Laying a foundation

Young Greyhounds look to build on lessons learned this season

Naugatuck’s Fejiro Onakpoma (35) drives to the basket through Woodland’s Zach Graveline, left, and Rich Rousseau Feb. 25 in Naugatuck. Naugatuck won the game, 63-26. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Naugatuck’s Fejiro Onakpoma (35) drives to the basket through Woodland’s Zach Graveline, left, and Rich Rousseau Feb. 25 in Naugatuck. Naugatuck won the game, 63-26. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

NAUGATUCK — Nothing can quite compare to the bright lights of playing for a state championship.

Naugatuck boys basketball head coach Mike Wilson and his staff had to go back to the drawing board this season after losing seven core players from last year’s Class L runner-up squad. Along the way, they have put the stones in place to build a strong foundation for the future.

“It can be a slow painful process,” Wilson said. “We only had three seniors and they were great leaders for this young group of kids. We are definitely going to lose some size next season. But what I like about this group we have coming back is they are hard workers. We were in a ton of games that we lost at the end. They gained a lot of experience, now they need to learn how to finish a game.”

The three departing seniors — Fejiro Onakpoma, James Mesidor and Antoine Sistrunk — gave the younger Greyhounds a final lesson on how to finish a game in the season finale Feb. 25 against Woodland.

The Greyhounds defeated Woodland, 63-26, to end a 5-15 season on a high note.

Naugatuck had its problems with Woodland just two weeks ago in a 67-53 loss. Onakpoma made sure there wasn’t a repeat as his eight points and six rebounds in the second period erased a 9-5 deficit and gave the ‘Hounds a 22-16 advantage heading into the locker room at the half.

Then Onakpoma showed his younger teammates how to finish a game by scoring 13 points and ripping down nine more rebounds in a third quarter that saw Naugy outscore Woodland 25-1.

The Greyhounds left their share of games on the table this season losing six by seven points or less. They dropped the season-opener to Ansonia by four points, fell to St. Paul by six and lost to Watertown twice by three and five points, respectively.

But what crippled the Greyhounds’ chances of getting back to the state tournament was a loss at the buzzer on their home court to Torrington after falling to the Raiders by seven in Torrington.

Naugatuck’s Andre Trosan (12) finishes off a fast break with a layup versus Woodland Feb. 25 in Naugatuck. Naugatuck won the game, 63-26. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Naugatuck’s Andre Trosan (12) finishes off a fast break with a layup versus Woodland Feb. 25 in Naugatuck. Naugatuck won the game, 63-26. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Wilson said it is up to the younger players to grow from the lessons they learned this season.

“Now it’s up to the returning players,” Wilson said. “Are they going to make the investment? You are not going to pick up a basketball in December and start hitting baskets. You need to go out there and do the work and work on your individual game. As coaches we give them the tools and the guidelines but it’s up to them, we can’t do the work for them.”

Naugy will need to replace three quarters of its offense with the graduation of Onakpoma (15.5 ppg), Mesidor (11.3 ppg) and Sistrunk (6.4 ppg).

The cupboard won’t be bare next year, though.

Juniors Steve Marinaro, Andre Trosan and Corey Plasky have shown the ability to put points on the board. Junior Shane Swierbitowicz will be relied on to make his presence felt in the paint.

Juniors Tyler Deitelbaum and Alijah Garris can bring the defensive effort that can shut down an opponent. Sophomore Mike Plasky has been a consistent starter, and sophomores Caleb Scott, Joe Kwaak and Latrell Deveaux have all shown they can play quality minutes.

The foundation is in place. The rest of the building is up to the returning Greyhounds.