CENTRAL SQUARE — Brandon Kulakowski and Cruz Springer simultaneously blurted out: ‘Sectional championship,’ to begin a discussion of expectations for the upcoming season during a recent practice, then looked at each other and laughed before exchanging an impromptu fist bump.
The duo, along with the rest of the 10 seniors on the Central Square boys basketball team, is on the same page in regards to the battle-tested squad’s primary goal when the new season tips off with a nonleague game against Watertown High School at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 5 at Paul V. Moore High School.
The Redhawks have good reason to set their sights high, poised to return the largest senior class in the 19-year tenure of head coach Jay Adams after consecutive 17-win campaigns that ended in the Section 3 Class A semifinals.
“The expectations are always high,” Central Square senior guard Braden Eiffe said. “We’re coming off two great seasons and we just have to finish, we have to capitalize and get to the big game. We’re all excited and ready to get at it and work hard for it. We want it.”
Central Square finished 17-4 overall and 11-3 in the Salt City Athletic Conference Empire Division for a second-place finish in the league standings last year. They opened with the program’s first 11-0 start in more than a decade, and finished one game short of the sectional final for the second straight year.
The Redhawks last won a sectional title in 2005 but the senior-laden squad, many of whom have been with the program through its active four-year stretch of posting 14 wins or more, have been fueled by the thought of becoming the next team to secure the crown.
“That’s really given us the drive to get out and shoot more or to make the extra pass, overall just play more aggressive,” said senior center and third-year varsity player, Cruz Springer. “We try to improve every season and last year we went for the championship and didn’t quite get it, so we’re trying to get it this year.”
Adams said that the Redhawks moved quickly through preseason play installations during practices this year, mostly attributed to the experience level and chemistry of the team. In addition to 10 of his 15 players being seniors, several among that group have played varsity for at least three seasons.
The Watertown native and son of longtime Watertown High School boys basketball coach, Paul Adams, said that his goal is to send the signature class off to graduation with a memorable season.
“I’m excited for the leadership factor,” Jay Adams said. “They’re seniors and I think they realize: ‘OK, this is it, this is the last go-round together.’ So hopefully they’ll come into it and be as hungry as they’ve been the last couple years. The senior classes before them have kind of handed them the baton. … Each year, it’s gotten a little better, so hopefully these 10 seniors can take the baton and get it to the next level.”
Senior point guard Tim Giblin is back for his fourth season as the starter after scoring 20 points per game and averaging nearly five assists as a junior last year. He will lead a deep backcourt that includes returning standouts like Eiffe, Brandon Kulakowski, Braxton Warden, Kyle Fabianek, and Johnny Davis, a former Central Square player who transferred back into the district this year.
Jayden Bonaparte and Springer will anchor the middle for a unit that is likely to play smaller lineups and operate at a faster tempo than last season. The style change will be made to account for the loss of depth down low with the graduation of former three-year starting center, Slade Springer, and to take advantage of its unique backcourt depth.
Adams said that the team could play five guards together occasionally and he will likely tinker with different lineup combinations early in the season.
“We’ve got a lot of shooters on the team and we’ll be able to run and press the whole game basically, and speed teams up,” Kulakowski said. “I think we’ll have a good small-ball lineup like what’s been revolutionized in the NBA over the last few years, and I think we’ll be able to play fast.”
Springer added: “I think we can play fast and press up, and be really aggressive this season. … There is flexibility in all of our positions, everyone can really play in different spots and move around, and make our team dynamic.”