WATERTOWN, Mass. – His Watertown High basketball practice just over an hour concluded this past Thursday night, head coach Steve Harrington had gone up to his classroom to get a few things in anticipation of an expected snow day. He returned to the gymnasium one last time to find his star shooter still there, getting his reps up. Having already taken a few hundred perimeter shots, coupled with moves off the dribble, Marco Coppola was now launching up NBA-range three-pointers, all the way out to the volleyball lines.
“It’s kind of my guide,” said the senior guard. “From there on in, that’s my range.”
This is how the night before game night typically goes for the hot-handed Coppola, a pillar of consistency – and dead-eye range – on the No. 18 Raiders’ squad, and the biggest reason behind their red-hot start, which improved to 10-0 following Friday night’s 76-42 thrashing of Burlington at home.
And just in case you didn’t believe him the first time, Harrington added for good measure, “That’s a true story.”
“That’s the type of player he is,” Harrington said. “Not every night, but the day before games, he knows…you know, he gets out here and he gets his shots. Free throws, three’s, he works on everything, he gets his reps up.”
But as much as the 6-foot-1 Coppola is lauded state-wide for his marksmanship, he is first and foremost a competitor. It’s a trait he first learned as an eighth-grader, watching his brother Anthony finish off his career by scoring 24 points and delivering last-minute heroics – all with a broken hand – in a 62-61 win over Sabis for the Raiders’ first state championship in program history. Two years later, he provided spark off the bench as brothers Cory and Kyle Stockmal (well-known for their one-on-one battles) led the Raiders to another title over another talented Sabis squad.
On this particular night, Coppola struggled with his drives, despite converting a few three-point plays. But where he really excels – where he shows his confidence, without cockiness – is in the high screens with long-time running mate Connor Stockdale. The 6-foot-3 Stockdale plays the weakside post in Harrington’s four-out attack, but his guard-like handle gives Coppola several options when he steps out to the top of the key.
And then comes that sneer of confidence, and the slow release of the ball with minimal rotation. Just like they draw it up during the late afternoon summer games at Casey Park.
“I think it’s more that there’s two options, three options actually,” said of his confidence in the shot. “I can go off the screen, stop and pull, or Connor will just roll to the basket, and he’s a great finisher. He’s so skilled that there’s so many options off that play. Two-man game is our bread and butter. We’ve been doing it for so long, and we know each other’s tendencies.”
Plays like this allowed Coppola to knock down three after three – five in total – as part of 27 points. Meanwhile, his counterpart at the other end, highly-touted point guard Zach Hurynowicz, fell victim to some stifling trap defense and only ended up with just two points on the night.
“Unbelievable,” Harrington said. “He was ready to play tonight. You know, he took this as a personal battle. He was ready to play, to say the least. Hurynowicz is a terrific player, one of the best players in the league, and Marco took this as a personal challenge.”
In Coppola’s first season taking the reigns last winter, the Raiders nabbed the No. 5 seed in the Division 3 North sectional, but suffered a first-round upset at the hands of South Boston. When asked how long it took for him to get over the loss, Coppola cuts the reporter off.
“Still not over it, still not over it, yeah,” he interrupts. “And I won’t be over it until we win again. For me at least, but I think the same goes for everyone else.”