Coach Hugh Coleman believes that his Bengals didn’t deserve to win the state title last year.
With the way his players have grown on and off the court, that’s not even up for debate for this year's Bengals, the new Division 2 state champions after a win against South Hadley, 59-41, at the DCU Center in Worcester.
“We didn’t deserve it last year, I really feel that spiritually. We drove that to make changes,” Coleman said. “We told guy’s there’s going to be no tolerance with how you act.”
Brighton had overcome adversity in all forms, including academic ineligibility. Multiple players on Brighton's 2011-12 team failed off of the squad including senior Nate Hogan.
“I failed off the team so I wasn’t able to be on the bench with them,” said Hogan (8 points, 2 steals) when asked about last year’s state tournament. “This year I made sure I kept my grades, stayed on the team and now I played in the state game and we won.”
If there were anyone that topped Hogan in terms of academic improvement, it would have to be Nick Simpson. In fact, Coleman said the forward is the most improved person on the team.
“Nick Simpson flunked off the team last year. He had the best grades both quarters of everyone on the team [this year],” Coleman said. “That is a testament to his character.”
The extra work in the classroom has paid off for Simpson as the junior made big play after big play for the Bengals, whether it was his first game in the Garden or knocking down free throw after free throw in the DCU Center.
Oh, and then there’s Malik James.
“For a long time, he didn’t want the pressure,” Coleman said. “You’re one of the best players if not the best player that we have, guys follow that, guys believe in that.”
While Coleman still believes the junior has room to grow off the court, James’ leadership on the court has been impressive.
“A lot of the times, I’ve been wondering how much he’s listened to me and how much he’s grown off the court but what I’ve realized is he takes it in but it shows a lot more on the courts so that’s meant everything for us,” Coleman said.
James led Brighton with 16 points and 4 steals in the state title game. For the point guard, the game was all about leaving Brighton with a their first state championship trophy before he moves on to prep school.
“I don’t have to leave on a bad note and just say that I did everything I could. I did do everything I could but it was on a good note this time,” James said.
If James and the rest of the Bengals hadn’t matured off the court, it’s a wonder if they would’ve made it to Worcester.Coleman mentioned before the season that getting to the state championship last season could hurt his squad because they could assume that the road would be easier.
However, it turned out losing in the state title game last season couldn’t have been better for the growth of his players.
“It was invaluable last year because it taught us we’re capable of it but that doesn’t mean you’re going to win it. So every game, every practice we said we’re capable of doing it but you’ve got to do the right things on and off the court,” Coleman said.
With their state championship medals as evidence, it's clear the Brighton boys' basketball team learned their lesson.
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