Coventry hoops growing up with new faces

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

COVENTRY TWP.  In a time when life being delayed or behind schedule has become the norm, the Coventry boys basketball team is an exception.

The Comets entered the year with a lot of new faces and not many established members of its rotation, making it seem unlikely they'd be a factor in the Metro Athletic Conference race against more veteran squads like Norton and Streetsboro.

There's still a long way to go in the MAC race, but the early returns show a Coventry team that's a few steps ahead of where many expected them to be. At 4-3 in the league entering this week, they've flashed plenty of promise.

"It's extremely exciting for the fact that we're considered a really young team that had only one starter back in Cam Ray, so to be where we're at especially during these trying times, we feel very fortunate in terms of staying healthy and getting better," head coach Devon McAfee said.

What has helped in the growth process, McAfee explained, is players' willingness to ask a lot of questions and do plenty of film study. Players get assignments to break down specific things in game film and they're able to bring that knowledge to the team as part of the preparation process for upcoming contests.

McAfee described the mindset of the group as "like a sponge," adding that understanding tendencies from opponents has allowed a roster that didn't have a normal, full offseason or preseason to begin the process of coming together as a group.

Because there are so many new faces and new starters, it may seem like the easiest path to success would be for Ray or another player to step up and carry the team to wins with outstanding individual efforts. However, that hasn't been the case for Coventry. Instead, their 5-10 record, despite a rugged schedule, and four wins in league games are byproducts of a collective effort built on balance.

"The thing that sticks out the most is that with any of our starters, it could be anyone's night," McAfee said."If they're hot, our guys do a good job of feeding them the ball and being unselfish distributing the ball offensively."

Last season, starting point guard Ronnie Thompson was the focal point offensively and was counted on to make plays and initiate scoring opportunities.

This year, there have been several games with multiple players scoring in double figures. Ray, juniors Landon Burkhart and Kamden McAfee, and senior Lucas Wagner have all taken turns carrying the scoring burden and the offense thrives on identifying mismatches and exploiting them. Conversely, if a specific player isn't shooting the ball well, the pattern has been for that player to find other ways to contribute, whether it's rebounding, diving for loose balls or making passes to set up teammates with good shots.

The uphill battle against Norton and Streetsboro is highlighted by the large number of returning starters and contributors the Panthers and Rockets had entering the season. Add in the fact that Coventry defeated Norton twice in three matchups last season to give the Panthers a bit of extra motivation.

What they do have is a win in hand against another main rival, having bested Springfield in the two teams' first meeting of the season (the rematch is Friday night). Because the two districts share a border, matchups in any sport tend to have an extra edge. Springfield's growth under first-year head coach Kyle Dack, which includes an overtime upset win over Woodridge last week, has added some juice to the rivalry.

"They were excited ... we tell them to enjoy rivalry games. When these moments come along, you only have them once, so you need to take advantage of them," McAfee said of the win over the Spartans. "Our guys were really excited because they're literally next door to us. Springfield in past hasn't been the greatest team recently, but they're under a new coach, they play hard and play together. When you have a team like that, you can't give them an ounce of momentum or any kind of opportunity because they'll take advantage of it."

Taking advantage of their opportunities is how the Comets have gotten off to a strong start and their new aim is to stay ahead of schedule, continue their progress and keep on moving forward.