Bob Rodgers’ bunch is aiming for its sixth Patriot League Keenan Division crown in the past eight seasons.
The Whitman-Hanson Regional High boys’ basketball team experienced that first-hand last season when it was deprived of a chance to finish off what it started in the Div. 2 state title game.
So the mantra for this season is simple:
“The biggest thing is to make sure we all appreciate every day we have,” said 21st-year W-H head coach Bob Rodgers. “We try to practice every day like it’s going to be our last practice and we have to hopefully play every game like it could be our last game – just appreciate what we have while we have it.”
That’s pretty easy to do when you have two guys like senior captains Nate Amado (13.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg last season) and Cole LeVangie (11.4 ppg, 5 rpg last season). Both are returning Patriot League All-Stars and two of the “most talented” players Rodgers said he has ever coached. But that’s just part of what makes them special.
“They are just such tremendous teammates and phenomenal leaders and just good people,” Rodgers said. “I’m excited we get to play the season in part because all of these younger players get to play with them and they get to see how they go about their business and how unselfish they are. Obviously, their talent is off the charts, but what I will remember years from now is just how both of them are willing to do whatever it takes for our team to be successful and to help other kids grow.”
As for departures, reigning Patriot League MVP Stevie Kelly (14 ppg, 6.3 apg and 5.1 rpg last season) is gone from the point and Rodgers knows it will be a joint effort to make up for his contributions.
“No, we don’t have Stevie Kelly,” Rodgers said. “But we have a trio of (junior) guards that have really stepped in nicely. Ryan Vallencourt is just so dedicated and has so much passion for the game of basketball. Amari Jamison’s potential is off the charts. His skill level and athleticism are something I haven’t really had in a long time. And Andrew Guardia is a steady Eddie — runs the position and gets people involved.”
And as always the defending Div. 2 state champions will rely on their ability to knock down the 3-ball.
“We have a lot of guys that can shoot it,” Rodgers said. “That’s one of the blessings like when you have two players like Nate and Cole, you don’t get worried that the other team is just going to try and just shut down those guys, but if the coach has that as their game plan, I think they’re going to have some difficulties because we do have some other guys that can shoot it.”
And why make playing W-H more difficult than it already is? Rodgers’ club is riding the state’s longest winning streak at 26 games, as it takes aim at its sixth Patriot League Keenan Division title in the past eight seasons.
“A league championship is always where we start and since there isn’t a state championship on the line this year, I think that’s even more so this year,” Rodgers said. “One of the things I always say to the kids is you look at that banner with all of the league championships on it. Each one of those years represents a group of kids that came committed to a goal, came committed to a certain level of work ethic, and a team attitude. If you want to be on that you’ll have to replicate that same kind of effort.”
The Panthers are scheduled to be back on the court Friday, Jan. 22 at 6:30 p.m. when they host Plymouth North.
“I think that most of the teams in our league get up to play us for a lot of reasons,” Rodgers said. “We’re one of the games that they circle on the schedule and after having the season that we had last year, I think that will be even more so. I’m sure every team would like to be the team that stops our winning streak.”