WESTPORT — Colin Devine’s winter nights had been unlike any in recent memory. He spent his time working on practice schedules for a season he was uncertain would take place. He monitored the conditioning of his players who were getting in shape for games that might never be played.
And there were many hours watching college basketball.
Devine, the coach of Staples’ boys basketball team, felt the same sense of relief that rippled throughout the state last week after the CIAC announced that an abbreviated season would be held for a number of winter sports.
“I’m really happy for the players to get the opportunity to play some basketball this winter,” Devine said last night, as the Wreckers went through their first practice. “For a while there we weren’t sure what was going to happen. For the seniors, it’s good to have a season. The kids have been working hard and really been focused to hopefully have another successful season like last year.”
Staples finished 14-7 a year ago, earning the sixth seed in the FCIAC Tournament. It was their first winning record since ending up 11-10 seven years earlier. The CIAC canceled the remainder of the season due to the coronavirus before the team got to play its first state playoff game.
“We had great chemistry last year,” said Lucas Basich, a senior captain who averaged 17 points a year ago. He is the league’s lone returning player named to the All-FCIAC first team. “My job along with the other captains is to continue the progress. I’ve been on the team four years. We started 5-14 and we improved each year. Last year was a big year for us and we are trying to improve on that.”
There were mixed emotions for the Wreckers’ initial practice, leading up to their first game in three weeks. There was the joy of being back on the court together after training together in groups limited to four players.
“It’s amazing to be back in the gym with all the boys again,” guard Derek Sale said. “It’s been tough having no mindset for the season this year. We always worked hard in the gym together, whether it was a four-person practice or only two guys in the gym were there. We were pushing each other every day. I think we’re going to be very skilled coming into the season because of that and we’re ready to work hard these next few weeks.”
There was also a somber moment at the start of practice, as the Wreckers remembered Timari Rivera, a 6-7 senior who passed away earlier this month from the recurrence of a previous health issue. Devine said the team has dedicated the season to Rivera and will honor him at the beginning of each practice.
The FCIAC presented a plan yesterday for a 12-game regular season that will begin on Feb. 9. All regular-season and playoff games will be played within two divisions, save for a championship game between divisional winners. All teams will qualify for postseason play.
Staples is currently grouped with Norwalk, Brien McMahon, Fairfield Ludlowe, Fairfield Warde, Trumbull, St. Joseph, Bridgeport Central and two schools that will rejoin the league for this season, Warren Harding and Bassick. School principals must approve the proposal.
“It was terrible, being a junior last year and the states got canceled,” Basich said. “It was a weird feeling for me. I can’t imagine what the seniors were feeling like. It’s great that the FCIAC is giving us a chance to compete together in the platform that they have.”
Though the Wreckers lost a number of key players to graduation, Devine said he has a team with greater depth and athleticism, giving him more strategical options.
“We got back into the winning basketball mindset, got back into the FCIAC playoffs, they set a foundation,” Devine said. I think everyone knows how much work they have to do to get back into the playoffs again.”
Due to the coronavirus, what lies ahead for this season remains uncertain. Last night, Devine and his players unsurprisingly were living in the present.
“I’m really happy for the players to get the opportunity to play some basketball this winter,” Devine said. “For a while there we weren’t sure what was going to happen. For the seniors it’s good to have a season. The kids have been working hard conditioning and really being focused to hopefully have another successful season like last year.”