HARWICH – What do you get when you have 17 stellar basketball players, a season of successful games, and one exciting championship victory? You get the stellar fourth and sixth grade teams in the Monomoy Travel Basketball program, both of which went undefeated in their regular seasons this winter, and their winning ways aren't over yet.
The 2018-2019 season of the Monomoy boys fourth grade team began in early December when the Sharks kicked things off with back-to-back wins against Mashpee and Barnstable, giving fans and opponents a glimpse of what was to come.
From that weekend on, the wins piled up until, after playing to a regular season record of 15-0, the grade four squad emerged victorious in their Feb. 9 championship game against South Plymouth with a commanding 54-30 win for a 16-0 overall record.
So what is it that makes this young team so successful? Head coach Kevin Flynn said it's their determination and desire.
“We have an excellent group,” he said. “We have eight very competitive kids. None of them want to leave the court. Any time we change, they're not happy about it. They want to be on the court.”
Flynn said that while a few focus solely on basketball, most of his team members play multiple sports, which he said helps each student athlete in myriad ways.
“You can't beat sports for staying focused, having goals to work towards, being healthy, being accountable,” Flynn said. “They spend a lot of time playing on their own. They want to be good players and they work at it. From a players perspective they're all in.”
What might surprise those in attendance at the team's games given their obvious skills is that practices are typically more about fun than intensively running drill after drill.
“A lot of these kids go to a before-school program and an after-school program, so they're away from the house for eight or nine hours. By that point they're kind of zapped,” Flynn said, adding that to get the kids in the practice mindset, he's got a key strategy. “You run them right out of the gate so they get tired relatively quick and then they can focus.”
From there, Flynn said he and fellow coach Jared Reeves try to break practice activities down into small groups.
“Sometimes we only have seven kids for practice, so we'll do some 3-on-3 drills working on defense,” Flynn said. “And one player will shoot by themselves for 10 or 15 minutes, which is very beneficial.”
Reeves and Flynn also try to make learning the basics of basketball enjoyable through friendly competition during practices.
“When we run, it's not just running. Nobody wants to just run. We race,” Flynn said. “We play games. I think with young people if they have an opportunity to win something, they're much more focused and have a lot more excitement than if they're just doing a drill. You need to have something to work towards.”
Flynn said it's also important that the coaches get to know their players so they can better position them on the court.
“Any of the good teams, whether it's the Patriots or another professional team, there are good players,” Flynn said. “It's the coaches’ job to put them where they can succeed. Basketball is a lot of one-to-one match-ups. It's the coaches' job to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each player, and then put them in the best position to succeed individually, and then put them in the right spots so that they can work together as a team.”
Fortunately for Flynn, his team truly loves the game of basketball and come game time is ready to go.
“They're self starters. They play hard,” he said. “It's my job and Jared's job to make sure that they're in a position where they can do their things. We have some guys that handle the ball better, and some guys are better defenders. All of their individual skills are really on display. We let the fast kids run, we let the ball handlers handle the ball, and everybody works with that.”
Another added benefit of their participation in the youth hoops program is that it helps minimize their screen time.
“I think that one of the best things about sports is that you're forced to get away from that,” Flynn said. “The hard part is getting them there, but once you get them there they have all this built-up energy so they're really waiting for an outlet. It doesn't matter what the sport is. You need to give them some type of competition.”
To ensure solid competition, Flynn's crew is aware that scoring points is what helps lead a team to victory.
“We try to make the shots that go in,” Flynn said. “They can make layups almost all day long, so we have to figure out how we can put the ball in the bucket doing layups. Some of the other coaches, from what I've seen around the league, their kids are just heaving up shots and I don't think they're doing any favors by letting them continue to shoot. Obviously you need to shoot as part of the game, but you need to score more points than the other team, so you take the shots that are going to go in. That's what we do. We do things that are going to be productive for the team, and I think the record speaks for itself.”
Flynn said the team's mindset regarding game play is also key.
“We take it one game at a time,” said Flynn. “We're never playing the other team. We're just trying to improve on what we did. We're trying to do better than we did last week or not make the mistakes that we did in the last game.”
But for Flynn, there's an even more important aspect of coaching that has little to do with the outcome of a game or the winning of trophies.
“These are great kids. It doesn't matter if they play a lot of sports or not. All the kids have the potential to accomplish great things if they're given an opportunity and they're given an environment in which that's encouraged,” he said. “You need to positively reinforce individual successes. Small things make a big difference to the kids. To be able to be a part of a team like this is a special thing. It's an undefeated team and it doesn't happen very often.”
The day after the fourth grade team went to battle against Barnstable in the playoffs, the sixth grade team triumphed against Nauset in a morning outing at Monomoy Middle School and capped off the day with a win against Plymouth South. Though they fell to Wareham by one point in the championship, the stellar sixth graders will represent the Monomoy program in post-season play in March. Head coach Sean Grogan said that while their first loss of the season was a tough one, his team has much to celebrate.
“Last year these boys lost this same league championship game and then went on to win 32 consecutive games, including the state championship and went undefeated for a full calendar year,” Grogan said. “They’re so amazing!”
Playing a slightly more intense version of basketball than their younger counterparts, the grade six squad opened its 2018-2019 season with a 51- 35 win against Bourne and a 44-40 victory against Wareham. From there, the winning continued until the end of the regular season, resulting in a stellar 15-0 record.
Grogan said his team plays at a level that mirrors that of their Monomoy Regional High School counterparts.
“Everything we're trying to bring back at the high school level was there,” he said of his team's recent playoff games.
Grogan said what makes the sixth grade team so successful is their connections to one another off the court.
“They're friends first,” he said. “They've grown up together and all love each other. One of the best things to watch is how hard they play together, but they're having a blast. It's enjoyable to watch.”
Grogan said that rather than allowing their winning ways to go to their heads, his team members keep things in perspective, using their success as motivation.
“They use it to push themselves to keep getting better,” Grogan said. “They follow the standings, the scores, and are always trying to get better every day we practice and every weekend we play.”
Grogan explained that there's a bit of a difference in game play from the fourth to the sixth grade level.
“There's a little more to do when you get to the sixth grade level,” he said. “When you're in fourth, you can't press with the exception of the last couple minutes, so when someone gets a rebound you have to let them have it. In sixth grade you can press the whole game and play zone defense the whole game.”
The head coach likens it to the style of play traditionally seen at the high school or college level.
“I would think it's the same as you'd see at [those levels],” he said. “We try to play as much as we can. If I had to think about our practices, we shoot a million three-pointers, a million free throws, and run through our offensive and defensive sets, and then we scrimmage.”
The hard work has paid off repeatedly. In recent outings, Grogan's team netted 22 three-pointers, 12 in the semifinals and another 10 in the championship game.
“The three-point shot is a big weapon for us,” Grogan said.
Grogan is quick to give his players all the credit.
“I just ask that they play as hard as they can and they do the rest,” he said. “We try to play as fast as we can and take every open shot that we get.”
Reflecting on the players, Grogan comes up with a wealth of positives. The team is led by Tamarr Washington and Finn Hyora, with Washington proving one of the best point guards around, while Hyora is the king of rebounds.
“He gets every rebound in sight,” Grogan said. “And he can score in the low post and outside the three point line. He’s a matchup nightmare for other teams. Tamarr's ball handling skills are mesmerizing. He’s also a great passer, shooter and defender. He doesn’t have a weakness.”
Then there's Jackson Rocco, whom Grogan said is “great on the open floor” with a penchant for hitting three-point shots, as is Grogan's son Brady, who sunk seven three-pointers against South Plymouth.
Grogan describes Braden Burke as the team's spark plug, and Chase Yarletts as a player defenders are loathe to defend against.
“Braden is the emotional leader of the team, and Chase is able to outrace defenders to the hoop in transition and can defend the opposing teams point guard.”
Chase Robbins brings a number of important skills to the game defensively and offensively, while Chevy Shakespeare, a newcomer to the team, is a solid athlete with impressive speed. Fellow newcomer Zach Vagenas rounds out the squad, and adds toughness, according to Grogan.
“He played a huge role in four of our wins this year,” Grogan said. “We wouldn't have won those games without him.”
Though disappointed in their loss to Wareham in the championship, Grogan is proud of the way the team took it.
“The best part of the whole thing was how well they handled it,” he said. “They're champs on an off the court. The kids couldn't handle it any better than they did.”
Now the Sharks have their sights set on post-season play, likely in Foxborough, where they'll join the grade four and five teams.
“I think all three teams are going to support each other,” Grogan said. “All those grades will all be in high school together. The future looks awesome.”