NEW BRITAIN - For most programs, the Nutmeg State Games provides teams the opportunity to hone in on their skills for another AAU or high school season.
But for the Reis Basketball Academy (New Britain), the event had a much different meaning.
“We’re just a bunch of kids from New Britain that want to come out and play basketball,” New Britain coach Ty Yopp said.
Reis looked like a seasoned squad Thursday in the opening round of the ninth grade boys basketball tournament, cruising to a 57-29 win over CT Basketball Athletics (Portland), leading from wire-to-wire.
New Britain’s Niko Schand led the team, tallying 15 points and six rebounds. What is even more impressive is that Schand has very little experience playing organized basketball.
“[Thursday] was just my second time playing [organized] ball like this,” Schand said. “So at first I was pretty nervous in the beginning.”
The game being at New Britain High School helped settle Schand’s anxiety before the start of the game.
“I got here early with [Yopp] and he just showed me the court,” Schand said. “Then I was just like ‘alright, it’s in New Britain. This is my hometown. I’m going to just go score. I’m going to just do whatever I can.’”
Yopp believes the fact that the Nutmeg Games are hosted by the city of New Britain is a major motivator for young, local talent to get involved.
“Nutmeg is in our city, so we have to go out and dominate and play hard for our city,” Yopp said. “Why not play in something that’s heavily involved in our community.”
Schand said the support from Yopp and the rest of the coaching staff has been felt across the entire team, but has had a lasting effect on him. In fact, the coaching staff has urged the player he could suit up for the New Britain Hurricanes next season. As a result, Schand wants as much experience on the court as possible.
“My coaches picked me up and told me to play [for Reis] so I can get used to playing,” Schand said. “I want to be playing for New Britain High next year. And my coaches want me to as well, so they’ve helped me a lot. Playing in Nutmeg is the closest thing to high school ball at this point. So when I start playing real ball for the [high school] team, I’ll be used to it and I’ll be good.”
Judging from the result, there could be many Reis players sporting Hurricanes gear next season. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the love of the game.
“Sure we want to win,” Yopp said. “But we want to play basketball, simple as that. We put these kids together and they work everything out because they just want to play. We have the fundamentals and speed and size to do well, but it’s all about having fun.”
Tyler Roaix can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org