When Luke Day took over the Brookline High basketball job last spring, he said by Feb. 1 of this year the Warriors would be in good shape.
Looks like he was a month off.
There have been plenty of shocking upsets of higher magnitude thus far in the MIAA Basketball State Tournament, both boys and girls, but this one raises plenty an eyebrow for the sheer margin of victory. In a D1 South first round matchup tonight at New Bedford, the Warriors shot out to a 24-4 first quarter lead and never looked back, leading 43-14 at the half and coming away with a very impressive 73-44 victory.
"Our kids did a really good job of understanding what we wanted to do offensively and defensively," Day said. "We wanted to be organized offensively against their press, and we wanted to stay on the dribble defensively. Those two things ended up being the right calls."
How dominant was Brookline tonight? Six-foot-6 junior Obi Obiora, a dominant paint presence, was left on the bench for most of the first half due to a misunderstanding on fouls -- Day thought Obiora had picked up two fouls early, when he just had one. Yet it didn't even matter, as junior Anthony Jennings led the way with 22 points and junior point guard Elijah Rogers owned the floor at both ends.
The 5-foot-10 Rogers, arguably one of the MIAA's more enticing Class of 2014 prospects, finished with 10 points to go along with eight assists and seven rebounds. Tasked with defending the Whalers' leading scorer Rylin Collazo all night, he racked up seven steals on the defensive end too.
"He's had a few games like that, where he had just 10 points but was in total control of the game at both ends of the floor," Day said. "He understood the pacing, when to attack, when to pull out, where the ball needed to be. He covered Collazo the whole night and did a fantastic job on him. Elijah showed what he's capable of doing, and we just fed off it."
How high is Rogers' ceiling? Day doesn't hesitate to call him "a scholarship player, without question."
"People don't even know how smart he is, and I don’t even think he gets it sometimes," Day said. "He's learning to use his head more, I just think he's understanding how to control the game without scoring. He's understanding leadership, how kids look up to him.
"Like all of us, we all had our ups this year, but I'm really pleased with his progress. I feel really fortunate to coach him. I'll be watching him on TV some day."
The Warriors came into the tournament as a No. 12 seed at 12-8 and overall sporadic -- following up, say, a nice win over Newton North with some forgettable losses. But considering last week's win over Catholic Memorial; tonight's surprise blowout; and a nucleus of Rogers, Obiora, Jennings and Lake Berry that on paper is as good as any core in the South region, one has to wonder if things have finally clicked at the right time.
"To be fair, my first year I probably asked them to do some things they haven’t before," Day said. "It's one thing to ask kids who aren’t good and haven't had success. When have kids that have had success, maybe it's in AAU or whatnot, it takes a while for them to buy into it.
"Some of the things we want to do defensively and offensively -- movement, screening, things like that -- for a long time I saw them as trying to, wanting to, but they had some habits that needed to be broken. When you're doing something new, no matter how right it is, it doesn't work at first."
So while this was nice, considering Brookline's struggles in recent years, Day is far from satisified. When Day first arrived in the Bay State Conference, as a coach at Wellesley High, Brookline was in the midst of its most dominant stretch in school history, going 64-9 from 2001 to 2004 and making two Division 1 state final appearances over that same span. Those squads were led by stalwarts like Tim Jones, Justin Powell, Clayton Barlow-Wilcox, and current Charlotte Bobcats forward Jeff Adrien.
In a way, entering the playoffs should feel like the norm at Brookline, not the exception. And the surrounding community appears ready to embrace that.
"We had great support tonight down there [New Bedford] considering how far we were," Day said. "There's a lot of people in Brookline that want us to be good, that want to support us -- people in the school, in the community. To be able to deliver a win for them is really gratifying."