A massive change in culture has occurred in Swampscott basketball, and it’s taking some time for the players to assimilate to their new environment.
New head coach Dave Born, another offspring of the coach-producing Watertown basketball program, has implemented many changes to Big Blue operations. While some changes are hard to notice, others are quite noticeable.
If you’ve been to a Big Blue basketball game, you’ll notice it’s hard to have a conversation to the person next to you. It’s not because the referee’s whistle is supposedly blowing every second, although some fans may argue otherwise. It’s because you can’t hear anyone over the booming voice of Coach Born.
For almost every second of the game, Born is standing up, instructing his team to play hard. And if he isn’t, he’s giving one-on-one advice to a player. Along with the coach, the bench has come alive this season. But even they can’t even cancel out Born’s intensity. Born leads by example, as he exerts the same passion he expects out of his players.
“That’s me. I can’t just sit there. I’m vocal with our players. We try to keep the bench involved. We hope that [my passion] carries over to their play, or gives them that little extra push,” said Born.
Tactically, Coach Born’s organized a 1-3-1 zone defense, which highlights the versatility of senior captain Chad Nelson in the middle. Nelson, a perimeter player in a big man’s body, can pick up any man that travels through the paint. Guards John King, Ben Faulkner and Joey Ragusa are able to disrupt passing lanes, while forward Sam Walker is able to defend underneath the basket. Coach Born openly admits he doesn’t like playing zone defense, but is forced to due to the team’s talent.
And on offense, Ragusa, a sophomore, has developed into the Big Blue ball distributor. Nelson is able to drag his man, usually a center, out of the paint with his shooting range. That, in return, allows King and Faulkner a chance to cut underneath the basket. Coach Born’s “Motion” set allows the Big Blue to play to their strengths, which does include three pointers.
While all of Coach Born’s changes have been positive, old habits have kept up with Swampscott. The Big Blue doesn’t react positively when down and isn’t communicating well on defense, leading to wide-open men in the paint.
“We put our heads down way too much. That’s got to change,” said Born.
In two instances the Big Blue lost because it did not respond to large runs by its opponents. In Swampscott’s first game against Marblehead, the Magicians began the second quarter on a 21-2 run. On December 23, Danvers outscored Swampscott in the first quarter, 20-2. The Big Blue lost both those games – 89-72 against Marblehead, 69-27 against Danvers.
On defense, Coach Born cites a lack of communication and allowing dribble penetration as its biggest issues. “We’ve talked right from the get-go, rebounding, communication, eliminating dribble penetration. Communication’s got to get a lot better. We have improved rebounding a little bit, we have to get better at stopping the dribble penetration too,” said Born.
Swampscott had a chance of victory against Gloucester, but were not able to surmount a five-point deficit with three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
But on Friday night, the team finally brought it all together. A strong second half comeback resulted in Swampscott’s first win of the season, 75-62, in Amesbury.
An impressive stat line from Chad Nelson (19 points, 13 rebounds, 5 steals) proved his aggressiveness against a smaller team. Nelson played all 32 minutes, and unlike previous games, stayed out of foul trouble. John King and Joey Ragusa both scored 16 points, while freshman Andre Reeves added 15 points.
Swampscott had difficulty containing Amesbury’s Pat Halloran, who exploded for 17 first half points. In the second half, however, Halloran did not make one single field goal, amassing two points on free throws. The reason? Swampscott’s halftime adjustment to a 1-3-1 defensive zone. You may not like it, Coach, but it works. Swampscott also out-rebounded Amesbury, 33-30.
The Big Blue’s first win of the season catapults them into the annual Holiday Tournament at Malden Catholic this weekend. Swampscott will be playing three straight days in a row in what Coach Born calls “one of the hardest tests of the season.”
But once a majority of players are on board with Coach Born’s program, expect big things from the Big Blue basketball team.
“I demand a lot of the kids. Some have bought in. Others, we’ll see,” said Born.
On Friday night, it seemed as if his entire team bought in.