Young Renaissance team used to the big stage

Jan. 23, 2013
By Chris Maza

SPRINGFIELD – Though they were a small school on a big stage, the Renaissance School boys' basketball team didn't seem at all anxious in their Jan. 19 afternoon matchup against Belchertown at the Spalding Hoop Hall Classic at Springfield College.

In fact, Dave Williams thought they looked a little too relaxed.

"We looked a little slow out there to start, so I had the defense put a press on to wake them up a bit," he said. "We're not a slow-paced team or a half-court team. We like to run and I think the press helped get them going."

Renaissance had a lackluster start to the game and led by just one point after one quarter, but once the Phoenix's legs got going, they cruised to a 66-46 win over the Orioles for their 10th win of the season.

While surprised by the slow start, Williams said that he wasn't surprised that his team, made up of two seniors, eight juniors, a sophomore and three freshmen, wasn't overwhelmed by the experience of taking part in the large, nationally recognized high school basketball showcase.

"We've played a lot of pressure games. Over the years, these guys were young and this is probably going to be the fourth year we've qualified for Western Massachusetts [tournament] play," he said. "It's really been because these guys, ever since they were sophomores, have been involved in the high-impact games and they're prepared. They have played in front of a lot of large crowds and they were adapting to it three years ago, so now it's just another game. They don't look at the crowd, they just pay attention to their game and when they do that, they're fine."

In addition the grand nature of the event, the Phoenix had to adapt to a much larger court than the one they play on at home, but was able to do so easily, which also proved to be no shock to their coach.

"My practices are geared towards running because I know we're going to get on these big courts and we're going to have to run and have to be healthy and have to be in shape. If we're not, then that's when we lose it," Williams said.

Getting the up-tempo offense going for Renaissance was sophomore guard Carlos Gonzales, who dazzled the crowd with tremendous ball handling skills and passing, finishing the game with 13 points and four assists.

"Carlos is just a joy to watch. He's just a fun-loving kid. He's the spark plug of our presses and I just like to watch the kid play," Williams said. Sometimes he's a little afraid of turning the ball over and I just tell him to go out there an be himself. He puts on a show in practice with his fancy passes and I tell him, 'Do the same thing in the game,' but he just kind of holds back a little bit because he doesn't want to turn the ball over and he doesn't want to hurt the team.

"He's a tremendous ballplayer and I have him for two more years, so I guess I'm the lucky one," he added.

In the paint, John Togba proved once again to be a valuable weapon, even against Belchertown's towering center Zachary Parsons. Togba led the Phoenix with 24 points and also pulled down nine rebounds, showing strength and fearlessness when attacking the basket.

"John is strong. He lifts a lot of weights and plays a lot of basketball in between. I think that's the reason why he's not afraid of anybody," Williams said. "He's played against kids who are 6-foot-6 and he played a lot of AAU ball where he was playing against opponents four or five inches taller than he is and he's held his own every time. He's our guy who can just go up against any of those big guys and keep that person honest."

Ernest Johnson, the Renaissance School's first 1,000-point scorer, had a fairly quiet day by his standards with nine points and seven rebounds.

"It's a quiet day because he hurt himself a couple of weeks ago and he hasn't really been practicing that much," Williams said. "This is his first game back. I think he knows the knee is bothering him and he's trying to not hurt that knee over and over again so he can finish the season strong."

Williams added that even while hobbled, Johnson brings stability to the Renaissance starting five and can still be a difference-maker.

"It's a sense of security knowing he's out there. We know he's a good leader and he takes good shots whenever he can," Williams said. "When he's on, he's on. He can throw up the three-pointer and when he's healthy, he's very difficult to stop one-on-one. I like the way he plays and he and Carlos complement each other."

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