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Concord boys’ basketball team hopes championship feeling rubs off

It’s funny what winning a high school football championship can do. It can invigorate a town. It can put a school in the state’s athletic spotlight. And it can instill in the players involved a winning attitude and championship know-how.

One that Concord High boys’ basketball Coach John Finnegan is optimistic can cross over from fall to winter and from field to gym.

“It takes some grit to win a state championship in football, and I’m hoping that transfers over to the basketball court,” he said. “I think we have an opportunity for some success.”

Some of that winning moxie would be welcome at Concord, which went 4-14 last year and has been meandering in Division I since its last trip to the playoffs in 2007. Six players from that football team are on the basketball team this year, and while no one argues that run blocking and tackling come in handy on the court, they do agree that the intangibles gained from one can be just as good in the other.

“None of us like to lose. We’re all really big competitors,” senior forward Marc Gaudet said. “When we’re on the court, we give it all. That’s always a plus, and once we start getting better, we’ll be able to really come together and mold as basketball players.”

Success in another sport isn’t all that’s in the Tide’s favor. Concord returns a healthy percentage of its starting lineup, as Gaudet returns to power forward, while juniors Jacob Szulc and Sam Marquis are back at small forward and shooting guard, respectively, and senior Rob Kelly, who started in spots last year, projects as the team’s top option at center.

The Tide also has seniors Bakir Bascelic (forward) and Devon Ferland (guard) as seasoned options who saw time last year and are familiar with Finnegan’s system. Juniors Thomas Bengtson (guard), Zach Djabelarbi, Ian Scura (forwards) and Jayln Stone (swingman) offer further depth.

“We’ve got a good cast coming back. Lot of experience. They’ve got a lot of varsity experience,” Finnegan said. “They’ve taken their lumps over the last couple of years, but I think we’re going to do well this year.”

The question comes at point guard, if only because of the player the Tide will have to replace. Kaleb Marquis’s graduation left a gaping hole with the Tide, depriving the team of its floor leader and top scorer. Concord did get a head start in finding his replacement when senior Garrett Jewell transferred back from Bishop Brady, and senior Seimou Smith, a newcomer to the team, will also be getting minutes at the point.

“I’m looking for Garrett Jewell to step in and do what Kaleb did for us last year, in terms of most of the ball handling. … He’s definitely filling a void that we were looking to fill,” Finnegan said. “(He) and Smith will handle (point guard), off and on, depending on what the situation is. They’re probably both going to be in the starting five.”

That answers the question of who’s running the offense, and Finnegan is confident the team has the issue of who’s scoring the points figured out as well. Jewell and Smith can score, and Marquis (a shooter) and Szulc (a slasher) combined for over 500 points last year.

The different roles give the Tide a variety of ways to attack an opponent, and Smith said the onus is on the players to make it work.

“We just have to know our roles,” he said. “We just all need to take a role, and hopefully that will settle in so we don’t have just one scorer. We know we can score. We can’t just go out there and do all 1-on-1.”

Szulc said that without Kaleb in the mix, the other players on the floor will have to step up.

“We’re definitely making up for him by coming together and scoring as a team,” Szulc said. “As opposed to having one player score 20, we’re going to have three guys score 15.”

It’s a puzzle, but Finnegan likes the odds of it working out and of Concord having something to play for if it does. At a recent tournament, Finnegan saw Manchester Central, Pembroke and Trinity playing, and came away with the impression that his team belongs in the mix in Division I.

“There’s going to be a lot of parity (in the division), I think, this year,” he said. “Based on what I have, I think we can match up pretty well.”

Getting to that level will mean finishing on the kinds of opportunities it got last year.

“We lost a lot of one-, two-, three-, four-point games last year, and I think these guys had a taste of that,” Finnegan said. “Now, I think we’re ready to turn the corner.”

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at abonifant@cmonitor.com or 369-3340 or on Twittter @dbonifant.)

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