COVENTRY TWP. Coventry boys basketball is once again stepping into a new era.
The question for the Comets is whether this one can be as successful as the previous two. New head coach Devon McAfee becomes the third man to lead the program this decade, taking over the job in April after serving several seasons as the junior varsity coach and as a varsity assistant.
He takes over for Mike DiFalco, who enjoyed a pair of successful seasons on the bench, including a 17-win campaign in his first season at the helm.
"This year, we're really looking to rebuild. We lost a lot of great seniors to graduation," McAfee said, alluding to losing leading scorer Jaret Griffith and several other key contributors. "We are a really young team this season, with only one senior starter and a lot of sophomores and juniors playing a lot."
McAfee, who has also coached football and track at Coventry, steps in with an advantage because he's coached and worked with all of the players on his roster. He also works at the school, so there was no "getting to know you" process when he was named head coach.
Still, there was an adjustment simply because he and DiFalco have different styles.
"It did make it really easy because the guys knew who I was and what I stand for with discipline," McAfee said. "But it was also hard because some of the things that happened last year and the way we did things, it's different this year."
The key, he believes, is the players buying into a total team concept. To that end, one of the slogans for the season is, "We>Me," simply meaning that the team is bigger than any individual and what the Comets can do as a group is much greater than what they can do as a bunch of individuals.
The second slogan is 24/7/365, which entails being a Coventry basketball player on the court and off, representing the values and standards of the program wherever a player may be.
"It means being a basketball player on and off the court and also, when we had our team preview, we had all levels of Coventry basketball together from the youth level on up," McAfee said. "We also want to be active in the community and are looking to serve at a homeless shelter this month."
The lone senior starter on the team at this point is forward Devin Pauley, who has an experienced running mate in guard Ronnie Thompson. Thompson came to the program last season and quickly settled in as its primary ball handler. Now, with a year of varsity experience under his belt, he's being asked to fill a bigger role.
"He's our floor leader and Ronnie has come a long way over the summer," McAffee said. "He's really our floor general and we're asking a lot of him in terms of him handling the ball. He can score when we need him to, but he's a great facilitator for our other guys."
With six returning letterwinners, there is some experience on the roster, but also a large chunk of players whom McAfee coached on the JV squad last season. They moved up to fill the open spots on the roster and will be expected to contribute in a hurry.
The mix of veterans and new faces helped the Comets get off to a 2-1 start, playing their first two games on the road beating Rootstown and falling to Ellet before a 52-47 win against CVCA in the home opener. There will be more tests to come and ups and downs to endure, as is the case with any team, especially one with a new head coach and a new-look roster.
The Portage Trail Conference Metro Division is a meat grinder that will send tough foe after tough foe Coventry's way, testing their new coach, his staff and players. He succeeds DiFalco and DiFalco's predecessor, Lynn Wess, who helped the Comets snap a five-decade drought for league titles with back-to-back PTC Metro crowns.
Reaching that level again won't be easy, but the Comets plan to be at it 24/7/365, working together under their new leader and in a new direction.