This one though, was unlike the others, not only for the way in which it was won at the very end, but also for all of the ups and downs in the four months leading up to that point.
Coming into the season, head coach Jason Smith assembled another roster loaded with individual talent…Jalen Lecque, Terrence Clarke, Alonzo Gaffney, Kai Jones, Anthony Walker, Jamal Mashburn Jr, Joel Brown, and more.
It was no surprise that the Bobcats sat atop virtually every pre-season prep poll.
Adversity hit early though, with a pair of losses at the National Prep Showcase in November, and it quickly became clear that while the team featured tremendous long-term prospect there were more holes in their current games than initially advertised prior to their arrival.
The team went on to win 29 regular season games but didn’t seem to be building momentum down the stretch of the season like most Brewster teams from recent years. Their struggles to truly come together were perhaps never better exemplified than at last Sunday’s NEPSAC finals when they gave away a double-figure lead and lost to Northfield Mount Hermon.
That loss caused the Bobcats to slip to the 8th overall seed in the National Prep Championship bracket, setting up what appeared to be an insurmountable task for a team that was once considered to be the heavy favorite for the national title.
What occurred over a two-day window at Connecticut College though was a historic run of unprecedented proportions as the collective group finally banded together, learned to fight through some adversity, and in so doing became the first team in the 13-year history of the National Prep Championship to win four games in a two-day period.
After an opening round win over IMG Academy, the quarterfinal match-up between Brewster and top-seeded Woodstock was quite possibly the prep school game of the year. It went back and forth the entire way, with both teams holding leads within the final two minutes and only decided when Brown went the length of the floor in the final seconds of the game to beat the buzzer for the game winner.
Coming into Thursday morning’s semifinals, most expected the physical toll of Wednesday’s two games to eventually catch-up with the Bobcats, but it never happened, even when star sophomore Terrence Clarke went down with an injury in the semis. Instead, Brewster’s energy seemed to grow as they were rebounding above the rim, winning 50/50 balls, knocking down big shots, and seeing various players step-up and contribute at different times.
Ultimately, Brewster ran away with the finals over Scotland Campus, completing their historic run in the process.
In the aftermath of the win there was so much to reflect on and plenty of credit to pass around.
Lecque took MVP honors for his efforts throughout the tournament while Mashburn was the star of the final and Brown the hero of the quarterfinals. Jones made an unlikely three to tie that QF in the final minutes while Walker busted open the final with a pair of threes of his own. Gaffney came alive in the semis while Ben Baker-McMann provided a major spark off the bench in the second half. Zane Meeks provided key long-range shooting throughout the run.
Perhaps the one who deserves the most credit though is the man who built this program, which is now the standard by which all other prep programs are judged, from the ground up.
Years ago, when Jason Smith was one of the NEPSAC’s youngest coaches, he was known as an excellent recruiter. That is certainly still true today, but nobody makes the mistake of leaving it at that anymore. He gets elite talent because he understands how to connect with them and has no interest in being in the limelight himself.
In a day and age where top young prospects are perhaps more celebrated and coddled than ever before, Smith is the coach who holds the brightest of stars accountable and is willing to tell them what they don’t want to hear. He’s also an elite competitor in his own rite, an attribute which willed his team to victory this week, as his kids began to mimic the fire they were seeing on the bench.
That’s why ultra-talented players continue to make their way to Wolfeboro, New Hampshire in the dead of winter and it’s also why the walls of the Smith Center continue to fill up with championship banners and NBA jerseys…the latest of which has now been ordered.