Toughness a focus for New Britain boys basketball as season finale looms

Published on Thursday, 10 February 2022 16:07
Written by MATT HORNICK

@MNHornick

NEW BRITAIN ― Toughness is what Kurt Reis, New Britain boys basketball coach, is looking for from his players as they finish off their regular season. 

The Hurricanes’ season is on an upswing as their 65-44 victory over Wethersfield on Tuesday was their fifth win in their last six games. The improvement in play came after they started the season 2-8, but the next step for Reis, as New Britain tries to build momentum ahead of the postseason, is developing the resilience to stay competitive in tightly-contested matchups. 

“The tougher you are will camouflage your mistakes because now you’re getting the loose balls, now you’re not turning it over,” Reis said. “We just have to be tougher.”

With four games to play in the regular season, the Hurricanes goals for the rest of the season are to qualify for the Central Connecticut Conference Tournament as one of the top-16 teams in the league, and improve their seeding as much as possible for the Division I state tournament. Outside of a likely loss against Windsor, which sits high in the standing of both Division I and the CCC, New Britain’s three other remaining games are against teams with a combined total of six wins, including winless Rocky Hill. 

The Hurricanes are currently seeded to face Manchester (11-5) in the first round of the state tournament. While picking up a few more wins should improve their seeding to where they play a different team, the Red Hawks beat New Britain by three points in their first game of the season and if they were to meet again, maybe some additional decisiveness could shift the advantage to the Hurricanes. 

“Sometimes poor decisions get us into trouble and it’s kind of been an ongoing issue,” Reis said. “In one game we look great and in the next game it’s like ‘is that even New Britain, or is that another team?’”

Even as it beat Wethersfield by 21 points, New Britain still had lapses in consistency, particularly towards the end of quarters, that kept the score closer than it could have been. The Hurricanes came close to having a 20-point lead at halftime Tuesday night, but gave the ball away on consecutive possessions and allowed Wethersfield to come within 12 points by the end of the quarter.

“The games that we take care of the ball we are either in or we’re going to win,” Reis said. “We’ve had stretches in particular games, like Wethersfield went on a 7-0 run to close the second quarter.”

New Britain’s growth later in the season could be a product of their reliance on several young players. The team only has one senior with previous varsity experience and is starting a freshman (Demari Johnson) and a sophomore (Jackson Forte) as two of their guards. 

Johnson finished with 14 points Tuesday night and was the game’s second-leading scorer while Forte posted eight points. Those two have plenty of time to develop within the program over the ensuing seasons, but Reis is trying to get as much out of them as he can right now.

“We starting a freshman point guard, so experience is key for him,” Reis said. “A lot of the guys besides [Dontay] Bishop and Xavier [Goode] are first-year varsity guys. Maybe this is the year where they learn and they turn the corner next year, but we’re trying to accelerate that process.”

Bishop, a junior, posted a game-high 16 points and surprised his coaches with his offensive output against Wethersfield. A raw player with good size, Bishop is being encouraged to shoot more and try to create offense for himself in the post in his second year as a starter.

“His footwork has gotten a lot better, but we want him to be more aggressive when he gets the ball,” Reis said. “We’d like to give him the ball when he’s posting up, but he needs to be more assertive on the block.”

Unfortunately for Reis and his assistants, Toughness cannot be taught the same way as post moves, which means it is primarily up to the players to find it on their own. Having a mostly easy road the rest of the regular season could give the Hurricanes’ younger players an opportunity to build confidence and find a rhythm, but Reis will know when his team is showing the resolve he is looking for.

“Damari has the physical capabilities, Jackson has the physical capabilities, but the game is 80-90 percent mental,” Reis said. “So [learning] to outthink the opponent and [pay attention to] what’s the time, what’s the score, what type of shot should we get, what possession do we need.”

Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or mhornick@bristolpress.com.



Posted in New Britain Herald, New Britain on Thursday, 10 February 2022 16:07. Updated: Thursday, 10 February 2022 16:10.