CUMBERLAND — Basketball-wise, Tom Lazaras, Mitchell Baxter and Trent Vasey weren’t going to teach Ben Bradley, Dylan Boisclair, Rob Reedy and Greg Joubert anything new. Yet in order to reach the championship destination that Cumberland High’s basketball camp dropped anchor upon last weekend, the first group of Clipper triplets had to do some gardening.
To summarize, Lazaras, Baxter and Vasey planted the seeds for a “we can do this” environment – one that quickly became contagious among Cumberland’s ranks. All three seniors were instrumental in the Clippers’ Division II Super Bowl last fall and all three carried that winning pedigree from the gridiron to the hardwood.
Needless to say, the tangible that shifted from one sport to the next did not go unnoticed by the core of basketball players who welcomed the football champs with open arms.
“When the football kids came, they were all on cloud nine and feeling good,” stated Bradley earlier this week in preparation for Thursday’s first-round state tournament game against The Prout School at Roger Williams University. “They also brought a lot of energy. They just changed the mood to the point that we all wanted it a little more.”
Added Lazaras, Cumberland’s safety-turned point-guard, “Football season gave us a ton of confidence.”
To compare the makeup of a basketball team with a football outfit is one of those apples and oranges arguments that seemingly make little sense. Yet when viewing Cumberland’s helmet-and-cleats faction alongside the school’s baggy-shorts-and-sneakers unit, there exists a common theme.
Both groups of young men embody T-E-A-M. The football Clippers were solid across the board; not a single player stood head and shoulders above his peers. Such an observation could also be pinned upon head coach Gary Reedy’s basketball lot. Bradley, Boisclair and Lazaras all average between 13-15 points with the rest of the core undertaking roles that allows them to flourish within the concept of “one for all, all for one.”
“We have great individual talent here, but no one is scoring 30 points a night,” points out Baxter, a wide receiver who nowadays is asked to come off the basketball bench and lock down the opposing team’s top perimeter threat. “We have that winning mentality and know what to do with it.”
With basketball tryouts going on while Cumberland was putting the finishing touches on a memorable football campaign, Reedy asked his three captains – son Rob along with Bradley and Boisclair – to hold down the fort until the cavalry arrived. Needless to say, not having several key pieces made for some uneven practice sessions.
“It was just so out of whack,” recalled Gary Reedy. “We were mixing and matching.”
The head coach understood that it would take some time to jell once Lazaras, Baxter and Vasey officially came onboard. While the football conquerors got in basketball shape, Reedy reminded his basketball players to take notice of the winning glow surrounding them.
“I said to our basketball guys that this could be you in another two months,” said Reedy, whose prophecy was fulfilled when Cumberland defeated Shea for the Division II title. “Guys like Ben and Dylan were starting to say ‘Hey, we can do this too.’”
“They came in here and brought competitiveness to games and practice,” notes Boisclair. “They brought a sense of winning and how we can do it too.”
Baxter and his football-turned-basketball counterparts enjoyed a memorable stretch where wins fell into place like a row of dominos. After dropping a non-league contest to Cranston West in late September, Cumberland’s football crew rattled off 12 straight wins. The basketball team opened the season with 11 straight triumphs before the streak was halted against Narragansett on Jan. 9.
“Some of the football players missed the first two games [of basketball], so it was great to see that they had continued that winning pedigree,” said Baxter. “We never thought about the (24-game winning streak spanning two sports) until it ended. (Losing) was a feeling we weren’t used to, but I’m kind of glad it ended because it taught us that we’re not invincible.”
As disciples of Cumberland football head coach Chris Skurka, Baxter, Lazaras and Vasey possess a defense-first mentality that can be seen every time Reedy orders his players to pick up full-court. Against league foes during the regular season, Cumberland’s hoopsters surrendered on average 52.3 ppg. In the divisional playoffs, opponents averaged exactly 55 points in three games against Reedy & Co.
Again, lets go back to the autumn and remember that Baxter, Lazaras and Vasey were central figures in the punishing of pigskin foes. Cumberland wound up posting four shutouts while permitting 61 points in 12 games against Division II competition.
“Mitch and Trent are good defenders in football and basketball … their aggressiveness pushes everybody,” Bradley noted. “Obviously it’s different sports so you can’t be as physical in basketball; they’re not hacks but they will push you around.”
Perhaps its Vasey, a player dubbed “rock quiet” by his basketball coach, who summed it up best about what a collection of tough-nosed football gladiators brought to Cumberland’s basketball realm.
“It’s not that we taught them how to win. It’s just that we brought over our hard work in practice and showed them how we did it during football,” said Vasey, a key Clipper hoops reserve who also starred as a tight end/defensive end.
At Cumberland, winning breeds winning. It’s also pretty easy to pinpoint where such a sentiment comes from.