by Roger Wistar
The boys varsity basketball team is already attracting attention around campus, but this year, fans of the team will need to look primarily in one direction: up.
With four players at least 6'7" tall (Kyle Jenkins '20, Dubem Anwunah '20, Adria Amabilino Perez '18, and Szilveszter Palvolgyi '19), the team has added considerable size and length, but new head coach Yassine Talhaoui stresses that the team's potential comes from much more than just raw athletic talent.
"We are fortunate to attract student-athletes who happen to be tall, but who are also academically gifted," said Talhaoui, who has moved into the head spot after a year with the team last season as an assistant. "It makes us more competitive in rebounding around the rim, and allows us to run a number of plays that we couldn't last year."
For Talhaoui, taking the reins means revamping the entire boys basketball program, and he said he has a three-year plan to bring the program back to the New England tournament and eventually compete for league titles. "This is just year one," he adds.
One important piece to the team's philosophy is connecting all three boys basketball teams together, and particularly creating a more fluid arrangement between the varsity and JV teams. This year, some of the varsity players will be "swing players" who will get significant game experience with the JV team, preparing them to have a greater role on the varsity next season.
The team boasts a considerable transformation on the court as well as on the bench, with only five returning players from last year. The result is a squad that Talhaoui describes as "young", with seven preps and lower mids.
The team is fortunate to have older and younger players at each key position, said Talhaoui, and the blending of the experience of the older players with the enthusiasm of the younger players has created a positive team dynamic, he said.
One of the major steps that the team took to bring so many new players together was a week-long trip to Germany over Thanksgiving Break. Twelve members of the team went on a cultural exchange that included exhibition games against several top youth club teams, as well as meaningful experiences such as visiting famous landmarks in Cologne and a trip to the Buchenwald concentration camp site.
"It definitely brought our team much closer together, which will hopefully show on the court throughout the season," said co-captain Tavien Kemp '18.
For the coaching staff, the trip to Germany was a metaphor for the philosophy of building student-athletes that Talhaoui is eager to promote. "We don't want these young men to be solely labeled as basketball players," he said. "We want them to be student-athletes who happen to play and love basketball but also take advantage and appreciate all the opportunities that Hotchkiss has to offer."
Kemp and fellow captain Ryan O'Neill '18 both agreed that the new talent and the composition of this year's squad gives the team tremendous flexibility on both offense and defense, with many players able to take on multiple roles on the team.
Talhaoui agreed, adding that the team hopes to use its speed to generate good scoring opportunities through lots of motion. "We know that anyone on the court is capable of shooting and scoring," he said.
On defense, the team looks to use its size and speed to apply pressure to teams and force turnovers that can be turned into easy transition baskets. "Coach always talks about wanting to be known as the team nobody enjoys playing against," said Kemp. "Good defense will lead to good offense."