UNCASVILLE - He sat in the locker room, almost one year ago to the day, and broke down.
He had just given everything he had. He left it all on the floor, exhausted himself physically and drained himself emotionally. And it still wasn’t enough.
March 10, 2018.
It was three years and a day after Ramiesh Bogle had lost his mother, Hyacinth, to a battle with cancer. And the then-junior guard played his heart out for the Innovation boys basketball team.
He said he came out focused, and that’s hard to argue. He scored 14 points and played aggressive defense, a trademark for the quick, bullish 5-foot-10 guard. Ravens head coach Matt Lance says he “stills gets goosebumps” remembering that performance, one he said was Ramiesh’s “best game ever.”
But Bogle and the Ravens still came up short, 57-55, in a Division V quarterfinals loss to eventual state champion Cromwell.
“I came out to win the game, but unfortunately we lost,” Bogle said. “It broke me down because I was doing it for my mom, but I couldn't fulfill it. After I lost that game, I told myself it was time to get back in the gym and make sure I get this ring. Look where we are now.”
Where they are now - almost exactly one year later - is on top of every other Division V team in Connecticut, going out as state champions in a rough, crushing journey that saw bumps and bruises in the early years. But the pain of piling up loss after loss in the first four seasons of the program’s history have now been wiped away with a 62-41 victory over Old Lyme.
And on Sunday there stood Bogle, untucking his jersey to dab away tears before he hunched over, alone as his teammates rushed the court to celebrate. Hands on his knees, eyes closed, face down in the corner of the court at Mohegan Sun Arena as the final seconds dissolved.
It was similar to the release he had after Wednesday’s semifinal win over Valley Regional put the Ravens on a crash course with the Wildcats at Mohegan - when his free throw with less than a second remaining sealed a 42-38 win, and he dropped to the floor, weak with emotion.
After the state title game victory in which he scored 11 points and racked up four steals - all while battling three first-half fouls and four fouls by the time the final quarter started - Bogle needed a moment. He earned it.
“Everything was let out,” Bogle said. “[I had to] come out focused. All the emotions gotta go away. It's game time. Afterwards, I can let the emotions out, which I did.”
“This is for my mom. I know she’d be proud of me right now. I know if she was here she'd be in the stands screaming my name, jumping up and down,” Bogle added, smiling as he pictured Hyacinth cheering him on. “I just kept my composure, stayed relaxed and hit my free throws. When the buzzer went off, man, I couldn't believe it. Couldn't believe it. Everybody was depending on me to win this ring, and I came through for them.”
After Bogle joined his teammates’ on-court celebration, he walked toward the bench, where Lance awaited him, and his head coach embraced him, lifting him off the ground while wrapping him tightly in a bear hug.
“Ramiesh is one of the nicest kids I've ever met,” Lance said. “I told him, 'Ramiesh, you've been through way worse than a basketball game.' I know he was playing with his mom in his mind this morning. I'm just so proud of him and so happy for him.
“He has great family support, and I don't think people realize how close this team is. The boys are well aware that [the Valley Regional] game was for Ramiesh because he had his mother in his heart. They just are around each other so much and are a great support system. They pick each other up all the time. It's easy when you're playing for something that's way bigger than just a state championship.”
What many don’t understand about this group is that “team” does not accurately describe the bond these Ravens share. It’s not just a team. It’s a family.
That’s the sentiment LJ Hazelwood gleefully exposed about this close-knit Ravens squad after Wednesday’s semifinal win, and Lance and Hazelwood’s teammates are quick to back him up.
“We all get it together on the basketball court because we realize there's nothing in life that is harder than what we've already been through,” Okonya said. “Basketball is all about letting all that go and being one on the court.”
Much of that bond can be attributed to what these players have gone through, separately but together.
Before taking the court against Old Lyme, it’s one of the last points Lance reminded his team, and it was one of the first things he expressed in the postgame locker room after Innovation captured the program’s first state championship.
“[Before the game], I told them, 'In your life, with some of the things you've gone through, you're prepared for this. It's just a basketball game. Go treat it like a basketball game,’” Lance said. “I'm just happy they had this ending. They're a phenomenal group.”
The tight relationships between them began years ago in some cases, many of them becoming friends on and off the court in junior high or as freshmen.
There are a handful of other instances and stories the players brought up that embody how close they are. But none more than Bogle’s.
“We all broke down in the locker room for [Ramiesh] and his mom because he played his heart out that game, and we didn't come out with the win,” said Okonya, recalling the heartbreak of last year’s Cromwell loss. “The fact that it's around that time again, and this time we're going out on top, it's amazing.”
“We've all said that every time we go out on the court it's for him and his mom because he's been so strong throughout all of it,” Okonya added. “I can't even imagine what he's gone through, but he still has a good head on his shoulders and plays his heart out every night for us. It's amazing. We rally around him because he's our brother. It's a brotherhood.”
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or email@example.com