After nearly reaching the top of the mountain last season, the boys basketball team has returned with a sense of purpose and a deep, talented roster.
“They all felt we had some unfinished business from last year,” said head coach Yassine Talhaoui of his previous squad, who finished the season 24-4 with a narrow 84-79 loss to Loomis in the NEPSAC championship game.
When Talhaoui brought out the runner-up trophy to this year’s practice and asked the players what it meant to them, “they said we need to go back and undo it – we want a different color,” he said. “Everyone is working hard. Everyone is hungry,” he added.
As talented and successful as the team was last year, Talhaoui was equally enthusiastic about the potential the Bearcats could have had to win a title this year. Chief among the reasons for his optimism is the talent up and down the roster.
“This is by far the deepest team we’ve had in my time at Hotchkiss,” said Talhaoui. “This year we could have two very even line-ups coming off the bench. Any kid could start.”
The best evidence of the team’s balance came in the two weeks before Thanksgiving Break, when the team staged a seven-game intrasquad scrimmage series once full-contact practices were permitted. The Blue team defeated the White team by the narrowest of margins, 4-3, with multiple games going into overtime.
Talhaoui said he expected at least a dozen players on the current roster to play basketball at some level in college. Recruiting has taken on a different form this season – whereas last year the team enjoyed more than 80 visits from college courses, this year the team has had to share more virtual footage with recruiting schools.
One of the points of emphasis when the team returns for a full month of practice will be defense. Players will focus on communication and being more physical, said Talhaoui.
Although the realities of COVID have fundamentally altered the nature of the season, the players were focused on improvement from the moment they stepped on campus in September. During the fall season, players worked with Director of Athletic Performance and Fitness Brodie Quinn several times a week and worked out with coaches two times per week, a hybrid of outdoor and indoor work.
“I’m in awe – I’m beyond proud with the way they’ve been handling it,” said Talhaoui. “They’re an incredibly resilient group.”