Head Coach Paul Liner walked into Thursday’s practice with his boys varsity basketball team and asked his squad to keep working hard during a team huddle.
Once each player escaped the pre-practice meeting, Liner then glanced up at a banner that hangs on the far side of the A-Gym and stared at the list of opponents this season that he and his team will face in the Bay State Conference.
“As I look at the banner, [I know] everybody’s good and you can’t look at that banner of the Bay State [Conference] and say, ‘I think so-and-so is going to be a win, and so-and-so is going to be a loss.’ Everyone’s good,” Liner said. “Every night is a battle to get a win in the Bay State, and it’s a challenge for coaches to get to that magic 10 wins and qualify for states because every night teams want to play. It’s my hope that after 16 games, we’ll be right there with everyone else.”
Luckily for ’s boys varsity basketball squad, they won 12 games last season but failed to advance past their second playoff contest against the eventual Division I South champion Mansfield Hornets.
“[Against] Mansfield, it was close at halftime, but it just slipped away in the second half. We learned that as long as we stick together and exhibit good chemistry, we’ll be alright,” said Needham senior co-captain Shy Davis.
Similar to Davis, senior co-captains Kevin Farley and Zach Nussbaum are also convinced that despite losing to the Hornets, the Rockets gained a great deal of experience that will help them be competitive this year, especially against non-conference foes.
“We can play with a team like Mansfield,” Farley said. “I think the fact that we can play with top competition is good, as long as we keep our heads in the game."
“I think from Mansfield we learned that we can play with some of the bigger teams because [that particular] first half, we played well,” Nussbaum said. “We’re a little bit more prepared for a big time game like that.”
Needham will face two non-conference squads this year—Lexington High School and East Lyme—and Liner expects the Rockets to be competitive in both games.
“There are two ways to go. Some people schedule really tough opponents, and some people realize, ‘wow, we play such a tough schedule as it is,’ but what I’ve learned and what I’ve seen the better teams doing is scheduling very tough competition, and that comes back to help them,” Liner said.
After facing the Minutemen, Liner and his crew will travel to Dedham High School on Friday, Dec. 16 for their first conference game of the season before returning home against Brookline High School. Of course, he and his players would like to start the season with a few victories.
“It is real important to earn some wins in December,” Davis said.
“Our main goal this year is to win the Bay State and advance far in the playoffs, so every Bay State game is huge,” Farley said.
The Rockets will certainly be a team to watch this season, especially since various media outlets in Boston have pegged them to be a squad that’s going to be competitive in the Bay State Conference.
“Three keys for a successful season would be working hard in practice, staying together as a team and working hard every game,” Nussbaum said.
“We’re happy with what we’ve done in three years in Needham since I’ve been here and we want to continue to build and to grow," Liner said.