Jaywalking: Yeoman effort

Five local boys’ basketball teams will begin their fight for WMass supremacy as the boys’ tournaments get under way tonight.

While teams like Turners Falls, Mahar and Greenfield are expected to fare well and compete for a chance to make it to Curry Hicks Cage in Amherst for the semifinals and finals, one team that gets little respect is Franklin County Technical School. But this season, the Franklin Tech boys are looking to buck the Rodney Dangerfield “no-respect” trend.

The Eagles went 13-7 during the regular season in a new-look Tri-County League that featured some teams which formerly played in the Bi-County League. The Eagles also qualified for the State Small School Vocational Tournament for the first time in the program’s history. For the unaware, the Small School Vocational Tournament takes four of the top boys’ basketball teams from technical or vocational schools, and forms a small tournament. Unfortunately, the Eagles had to travel to Hanover (a 113-mile trip each way) to take on a very good South Shore Vocational Technical High School team, and things did not go so well in a 76-48 defeat. Still, to be included in the four-team field was a chance for the Eagles to show that they’re not your run-of-the-mill Tech team.

“We get no respect,” Tech coach Rick Recore said, wearing his best Dangerfield frown. “The reality of it is, you’re looked down upon by the rest of the leagues. When I was coaching elsewhere, we instructed our teams that you don’t beat this team by less than 30 points.”

While it may not be fair to the Tech school, Recore is right. The Eagles are typically an afterthought come tournament season. We mention that they qualify in the tournament field, and we usually plan for them to be a one-and-done team. Honestly, we are usually correct. Tech school teams, no matter the sport, are typically fodder for one of the top teams come tournament season. The Tri-County League, primarily made up of tech/voke teams, rarely produces WMass contenders. The sport that typically features Tech teams with the best chance to win games is baseball, and that is usually because one of those teams has a top pitcher who can help carry it through a round or two.

But in basketball, or other sports that require more of a team effort to win, it’s not common to see a tech school thrive. And it’s little wonder. The Tech schools are always behind when it comes to building sports teams. Consider this: Greenfield coach Scott Thayer or Turners Falls coach Gary Mullins both have a pretty good idea how good their teams will be five years from now. All they have to do is look at the young players on their teams, compute the strength of their middle-school programs and gauge their future.

The same does not hold true for the tech schools, who form their teams based on the students deciding to attend their schools. Typically, these students are trying to learn a trade and are more focused on that than athletics.

On top of that, the players who come together to form these teams have not grown up playing together, unlike a number of the players forming public school teams. What you generally end up with is one or two strong basketball players, not a strong team.

“The Tech School has always had one or two good players, just not a complete team,” Recore explained. “If I was coaching against Tech in the past, it would be easy to beat them, because you only have to take out one or two good players.

“It’s very different at a technical school,” he continued. “To have feeder programs, you know what your middle-school team looks like, so you have an idea what you have coming up. Here, it’s very unique because different towns have different philosophies about teaching young players. But these guys have done a great job of getting to know each other. They have team meals — they like being around each other —and a huge factor was that guys went to summer camps and played summer league together.”

Every successful team obviously needs to have a player to build around. That’s true from the pros right down to the youth leagues. You take Kevin Durant away from Oklahoma City, and you have a mediocre NBA team. Remove Jabari Parker from Duke or C.J. Fair from Syracuse, and neither are among the top five NCAA teams in the country. As for Franklin Tech, its building block is Chris Wetherby, a junior forward who stands at 6-foot-1 but plays much bigger than that. This season, Wetherby has been a force. He is the second leading scorer in the TCL (behind Genesis Arias from Pioneer Valley Christian School, who leads Western Mass. with 29 points per game) with 26 points per game this season. And while he has been the catalyst on offense many nights, he is not the only player getting it done. The Eagles feature four other players who average over 6 points per game, and Recore uses about 10 players in rotation every single game. The fourth-year coach, who previously worked as an assistant at Winchendon School, Franklin Pierce College, as well as a personal trainer for players under Travis Ford during his head coaching tenure at UMass, said all the credit goes to the hard work the players have put in.

“These guys compete just as hard as any of the Division I players I’ve been around,” he said. “I like the character of these guys, their passion, and the fire these guys have. It has nothing to do with me. It’s how these kids are raised.”

The Eagles came very close to pulling off a “Look at us” kind of win on Feb. 4, when they came up just short against Division III tournament team Palmer High School (55-53). Recore said that in the past just being in that game would have been good enough, but this team walked off the court with a bitter taste in its mouth.

Things are still not going to be easy for the Eagles when they take to the court for their first tournament game in the WMass Division IV field tonight at Lenox Memorial High School. The 12th-seeded Eagles are likely double-digit underdogs to the fifth-seeded Millionaires, but that’s nothing new for the Eagles. Even if the team does come up short, there is still a silver lining, as nearly the entire team (minus one starter and one bench player) will be back again next season.

“Plain and simple, these guys haven’t even come close to reaching their potential,” Recore said. “I’m not looking to next year, but I do feel very, very good about where this program will be in the future.”

Who knows, maybe this team will prove the rest of the basketball world wrong and be fodder no longer.

The fellas from the local radio world are going to be busy tonight and it’s good for anyone looking to listen to local basketball games.

Jeff Tirrell and Shawn Hubert will be broadcasting the Pioneer Valley Christian/Turners Falls boys’ basketball game on Bear Country (95.3), while Chris Collins and the “C-Man” himself, Bobby C, will be broadcasting the Greenfield/Palmer game on WHAI (98.3).

Good night for local hoops fans that can’t make it to the game.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com.

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