Greenwich High hoopsters have their sights set for the ‘Sun’

Greenwich High senior captain Alex Wolf drives to the hoop during a game last season. — John Ferris Robben photo

Greenwich High senior captain Alex Wolf drives to the hoop during a game last season. — John Ferris Robben photo

With a lot of talent returning from last year’s team, the Greenwich High School boys basketball team finds itself staring at the sun quite a bit.

And why not? Not only does Greenwich look to advance deep in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference postseason this season, but it can also see itself competing at the CIAC class LL championship game, which will be played at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville.

“Our practice jerseys this year say, ‘Commit to the Sun,’” said Greenwich High head coach Bill Brehm. “Our goal is to win the state championship and win the league. We want to make a commitment each and every day to compete in practice and work hard. We feel like if we could get the most out of our players, every day in practice, then we are going to be successful in our games. That’s going to be our main focus this year.”

Last season, the Cardinals entered the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference class LL tournament as the No. 24 seed and battled No. 9-seeded and fellow FCIAC foe Ridgefield High School in the opening round. Although Greenwich trailed by one, 24-23, at the break and held a three-point lead with one quarter to play, the Tigers outscored Big Red 24-10 in the final frame to advance.

Although Big Red finished the season 11-11 on the season, Brehm started his offseason knowing that the majority of his players are coming back and will be a year more mature.

“We have a lot of seniors on the team, so we have a lot of experience this season,” Brehm said. “We have some really experienced offensive players, like C.J. [Byrd] and Alex [Wolf] and some defensive guys that really bring up the intensity, like John [Palmer] and Kyle [Foote]. They have all played together for at least a year now.”

Due to such a large senior class, Big Red will have four captains, as seniors Tommy Povinelli, C.J. Byrd, Alex Wolf, and Jonathan Palmer will lead the team.

“It feels great to be a leader on the team,” Byrd said. “To be a role model is a great feeling, but it also puts pressure on me. I have to make sure not to make any mistakes and I have to be an example. I have to give 100% or else my teammates aren’t going to follow my footsteps.”

Brehm said Palmer had captain written all over him much earlier than this season, just by the way he handles himself on and off the court.

“It’s really exciting to be a member of this team and to lead them,” Palmer said. “I am more of a supporting role to our two best players, but I still plan on helping out any way that I can to make the team better.”

“He’s intense during every second of every practice and during games,” Brehm said. “All of his actions are something leaders do, and you never have to worry about him in the classroom or off the court. He’s very coachable and never asks questions about why. He just does it.”

Last season, Wolf averaged a double-double for Big Red, and this year Brehm would like to see his dominating big man continue that trend and also add to those totals.

“I definitely need to dominate in every game I play,” Wolf said. “I’m the biggest kid in the league and I am going to have to play like the biggest kid in the league.”

In addition, Brehm said, he wants Wolf to increase his communication with the team.

“Last year, being new to the school, he was playing as well as he could, but wasn’t saying a lot,” Brehm said. “He feels more comfortable with the team, talks more in practices and gives opinions. That’s key. The kids on the team know he has to get the ball. He has to establish the paint. If we can control the paint like we know he can, he will get the ball. He’s going to draw double and triple teams, so he needs to kick it out. He’s looking to do a better job of that this year.”

For Greenwich’s big man, being one of the leaders on the team is a huge honor.

“It’s a great feeling,” Wolf said. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been captain in my life and I really feel like I’m taking a leadership role on the team. I’m motivating everybody at practice and making sure everybody is working hard. We want to have a great season this year.”

Povinelli will be one of the team’s point guards and is one of the most unselfish players on the team.

“I love being a captain of this team, and it’s going to be a great season,” Povinelli said. “I am looking forward to helping the younger guys. The most important thing for us will be to make sure C.J. and Alex get the ball and to play tough defense.”
Brehm said Povinelli is successful because he’s such a team player.

“He makes a lot of people better because he’s not always trying to shoot the ball,” Brehm said. “He gets a lot of his teammates involved. However, he needs to shoot the ball when he’s open. He’s really good at shooting threes. We need him to be a quarterback for us, both vocally and getting kids to do things by controlling the basketball.”

Byrd is one of the slashers on the team. While never afraid to drain the outside shot, Byrd also had no trouble cutting through the opposing team’s defense with some stellar ball moves and drive the lane.

“He’s a very talented player for us,” Brehm said. “He needs to play defense, he needs to score and rebound, as well as he needs to be intense every second on the court. We are looking for him to do it all in terms of skills because he’s incredibly talented and can do it all.”

When it comes to shooters, Griffin Golden will be a key for Brehm, who said the junior always seems to be in the right place at the right time.

“He can shoot the three as well, and has a nose for the ball,” Brehm said. “He will take charges and get rebounds when needed. When you see him, you don’t think he’s a basketball player, but he does the right things and is very talented.”

In addition, senior Kyle Foote will be playing a defensive role for Big Red, while Patrick Santini will use his speed and agility and be the team’s point guard. Junior Leonel Hyatt will also see a lot of important minutes on the court and will be needed for key rebounds and baskets under the hoop.

Newcomer to the team sophomore Alberto Larraguibel has the skills to see some quality time on the varsity squad.
For this year’s team to be successful, Brehm said, the formula hasn’t changed from previous teams.

“I always talk about rebounds, turnovers and free throws,” Brehm said. “If you win two of those, you’re going to win the game most of the time. All that comes with experience. I want them to get to the free throw line and knock down 70%, limit their turnovers to 10 or less a game and want to win the battle of the boards. I think we have enough experience to do all of those.”

Offensively, Big Red will have numerous looks, as Brehm plans to have his offense read the opposing team’s defense.
“If we have numbers, we need to go to the hoop,” Brehm said. “We want to push the ball. If we have numbers and have a big guy, a slasher and a decent point guard, that’s a good thing. If we don’t have numbers, we are going to be methodical and run our offense. Defensively, we are going to be playing zone, man, full court, half court, and traps.”

Later today at 5, the Cardinals will open its season at home against New Canaan High School. Check out for recap of the game.

A big change for Big Red this season will take place during the Christmas break. Instead of the team’s usual competition in the annual LaVista Holiday Tournament, Greenwich will board a coach bus the day after Christmas and travel 11 hours to Hazard, Ky., for the TECO Coal Commodore Classic at Perry Central High School.

“We are going to have some really good competition,” Byrd said. “We are looking forward to it, because anytime we can play teams that are the same level or better, it will only better our team.”

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Wolf said. “It’s the first time that Greenwich has gone to a different state for a basketball tournament, so it’s going to be a great team-bonding experience. It will help us get a lot closer and help us play as a unit.”
In addition to Big Red, three teams will be from Kentucky, while the other team will be from Ohio.

“We are looking at it as a great way to build some continuity and chemistry,” Brehm said. “We are going to play teams that are very good. It’s a travel day, two days of basketball and a travel day. We are looking forward to it.”

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