Entering this season with two consecutive second-place finishes in the ISL, Varsity basketball has thus far managed to maintain expectations during league play. As of February 3rd, with league wins over Rivers, Nobles, Groton, BBN, Lawrence, St. Sebastian’s, St. Mark’s, and Roxbury Latin, Belmont Hill is a perfect 8-0 in Independent School League competition. Currently tied atop the standings with another undefeated team, Brooks, team captains Jovan Jones ‘18 and David Mitchell ‘18 have been very satisfied with the first two months of the season.
Considering the notable increase in ISL basketball talent, Belmont Hill’s undefeated record becomes all the more impressive. While St. Mark’s used to essentially be the lone source of Division I talent, sending Kaleb Tarczewski to Arizona and Nik Stauskas to Michigan and the NBA, the ISL has recently mushroomed into one of New England’s premier basketball circuits, boasting a considerable number of D1 commits and New England’s top-ranked 2018 player (Cormac Ryan at Milton). Rivers’s Jermaine Samuels ‘17 will most notably play at Villanova next year, and Brooks, Governor’s, Rivers, Milton, and Lawrence (and BH) all have at least a couple Division 1 recruits on their rosters. Plus, to many, NEPSAC (New England Preparatory School Athletic Council) is the most competitive prep athletic league in the country, especially for basketball.
Outside of the ISL, January was a more difficult month for the team. Facing difficult competition, Belmont Hill dropped two games to Philips Exeter and Loomis Chaffee (whose players came from London, California, South Carolina, New York, and other places), but also beat Master’s and Tabor. Speaking at practice after the team’s loss to Exeter, starting point guard Jake Haase ‘18 stressed the importance of increasing energy: “We’ve been a little dead lately because of injuries and illnesses, but we need to play with more energy, especially on defense. Reigniting that spark on defense will lead to great offense.” Playing in front of an insane Loop™ crowd the next night, Belmont Hill didn’t need to worry about a lack of energy, handling St. Sebastian’s with ease.
David Mitchell ‘18 and Jovan Jones ‘18 have continued to provide strong play and leadership this season. Particularly, Mitchell has been invincible under the basket, grabbing boards and drawing contact from multiple defenders for and-ones. Although Jake Bobo ‘18 missed most of January with a broken hand sustained over Belmont Hill’s basketball holiday tournament, junior guard Quentin Harris ‘18 has filled in Bobo’s starting role admirably. Providing energy and stringent defense, Quentin plays a principled game, very rarely turning over the ball. Spenser Smith ‘18 made a valuable impact off the bench during the month of January, and Pat Shea ‘17 played exceptionally well against BBN. Center Eric Taitano ‘18 has matched up well with other big men, even picking up a few key blocks against Lawrence, and TJ Agnihotri ‘17 has supplied important athleticism. Jake Haase’s in-game facilitation and passing from the point guard position often goes unnoticed, but is also instrumental to the team’s success. Finally, sophomore sharpshooter Kevin Michael O’Boy ‘19 seems to score more and more each game. As opponents initially concentrate all their effort on the duo of Mitchell and Jones, it is often “Kmo” who is the one to collect points on offense. With only a foot of open space between the defender, O’Boy seems to be able to convert any 3-point shot he attempts.
As the team enters the final month of the 2016-2017 ISL season, the school’s first-ever ISL title in basketball is just a few big wins away. Matchups against Milton Academy, rescheduled because of snow, Governor’s, and most importantly Brooks will determine the ISL’s champion. Preparing for the final stretch, Harris stresses the importance of everyday improvement and trust in the process: “We just have to trust ourselves. The ISL is a tough league, but at the same time we’re a tough team. We have to make sure we’re getting better everyday.”
The Loop™ has been a clear contributing factor to the team’s success this year. Their presence, arguably at historic levels for the basketball program, has been like having a sixth player on defense and has been a motivating force during practice. According to Mitchell, “The Loop was influential in the wins versus Rivers and Sebs.” David reports, “that was the loudest and most packed the gym has been in the last ten years.” Assuming both teams are still undefeated, Belmont Hill’s February 15th home matchup against Brooks (ISL champion or runner-up since 2011) will be monumental and likely the biggest game in Belmont Hill basketball history. Don’t miss it.