By Dave Ruden
FAIRFIELD — The motto for the Greenwich High School boys basketball team’s season is emblazoned on the players’ practice jerseys: Commit to the Sun.
The sun, of course, is Mohegan Sun, the site of the state championships.
Seeing that the Cardinals have never won a postseason title and appeared in just one FCIAC final, losing to Harding 11 years ago, coach Bill Brehm was asked Wednesday night, following a 74-57 win at Fairfield Warde, if the end game was a tad overly ambitious.
“That’s the ultimate goal of every high school team in Connecticut,” Brehm explained. “Why shouldn’t it be on the back of our jerseys?”
Why not? If you are going to reach high, aim high, which is the message Brehm is sending to his players.
There is a method to what may seem like madness. The Cardinals have two go-to players in center Alex Wolf and slasher CJ Byrd, and this season that is two more than many teams possess.
Getting to the FCIAC final would appear a more reasonable — and attainable — goal, but Commit to Warde jerseys will never get much on eBay, no matter how far the Cardinals go this winter.
Still, when you have a Wolf and a Byrd, why not be both hungry and try to fly high?
“Obviously it’s a luxury to have two guys who can take over a game,” Brehm said. “Last night Wolf had a big game for us and tonight it was Byrd.”
Byrd finished with 20 points and Wolf added 16 points and 10 rebounds Tuesday in a 30-point win against Staples, and Byrd went off against Warde, finishing with a career-high 32 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists. At one point early in the third quarter, Byrd had outscored the Mustangs by himself, 26-17.
“I just really wanted to let the game come to me,” Byrd said. “I came in, it was a mental thing. In the past I haven’t driven to the basket or tried to score early. I pretty much just watched the ball.”
Wednesday night the small crowd at Warde pretty much watched Byrd, who put on a show.
“He’s the kind of player you just want to let go,” Brehm said. “You don’t over-coach him. He’s very instinctive. He’s really learned from last year when to do it and when not to do it.”
Byrd needed to do it early because Wolf was forced to the bench with his second foul, but with the Cardinals jumping out to a quick 12-1 lead it was a pressure-free night.
To the Mustangs’ credit, they played harder the farther they got behind, and midway through the final quarter had trimmed what was once a 27-point lead to 64-50. Byrd answered with a one-handed runner and then Wolf, who finished with 13 points and 16 rebounds, scored the Cardinals’ next 5 points.
‘We wanted to really put four good quarters together, and for the most part we did it,” Brehm said.
Greenwich is off to a 6-0 start, joining Bridgeport Central and Ridgefield as the FCIAC’s only remaining unbeaten teams.
Success has not distracted the Cardinals from the Sun they have committed to.
“We go into every game, like Coach says, with a chip on our shoulder,” Byrd said. “We don’t go into any game thinking we are going to kill a team or we are going to lose. We go in thinking we have something to prove.”
So far Greenwich has been perfect in the proving department.
“They are all great kids and are responding right now and buying in, and that’s all we can ask,” Brehm said.
Byrd was asked about the practice jerseys, and if the players felt this was a season Greenwich basketball can attain a level never reached before.
“I’m not making promises because I don’t want to sound cocky,” Byrd said. “But if we put in hard work, I think it will pay off in the end.”