6’3″ Sr. PG, Greenville (SC)). Everyone who saw it will talk about his game-winning three-pointer that might have barely touched any iron going through the net with 2.5 seconds left, but he did much more. He had a big rebound of a free throw miss, then hit two free throws as they tried to seal the game. Hotchkiss tied it on a three-pointer by Columbia-bound Noah Daoust (6’8″ Sr. PF, Dorval (Que.)), setting up Helmers’ heroics.

Helmers was a steady hand throughout, also playing good defense and running the show. That he scored ten points won’t grab headlines, and even his big shot doesn’t do justice to his importance.

“A steady hand is who he is,” said Tilton. “He is just a steady kid in all aspects of who he is. I’m not surprised that he was the one with the big plays down the stretch.”

In some ways, this season was a microcosm of the program over a long time now. Tilton talked about the foundation being laid a long time ago. They have been building towards the kind of success they have had recently. This season’s team started with humble origins, but built towards success and had it at the end once again.

Comment on this Article:

Subscribe to Hoopville

Enter your email address to subscribe to Hoopville


Hoopville Archives

College Basketball Tonight

We hope you enjoyed COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT during the 2016 NCAA Tournament. COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT is a comprehensive look at the NCAA Tournament hosted by veteran college basketball broadcaster Ted Sarandis, along with co-hosts Mike Jarvis and Terry O'Connor, both former Division I coaches. It also included many great guests, including Hoopville's own Phil Kasiecki.

The show aired on AM 710 WOR in New York City on Sunday evenings starting with Selection Sunday and running through the NCAA Tournament.

Here are links to the shows:

March 13, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

March 20, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

March 27, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

April 3, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

Coaching Changes

The coaching carousel is moving. Keep track of the latest coaching changes right here on Hoopville.

Everybody Needs a Head Coach

Former college basketball coach Mike Jarvis has a new book out, Everybody Needs a Head Coach.

"As you read this book, I hope that Coach Jarvis' experiences inspire you to find your purpose in life."
-Patrick Ewing, NBA Hall of Fame center

"Mike Jarvis' is one of my special friends. I am so pleased that he has taken the time to write this fabulous book."
-Mike Krzyzewski, Five-time NCAA championship head coach, Duke Blue Devils

"In reading this book, I can see that Mike hasn't lost his edge or his purpose. Readers should take a look at what he has to say."
-Jim Calhoun, Three-time NCAA champion, UConn Men's basketball

Review on Hoopville coming soon!

Hoopville Podcasts

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – March 17, 2018

March 17, 2018 by

In our latest podcast, there is one main story to focus on: history being made in Charlotte and its aftermath. But we also talk about tough times for the Pac-12 and a key member school, plus an added challenge ahead at Pittsburgh.

College Basketball Tonight – March 11, 2018

March 12, 2018 by

College Basketball Tonight returns with a comprehensive look at the NCAA Tournament bracket, and in the second segment Mount St. Mary’s head coach Jamion Christian joins us.

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – March 10, 2018

March 10, 2018 by

As Championship Week nears its climax on the big Saturday, we look at a pair of semifinals and a lot of bubble teams that may be sweating it out on Sunday.

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – March 8, 2018

March 8, 2018 by

As Championship Week heats up, we talk about bubble teams who may or may not want to earn their way into the NCAA Tournament, as well as a couple of mid-majors whose conference championship game was played earlier in the week.

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – February 22, 2018

February 22, 2018 by

In our latest podcast, we start with floor issues in the Big East and an important NCAA ruling that was upheld. Then we go on to the Big 12, where Wednesday night had a new twist, as well as the ACC and how it shapes up along with no team going undefeated in conference play this year.

Phil Kasiecki on Twitter

Recruiting Coverage

Lincoln captures Hamilton Park title

August 15, 2017 by

For the first time, a public school won the Hamilton Park Summer League, and they were led by a big effort from a junior point guard in the title game.

Notes from a day at the 2017 Boston Shootout

June 12, 2017 by

Some news and notes coming from the second and final day of action at the 2017 Boston Shootout, where the host program provided plenty of talent, but so did a program that produced a team that beat them.

Notes from a day at the 2017 Northeast Hoops Festival

April 11, 2017 by

The Northeast Hoops Festival helped bring in the new spring travel season in New England, and we have notes from some of Saturday’s action.

2016 Boston Back to School Showcase notes

September 12, 2016 by

We look back at the 2016 Boston Back to School Showcase, where a couple of Boston City League teams were among the most impressive on the day.

2016 Hoopville Spring Finale championship recap

June 28, 2016 by

We look back at the championship games of the 2016 Hoopville Spring Finale, which had a big local flavor as one might have expected.