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NEWPORTâ€“Change is in the air for the North Country basketball boys, but it is not so much a change on the court or in personnel as it is a change in attitude. When I walked into the gym last week to speak with the team and it's head coach Brian Bonvechio, I could sense that things were different with this group.
Multiple members of the senior leadership group addressed this issue before I even had a chance to speak to Bonvechio.
"We've got much better chemistry than we have had in years, and that's helped tremendously," said Taylor Prue.
"The team is more connected," said Steve Raboin, "I feel like everyone of us can give someone constructive criticism and they will not take it the wrong way. I feel like we are closer, more like a family.
Said Devon Martin, "We are getting along really well and I can feel a connection both on and off the court. This year we all get along well and we pick each other up when we are down. We are a team."
And what does Bonvechio have to say about this new attitude with his players?
"I think it started right off the bat when my assistant AJ Floriani took charge and put them through some drills to get them more talkative, concerned with defense, and really starting with a work ethic. It has been a whole different atmosphere."
On offense the team is running more of a motion attack, utilizing some of the team's strong player combos to get the ball to the basket.
Players like Tyler Paxman, Clint Provoncha, and Martin controlling the ball outside will lead to chances down low for the likes of Prue and Jason Hatin, both strong presences inside and down low.
North Country struggled at finishing last season, and the boys took a hard look at what they needed to change, and then went and did it.
"We have all been working a lot on shooting. We've gotten coaching on better shooting form, from the feet all the way up, and our lay ups are going in more this year," said Prue.
You can't win ball games without good defense, and that has been at the core of Bonvechio's game plan from the get go.
"From the first day, we've had a vision for this program. We are going to be a defensive minded, physically and mentally tough team that competes from the opening tip to the final buzzer, no matter what the score."
The team's physical toughness has been on display during the pre-season, an example being the four charges they took against Oxbow.
They hadn't had one in the previous two years.
"This year we are focusing on the fundamentals of the game," said Raboin, "We are going back to defense. What we are really doing is working a lot harder, more running, more defensive slides, just getting back to the core focus of defense."
"It's night and day out there the amount of energy these kids give out there" said Bonvechio comparing this years' squad to previous ones, "From Devon Martin to Taylor Prue, it's... contagious."
There will be some new faces on the sidelines this year. Josh Puckett dusted off his hi-tops and decided to return to basketball in his senior season after a three year lay-off, and Matt Benn will look to give the team an emotional boost as player/manager.
Tyler Jenne and Clint Provoncha are two sophomores who will be impact players right off the bat.
"Provoncha provides us with a dynamite ability to not only knock down the long jump shot, but he has been the leading assist player," said the coach, "Josh Puckett is a real nice addition as a senior. He understands the game well. A smart, smart kid.
"Everybody has a role on this team, and they seem to be willing to play it at this point, and as long we continue to play with that mindset, we will surprise a lot of teams out there."
With a retooled attitude and workman-like effort day in and day out, the Falcon boys will make sure progress and put last years' season where it belongs.
In the past.
The boys get it all started tonight when Lyndon Institute comes to North Country's gym for the season opener. J/V starts at 5:00, Varsity tips off at 6:30.