Despite plethora of changes, Greenwich basketball still aiming high

Greenwich High School senior tri-captain Griffin Golden works the ball to the net during a game last year. — John Ferris Robben photo

Greenwich High School senior tri-captain Griffin Golden works the ball to the net during a game last year. — John Ferris Robben photo

Despite a new coach and new look, the Greenwich High School boys basketball team still have some high hopes heading into this winter season.

To say the Cardinals are replacing a lot is an understatement.

Last season Big Red had the season to remember. Greenwich lost only twice in the regular season and advanced to the FCIAC championship game before losing to Bridgeport Central, 80-72.

Greenwich continued its stellar season in the class LL tournament by beating Shelton, Wilton and No. 5 seed New Britain 59-54 to advance to the state semis for the first time in school history.

In addition, Alex Wolf was named Connecticut Gatorade Player of the Year.

However, the end of the season saw Wolf, along with CJ Byrd, Jonathan Palmer and Tommy Povinelli all graduate.

The longtime Greenwich head coach Bill Brehm, who took the team to the FCIAC championship game for the first time since the 2002 season stepped down from the team in May.

“We had some great chemistry in last year’s team,” GHS senior captain Griffin Golden said. “We spent a lot of time together and we were close, so that’s something that I am going to try and bring to this year’s team. We are still getting to know each other, but I see the chemistry improving. Last year was a great experience.”

Despite all the change, something that has been consistent is Greenwich’s hunger to be one of the best teams in the state.

Helping Big Red achieve that this year will be first-year head coach Patrick Heaton.

“It’s been a fantastic experience so far,” Heaton said. “I have enjoyed the community, the administration and the kids. The kids are working hard and getting ready. This is a fabulous program set up for me by coach Brehm. Those are some tough shoes to fill, but it’s made my job a lot easier in the transition.”

Prior to coaching Big Red, Heaton was the head coach for Pocono Mountain East High School, where he led his team to the Pocono Mountain Conference title game three times during his tenure.

“We are going to be defensive-minded and that’s a lot of the same,” Heaton said. “I am going to bring in a lot of high energy and we are going to play a similar brand of basketball. It’s going to be up tempo, quality man-to-man half-court defense and just let the kids play.”

This year’s team will be paced by tri-captains Leonel Hyatt, Golden and Alec Oropall.

“It feels awesome to lead the team,” Oropall said. “It’s my first time being a captain and it feels great. It’s amazing that all these guys look up to me and it’s something that I will take and help the team out this year. I’ve been telling the guys that this year’s team is very different from last year’s team. We need to realize that we are equally talented than that team. I think we are very deep. We all can play basketball, whether it’s rebounding, shooting or passing. Everybody is a great player.”

While the team has a trio of captains, it’s only Golden that will be suiting up to start the season. Heaton said that he’s hopeful Hyatt, who broke his thumb, will return around Christmas and Oropall, who sustained a hip injury, should return mid-January.

“I’ll be honest, last year I had a lot of anxiety playing in big games last year,” Golden said. “I got over that going into this year because I know how it feels to play in big games. I know there’s a lot of pressure, but I think I can handle that a lot better now.”

Despite the injuries to two-thirds of the captains, Heaton has high expectations for his leaders.

“I expect big things from them,” Heaton said. “Griff and Leonel were instrumental in last year’s team. I was able to watch tape from last year’s team and I saw that those two were two quality players. They contributed to a high-quality team. I expect all three of them to turn that experience of being on last year’s team to leadership for this year and show the way to the younger kids that wasn’t to get to the same.

“They all make my job a lot easier,” added Heaton. “They were the first three that I met when I took the position and they accepted me from day one. They bought into my vision of the program and work hard every day. That hard work rubs off on the other players.”

In addition to Hyatt and Oropall, another mainstay in the starting rotation this year, junior Nick Bartels, is sidelined with an injury. Bartels will play at the point when he returns, while Oropall will be positioned as a guard. Hyatt will be needed in the forward position, but could also play the guard at any point due to his stellar skill set.

“I see a really good team here and we are young,” Hyatt said. “We have fresh leg all the time and we are pretty deep in our bench. I think this is going to be a good team. Last year I saw our potential and saw guys that people didn’t think could play do really well. This year I want to prove more people wrong. Not a lot of people think Greenwich will go far, but we think we could be really good this year. We are really athletic and everybody can dribble and shoot. We can spread the ball around the floor a lot more than teams in the past.”

While Golden will be a leader on the court to start the season at small forward, other forwards seeing time early on for Big Red will be juniors Michael Gianopoulos and Kieran Carroll in the middle.

“Griffin struggled a little big in the first scrimmage, but since then he’s been stepping up offensively,” Heaton said. “He scored from many different places on the floor and kind of assumed the role as our leading scorer. He wants to do that this year and I think he has all the skills to do it.”

At the guard spots will be sophomore Conor Harkin at shooting guard,  junior Henry Golden, as well as fellow junior Joseph Lanni.

Seniors Addison Yost and Alex Tennenbaum will play point and join Oropall and Bartels when they return from injury. Other players logging key minutes for Greenwich at guard will be juniors Caroll Quinlin and Lester Harris. Big Red’s forwards will be junior Kevin Woodring, sophomore Connor Langan and  junior Victor Simonte.

“The biggest thing that we are bringing this year is hunger,” Heaton said. “Besides two players, no one really was able to be on the floor during that run last year. They witnessed it and they want to write their own history and have their own success. They have the goals of making the FCIAC and state playoffs and be as successful as they can be.”

Heaton believes that the strength of Big Red this year is it’s versatility. Because the Cards don’t have that 6’08” man in the middle and four guys that are between 6’02” and 6’05” that are athletic and can handle the ball, the team doesn’t have that go-to person. In addition, Greenwich has five more athletes that aren’t afraid to shoot the ball.

“Our versatility is one of our biggest strengths, but what we need to do in order to be successful in March is to understand that each possession is a very powerful play for us,” Heaton said. “Right now I think we turn the ball over way too much. We don’t value our passes or reverse the ball to the weak side as much as we should. I think those are growing pains. If we get to be a patient team that is fundamentally strong and limit our turnovers, I think we can be a really good team.”

While a lot has changed for Big Red this season, Heaton believes that the Cardinals are still going to represent the school the same way as some of the most talented teams have done in the past.

“It’s an open competition right to see who wants to step up and take minutes,” Heaton said. “We like to play eight to 11 guys, so if guys produce, they will get minutes. The biggest thing that hurts people’s minutes right now is taking care of the ball. We are going to be a man-to-man half court team because that suits our team right now. We will put pressure on the ball. Offensively we are going to spread the floor and use our ability to shoot the basketball at different positions to be patient and get a good shot. We aren’t going to slow things down.”

By participating in the comments section of this site you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and User Agreement

© Hersam Acorn. All rights reserved. The Greenwich Post, 10 Corbin Drive, Floor 3, Darien, CT 06820

Designed by WPSHOWER

Powered by WordPress