UNCASVILLE - Days before his team headed into its Division II state championship matchup with Waterford, New Britain head coach Kurt Reis declared, “The buzz is back,” around his boys basketball program.
And now, the Hurricanes will turn to Tahmeen Dupree and Nyzaiah Diaz to carry the torch into next season and keep that buzz going strong.
"[The seniors] left a great legacy. Great legacy,” Diaz said. “I learned a lot of things from them coming up. I was never that good at basketball until I practiced with them. I grew up playing with them since middle school. They taught me a lot about playing basketball, and I love them. Those guys are my brothers."
New Britain powered its way to Sunday’s state title game behind a rotation consisting mostly of seniors - nine of the Hurricanes’ 13 players on this year’s roster are set to graduate. But the sixth-seeded Hurricanes lost to top seed Waterford 63-56, falling short of the team’s first state title since 1950 at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Dupree and Diaz, the lone juniors to earn minutes in the loss to the Lancers, will be returning for the 2019-20 season, gearing up to ensure the program continues to rise in Reis’ third season. But it’s not just those two who must get better if the Hurricanes (19-6) are to make another deep postseason run and make a return trip to Mohegan.
“Everybody’s gotta get better,” Reis said. “In order for a program to progress, if you want to be a part of it, your commitment is to get better. We’ll take a couple weeks off after this and get back at it. It’s hard to get here, but you need commitment from the kids in order for it to happen. These kids put some time and effort in.”
Dupree, a starter, and Diaz, a key substitute, were on the court together to start the fourth quarter, when the Hurricanes trailed 44-40.
The two underclassmen earned the right to be on the floor for critical minutes after they combined to jump start a potential New Britain comeback in the third quarter.
The Hurricanes trailed by 10 before Diaz’s bucket in the lane preceded a New Britain steal, and Dupree’s slicing finish off the glass helped the eventual state runners-up cut their deficit to four to begin the final period. Dupree also added a beautiful assist on a pass to Luis Cartagena for a transition layup to cut the team’s deficit to 57-51 with 1:55 left in the game.
“[Dupree and Diaz] are committed. They wanna get better,” Reis said. “Now, we’ve just gotta stay committed. We’ve got a pretty good freshman group, and getting them to buy in is probably gonna be the biggest thing. They know how tough it is [to get to the state championship game]. It’s not, ‘I’m gonna get here [no matter what].’ You’ve gotta put the time in because if you’re not working, somebody else is.”
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org