Green Season: Inside the 2000 Greenfield basketball season, 20 years later — Part 2 (Building the Culture)

  • Turners Falls’ Mat McMillan drives to the basket as Greenfield’s Paul Hirst defends during independent action on Dec. 17, 1999 in the Powertown. McMillan and Turners pushed Greenfield, but the Green Wave ultimately survived for a 74-71 victory. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/26/2020 5:09:17 PM

(NOTE: This is Part 2 of Green Season: Inside the 2000 Greenfield basketball season. Part 1 of the series ran last week.)

It was early in the 1999-2000 season, but the chemistry felt right for the Greenfield High School boys’ basketball team.

It was only one game, against a Hampshire League and Division 3 team, but the Green Wave made a statement in their season opener against Pioneer. After weeks of practicing and scrimmaging against each other, the club was more than happy to go out and beat up on a real opponent.

“Our practices were brutal,” recalled head coach Scott Thayer. “I remember Deyvehn East saying, ‘Games are easy. Practice is hard.’ You had someone going against you who is almost as good as you are in a 5-on-5 scrimmage.”

Senior center Luke Martin said that Thayer knew how to get the most out of the team, particularly during the early portion of that championship season.

“He knew just how much to push us,” Martin said. “We definitely had those practices where people got mad and stormed out, almost got in fights with one another. But he managed it perfectly.”

The level of comfort surrounding the program stemmed from years of playing together. Up through the youth ranks, the core members of the 2000 team had all played with one another. Whether that was with the Greenfield Hornets or in the Jerry Donoghue Memorial Summer Basketball League, members of that Greenfield team had no shortage of familiarity with each other by the time 1999 rolled around.

Point guard Tim Burns, a sophomore newcomer that winter, had finished up the previous year at Eaglebrook School. When he decided to attend Greenfield High School, he did so knowing that the basketball program was primed for a special run upon his arrival.

“Playing on the summer league team (in 1999) prior to that season, the guys made efforts to integrate me right away,” explained Burns, whose father coached the summer squad. “They were welcoming. That’s the key thing when you have a good team, guys welcome you in. Guys were willing to do what was best for the team. So I think there was a feeling going into the season that we had a chance to make a run. And that continuity of playing together from a young age.”

Martin said he and classmate Billy Thomas had played together since they were young kids. The two logged minutes on varsity as freshmen, and had a ‘win now’ mentality for their senior seasons in green and white.

“We had some really talented players in the classes above us and Billy and I were always on those teams as younger kids,” Martin offered. “That senior class was really cohesive and we had played together forever. But we also had a lot of talent. It’s one thing to be comfortable with each other, but you still have to actually be good on the court.”

GAME 2 (Dec. 17, 1999): Greenfield 74, Turners Falls 71 (OT)

After a 29-point win over Pioneer to open the season, Greenfield took to the road for the first time in another independent tilt against rival Turners Falls.

It was much closer than many expected.

Greenfield led 40-28 at halftime, but Turners Falls, riding the play of Mat McMillan, charged back in the second half at home. The game was tied at 67 with 2.8 seconds remaining in regulation, and McMillan stepped to the free throw line with two shots and a chance to win the game. He missed both however, sending action to overtime. The Wave outscored Turners by a 7-4 margin in the extra session to survive for a 74-71 win and a 2-0 start.

Thomas led all scorers with 21 points, and Burns followed with 15. Aaron Clark led the charge on the glass and added six points, while East tossed in nine points.

McMillan and guard Mike Gonzales both finished with 20 points for Turners.

GAME 3 (Dec. 28, 1999): Greenfield 91, Agawam 39

Following an 11-day break for the Christmas holiday, Greenfield took out its frustration from a close win against Turners with an absolute dismantling of Agawam.

Thomas notched his third straight 20-plus point outing, going for 23 points in the victory at home to lift Greenfield to 3-0. Martin went for 20 points and five rebounds, and Burns tossed in seven points and seven assists.

“We did what we were supposed to,” Thayer told the Recorder afterward.

GAME 4 (Dec. 30, 1999): Greenfield 56, Westfield 49

As the Recorder broke out its Top Franklin County Athletes of the Century list, Greenfield closed out 1999 with another independent victory over Westfield.

That list, by the way? 1) Mark Chmura, 2) Peter Bergeron, 3) Fred Wallner, 4) Lou Bush, 5) Dave Wissman Sr.

Would Y2K ruin everything? That was the pressing concern of the day, but against the Bombers, Thomas (15 points), Martin (13), Burns (10) and Clark (6 points, 7 rebounds) all contributed. It was the third time in four games that Greenfield limited its opponent to under 50 points.

“Defensively I was very pleased,” Thayer said.

Through four games, Thomas led all Franklin County scorers with 21.5 points per game. The stakes were about to go up however, as the calendar turned to the year 2000.

Check back next week for Part 3 of this series.


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