BROCKTON – On a recent Friday afternoon, a rare off day on the schedule, the Brockton girls’ basketball team is inside Staff Gymnasium working on catching the basketball and squaring up to the hoop.
Basic stuff, but it is the approach that second-year coach Chris Connolly must take.
There is not a lack of talent, but a previous lack of instruction at the youth level in the city.
In the four years prior to this fall, the City of Brockton was not fielding organized teams at the middle school level because of a lack of funding.
“When people think of Brockton and that we have all these resources, we really don’t have them,” said Connolly. “We’re building from the ground up.”
Cuts in middle school sports had a disproportionate impact on girls’ basketball players since the city did not, and still does not, have a program in place.
“We had to play with the boys for BCB (Brockton Community Basketball),” said Jaila Smith , a senior captain at Brockton who was in eighth grade when the sports were cut.
Freshman Alexandra Williams , whose last two middle school campaigns were limited to just two games apiece, felt at tryouts that the Boxers were immediately starting the season at a disadvantage.
“If you play middle school sports, you play basketball with the people you’re going to go to high school with and you get that experience,” said Williams, who recorded a triple-double (20 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists) in Tuesday’s 72-21 win over New Bedford.
“All these other towns, they have experience with like the freshmen because they played together, and then we come up here and we don’t have experience together.”
Sophomore Naylani Monteiro played AAU basketball in the offseason, but that did not prepare her for the jump to high school ball last season.
“It’s just not the same,” said Monteiro. “I just learned how to play basketball better and be a better passer in middle school.”
Connolly said there is a stark difference between the freshmen at Brockton and his previous coaching stop in East Bridgewater, a town with a youth league in place.
“My freshman class every year had been basically playing together from fifth grade on,” said Connolly. “There’s a lot more athleticism here, but skill-wise, East Bridgewater had more skills coming in.
“Our first game at the freshman level this year, we were scoring on the wrong basketball. It wasn’t just once, it was three shots on the other team’s basketball.”
When Connolly was hired last winter, there were no cuts because only 34 players tried out for the team. He understood the challenge and went to work.
“We started recruiting,” said Connolly. “We went to the middle schools [during the few games] they had last year, and I got all the girls’ phone numbers and called them.”
The returning players also stepped forward.
“On social media most of us try to stress for freshmen and all the middle schoolers to come to tryouts because some kids don’t even know about them,” said Smith, in her second year as a starter. “We post them on the TV, we ask administration for them to post it, too.”
The result? 76 players tried out this season.
“We would always have maybe 20 or 30 girls show up,” said senior captain Jade Wint , the team’s lone returning league all-star who is averaging 17.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
“I was really surprised.”
Added competition, effort and instruction, combined with raw athleticism and a solid core of returning talent have the Boxers (6-2) on pace for their best season in four years (14-8 in 2014-15).
Brockton has posted impressive double-figure victories over Abington (69-35), Barnstable (57-38 and 55-35), Stoughton (65-42) and New Bedford (73-21).
The Boxers dropped two games at the Rivard Tournament to Walpole (55-38) and Oliver Ames (54-50).
“Those losses still sting,” Connolly said. “We’ve got to get better at all facets. We’re making mistakes where if they had more playing experience it wouldn’t be happening. We’re up on the upswing though.”
■ Dan Sargent took the helm of an 18-7 Lowell squad that reached the Division 1 semifinals last March.
But with the graduation of Globe All-Scholastic Shyan Mwai (now playing as a freshman at Iona) and others, along with the departure of coach Brian Myers , the transition has not been seamless in a 2-6 start.
“It’s been a process creating a team identity and getting us as a whole to play the type of hoop we are looking to play,” said Sargent, who previously coached at Tyngsborough for five seasons. “That coupled with a significant amount of kids getting their first real varsity minutes has led to a rocky start.”
Sargentcertainly believes in the process.
“We’re making progress every day,” he said. “We are embracing the challenge.”
The Red Raiders do own a victory over Nauset, a contender in Division 2 South.
■ On Friday, Brockton senior captain Jaila Smith goes head-to-head with her father, Marcel Smith, the first-year coach at Durfee.
“It’s going to be definitely different,” said Jalia Smith. “He’s usually my coach, he’s never like the opponent. It’s going to be weird.”
■ Archbishop Williams product Asiah Dingle , the Globe’s two-time D3 Player of the Year, was dominant in her first conference game with the Kent State Golden Flashes. The 5-foot-4 freshman guard erupted for a career-best 29 points to go with 9 rebounds, 5 steals and 3 blocked shots. Dingle is averaging 13.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.
■ Last year’s Division 1 Player of the Year, Newton South grad Veronica Burton helped lead the Northwestern women ring in the new year with a 70-62 victory over Michigan State. Burton started and finished 6 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals.
■ Bishop Feehan grad Lauren Manis of Franklin is having a tremendous junior season at Holy Cross. The 6-foot-1 forward is averaging 20.1 points and 12.3 rebounds per game and has been named the Patriot League Player of the Week three times.
Games to Watch:
Friday, No. 17 Central Catholic at No. 7 Andover, 6:30 p.m. — Can the Warriors (8-1) win again at home against the Raiders (5-3) for the second time this season? That’s the challenge for standout senior Gia Bramanti and Co.
Friday, No. 12 Wellesley at Newton North, 6:30 p.m. — The Bay State Conference Carey rivals clash, with the Raiders (8-1) traveling east to take on a 4-2 Tiger squad that has registered a pair of Top 20 wins.
Sunday, No. 15 Bishop Feehan at No. 16 Masconomet, 3 p.m. — The Shamrocks (6-3) topped the Chieftains (6-2) in mid December, 40-33. Now Masco has a chance to even the series at home.
Tuesday, No. 3 Cathedral at No. 8 Archbishop Williams 6:30 p.m. — The Panthers (7-1) took the first matchup of the year at home, now they travel to face Monica Spain, Jess Knight and the Bishops (5-1).
Tuesday, No. 6 Natick at No. 2 Braintree, 5 p.m. — Can the Wamps (5-1) be knocked off by an EMass team? If so, it could be to their BSC rival.Nate Rolllins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Correspondent Greg Levinsky also contributed. He can be reached at email@example.com.