NEWPORTâWhen was the last time you saw a member of the North Country basketball team dunk a ball?
In the three years since I have been covering the team I had yet to see it happen, but when I stopped by the NCU gym to chat with coach Brian Bonvechio, I finally saw it.
Freshman Kendrick Gray soared down the lane, went up, and came down with a thunderous one-handed slam, ushering in a new era and attitude of Falcon basketball.
"The one word I'm going to use to describe what we are going to do this year is entertaining," Bonvechio said. "We are going to run, we are going to gun and we are going to shot the ball before the other team gets up the court."
With a crew of quick, strong shooting players, the coach is looking to get up and down the court faster than the opposition, and use his marksmen to rain down shots before the other team knows what hits them.
Said Bonvechio, "We are going to beat the Rices, the Burlingtons up the court and take advantage of our shooting abilities and our quickness. If you watched Loyola-Marymount in the early 1990's where they averaged 126 points a game, that's what we are going to attempt to do, but we would like to make it 75-85 points a game."
On a sad note, they will have to attempt this without last year's leading scorer, senior Caleb Prue, who transferred to Lake Region less than two weeks ago.
"Well it's not going to be easy to replace his twenty points a game, but it is going to have to come from four or five different guys," said Bonvechio. "Perhaps the biggest change you'll see this year is moving Jason Hatin from being a big man to playing guard.
"He and Matt Duncan, along with Tyler Jenne, will be handling the ball most of the time."
Said Colton White on the loss of Prue, "It definitely hurts, as he was our top scorer, but with the new guys coming in, we are going to able to out-run other teams we are against and tire them down."
On the defensive side, Bonvechio admitted that they have not been a strong defensive team in years past, but he is going to have his team play with a âstrike firstâ attitude where they bring the play to the competition instead of waiting for them to come to the Falcons.
"What we're going to is try to force the tempo. If we do that and try to create turnovers we are going to get beat sometimes, it is like a football team that blitzes a lot, sometimes you are going to get burned, and we are going to give up some easy baskets.
"We are going to try to run our guys in and out so quickly that we keep everybody fresh, wear our opponents down and try to create some of those turnovers."
North Country will feature a relatively young team this year.
The roster lists only four seniors (White, Hatin, Tyler Paxman, Jesse Breault), so it is it up the young guys to do their share and help carry the load.
Said the coach, "We have three juniors, with only Tyler Jenne being the only one who played varsity last year. We have four sophomores with Matt Duncan being the only one who played for us last year, and a freshman, Kendrick Gray, who is going to be the most exciting player you have seen around here.
"He has an element of excitement that we have not seen in a long time, if ever."
When asked about his expectations this year, the 6'4" Gray replied, "I am just hoping I do well. I want to see the team go far in the play-offs. No one really expected us to do well this year, but I just want us to be the best that we can be."
"Kendrick is a monster out there for us," said Hatin. "He is going to be dunking a lot, which will be a real crowd pleaser."
Speaking of crowds, letâs be honest, last years attendance was average at best.
Often the bleachers were sparsely filled, with fans seemingly more interested in their phones than the action on the court.
With a revamped roster and a new style of basketball, Bonvechio knows that this year's product should be a lot more enticing, and will hopefully bring a renewed interest in the team.
"I tell you what, for the people who were here on Saturday for our first inter-squad game with the JV's, it was up and down and we've got some kids who can really run and shoot the ball.
"Rejean Roberge was shooting the lights out, Paxman is capable of doing that at any time, Duncan has incredible range, Hatin great speed, Connor Hogan is a solid player... I've got twelve kids and I'm not afraid to use any of them.
"They are all capable of doing different things, and I think if you ask the boys, they are having a great time."
Said White, who definitely appears to be enjoying himself out on the hardwood, "You are going to see a team play like they have never seen North Country play before. They are going to be impressed and we are going to give them something to see every night."
While fans not in the mood to travel have to wait until next Friday to see the team, the Falcons will open up the season on the road, bringing their new run and gun game to the courts for the first time next Tuesday when they travel to Lyndon Institute to open the season.
Tip-off is at 6:30.