The rising stars of the boys basketball team

by Andrew Feinberg and Joey Giragos, Sports Reporters
photo by Timmy Trotman

While juniors and seniors typically fill varsity rosters of high school sports teams, this year, Coach Steve Matthews has changed course by giving six freshmen coveted spots on the boys varsity basketball team. Matthews said his choice has paid off so far.

“We have more freshmen on the varsity team than we’ve had in a while,” he said. “They’ve done a nice job. Even though they’re young, they’re definitely earning their spot on the team.” 

With six freshmen, three sophomores, six juniors and two seniors, the team is younger than expected. After multiple stars from last year’s team graduated or transferred to private schools, Matthews was left to build from the ground up, a decision that surprised — and in some cases frustrated — the student body.

Captain senior Itai Rotem said that some of his upperclassmen teammates who were cut struggled with the decision. 

 “I know some of the guys who got cut — they were frustrated,” he said. “It probably hurt a little more since a freshman got a spot over them, but at the end of the day, that’s what the coach chose and you kind of have to respect it. I certainly did.”

Juniors and seniors got cut not only from the varsity team, but also the JV team, which only recently has become limited to just sophomores and freshmen. Instituted last season, this rule is specific to South.

Like many of the new recruits, freshman Tyson Robinson said that he was excited when he found out he had made the team. 

“I was definitely super excited. I’ve only really been playing basketball seriously for [around] a year and a half,” he said. “For me, all the hard work I’ve put in is really paying off. I was just super stoked.”

While the transition to varsity level was difficult at first for the six freshmen, freshman Cainan Weeresinghe said that he has grown more comfortable as the season has gone on.

“It’s definitely a big jump,” he said. “I feel like at the beginning of the season all of us felt the [age] disparity, but just getting more and more experience, it gets more and more natural playing with bigger kids.”

Freshman Jacob Tubman said playing at the varsity level has been a new experience from competing in other leagues. 

“It’s definitely different, but our town basketball coach prepared us a lot to compete at a higher level like this,” he said. “It hasn’t been as bad as I thought … but it’s more serious and physical.”

As a team captain, one of Rotem’s roles is mentoring the freshmen throughout the course of the season, and he said that the players have made impressive progress so far. 

“In the beginning, they were all kind of unsure about how much they would play, what their role would be on the team, but by now every single one of them has a chance to win us the game,” he said.

Despite the wider age range, Tubman said that the team plays as a unit. He said that he’s learned from those with more years on the team.

“It’s fun to be able to compete with people who are older than you and are more experienced. They teach you a lot, and I think we’re all getting a lot better playing with them,” he said.

Robinson said that the team’s chemistry contributes to their cohesive play on the court.  

“It’s easier to play with someone that you know, [especially when] you know their strengths and you are friends with them,” he said.

Weeresinghe said much of the team was surprised at how well the team worked together. In addition to building teamwork on the court, he said that team dinners and bonding activities have cultivated a positive environment for learning and playing.

“I feel like the team chemistry is actually a lot better than what most people expected,” he said. “Over winter break, there was a team Minecraft server, and we would play Fortnite Creative with each other, which was hilarious. Those small things like that really brought the team together.”

Rotem said that even though the underclassman-heavy team was unexpected, he prioritizes fostering as inclusive of an environment as possible.

“I’ve talked to my coach about it, and there’s a reason for everything,” he said. “The coach has a job to make the best team possible, [and] this is the team he chose to make it the best possible.”

Through the challenges and adjustments of the season, Matthews said that the team has remained positive.

“[The team] generally seems to be excited every day when they come in to get work done. They have a really good energy about them.”

No matter the controversy, composition, or competition, the boy’s varsity team is young, aggressive and ready to compete. Only time will tell what’s in store for this group in 2023 and beyond.