NEW BRITAIN - The saying goes two are often better than one.
That has certainly been the case this season for the Innovation boys basketball team.
After going 8-47 in their first three years as a varsity program (first as Med-Ed Prep in 2015), the Ravens combined with Two Rivers Magnet High School after budget issues forced the Bloomfield-based school to close.
More students means more athletes and more depth. And the results have followed.
Last Wednesday, Innovation’s rout over Achievement First secured the program’s first postseason berth. Currently 9-5 on the season, the Ravens are just one more win from securing their first non-losing regular season and two wins away from their first winning one.
“Obviously, you just have more basketball players,” Innovation head coach Matthew Lance said of having the combined programs. “I know with that combination, a lot of people were interested to see how it was going to go. Was the chemistry going to click, were people going to work together and in practices and things like that. All these kids care about is winning. You have a lot of kids who are getting less minutes than they’re used to because there are so many kids and so much talent on this team.”
That mindset has been one of the main reasons for the Ravens’ success thus far. The team leaders and therefore the players don’t care if one person scores all the points or if it is a collective team effort. As long as they secure a win, that is all that matters.
“One of our mottos is put the team first and success with follow,” Lance said. “I think that is where we are right now, because the kids are buying into the team first.”
It didn’t matter if they were from Innovation or Two Rivers, they reassured everyone they are there to win.
There were already Innovation mainstays from seasons past, such as Linwood Hazlewood, Lenny Okonya and Ramiesh Boge. The additions of Malcolm Lewis and Carlos Gonzalez, both former Two Rivers players, have only helped.
“It feels great to make the postseason,” Gonzalez said. “It is time to make a [postseason] run. I think the combination between both schools really brought the talent level way higher and the toughness has just improved. People didn’t think we were going to be this good. They were worried about the chemistry and how it would work out. But look, we made it.”
And while Lance and the team are happy with how their season is going, they’re not completely satisfied. At least, not just yet.
After Friday night’s game against MLC, the Ravens still know there is work to be done.
Against a team Innovation had beaten in their previous meeting by close to 30 points, the Ravens had to hold off a late charge.
“I was really happy that we were able to win a game where we weren’t shooting the ball how we are capable of shooting the ball,” Lance said. “Shots aren’t going to fall like they always do.”
Performances like that are a reason for one of Lance’s other mottos, “you are only as good as the product you put on the floor.” And Innovation expects itself to play up to what it describes as its full potential every time it steps on the floor, no matter the opponent.
So the Ravens are keeping their focus when they get into practice and in their next games - no matter what they have accomplished. At this point there is still more to do.
“We just want to get better,” Lance said, “because realistically the really good teams play their best when it matters most, as the season winds down.”
Shelby Iava can be reached at (860) 801-5096 or firstname.lastname@example.org