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CUMBERLAND â Basketball-wise, Tom Lazaras, Mitchell Baxter and Trent Vasey werenât going to teach Ben Bradley, Dylan Boisclair, Rob Reedy and Greg Joubert anything new. Yet in order to reach the championship destination that Cumberland Highâs basketball camp dropped anchor upon last weekend, the first group of Clipper triplets had to do some gardening.
To summarize, Lazaras, Baxter and Vasey planted the seeds for a âwe can do thisâ environment â one that quickly became contagious among Cumberlandâs ranks. All three seniors were instrumental in the Clippersâ Division II Super Bowl last fall and all three carried that winning pedigree from the gridiron to the hardwood.
Needless to say, the tangible that shifted from one sport to the next did not go unnoticed by the core of basketball players who welcomed the football champs with open arms.
âWhen the football kids came, they were all on cloud nine and feeling good,â stated Bradley earlier this week in preparation for Thursdayâs first-round state tournament game against The Prout School at Roger Williams University. âThey also brought a lot of energy. They just changed the mood to the point that we all wanted it a little more.â
Added Lazaras, Cumberlandâs safety-turned point-guard, âFootball season gave us a ton of confidence.â
To compare the makeup of a basketball team with a football outfit is one of those apples and oranges arguments that seemingly make little sense. Yet when viewing Cumberlandâs helmet-and-cleats faction alongside the schoolâs baggy-shorts-and-sneakers unit, there exists a common theme.
Both groups of young men embody T-E-A-M. The football Clippers were solid across the board; not a single player stood head and shoulders above his peers. Such an observation could also be pinned upon head coach Gary Reedyâs basketball lot. Bradley, Boisclair and Lazaras all average between 13-15 points with the rest of the core undertaking roles that allows them to flourish within the concept of âone for all, all for one.â
âWe have great individual talent here, but no one is scoring 30 points a night,â points out Baxter, a wide receiver who nowadays is asked to come off the basketball bench and lock down the opposing teamâs top perimeter threat. âWe have that winning mentality and know what to do with it.â
With basketball tryouts going on while Cumberland was putting the finishing touches on a memorable football campaign, Reedy asked his three captains â son Rob along with Bradley and Boisclair â to hold down the fort until the cavalry arrived. Needless to say, not having several key pieces made for some uneven practice sessions.
âIt was just so out of whack,â recalled Gary Reedy. âWe were mixing and matching.â
The head coach understood that it would take some time to jell once Lazaras, Baxter and Vasey officially came onboard. While the football conquerors got in basketball shape, Reedy reminded his basketball players to take notice of the winning glow surrounding them.
âI said to our basketball guys that this could be you in another two months,â said Reedy, whose prophecy was fulfilled when Cumberland defeated Shea for the Division II title. âGuys like Ben and Dylan were starting to say âHey, we can do this too.ââ
âThey came in here and brought competitiveness to games and practice,â notes Boisclair. âThey brought a sense of winning and how we can do it too.â
Baxter and his football-turned-basketball counterparts enjoyed a memorable stretch where wins fell into place like a row of dominos. After dropping a non-league contest to Cranston West in late September, Cumberlandâs football crew rattled off 12 straight wins. The basketball team opened the season with 11 straight triumphs before the streak was halted against Narragansett on Jan. 9.
âSome of the football players missed the first two games [of basketball], so it was great to see that they had continued that winning pedigree,â said Baxter. âWe never thought about the (24-game winning streak spanning two sports) until it ended. (Losing) was a feeling we werenât used to, but Iâm kind of glad it ended because it taught us that weâre not invincible.â
As disciples of Cumberland football head coach Chris Skurka, Baxter, Lazaras and Vasey possess a defense-first mentality that can be seen every time Reedy orders his players to pick up full-court. Against league foes during the regular season, Cumberlandâs hoopsters surrendered on average 52.3 ppg. In the divisional playoffs, opponents averaged exactly 55 points in three games against Reedy & Co.
Again, lets go back to the autumn and remember that Baxter, Lazaras and Vasey were central figures in the punishing of pigskin foes. Cumberland wound up posting four shutouts while permitting 61 points in 12 games against Division II competition.
âMitch and Trent are good defenders in football and basketball âŠ their aggressiveness pushes everybody,â Bradley noted. âObviously itâs different sports so you canât be as physical in basketball; theyâre not hacks but they will push you around.â
Perhaps its Vasey, a player dubbed ârock quietâ by his basketball coach, who summed it up best about what a collection of tough-nosed football gladiators brought to Cumberlandâs basketball realm.
âItâs not that we taught them how to win. Itâs just that we brought over our hard work in practice and showed them how we did it during football,â said Vasey, a key Clipper hoops reserve who also starred as a tight end/defensive end.
At Cumberland, winning breeds winning. Itâs also pretty easy to pinpoint where such a sentiment comes from.