BEACON FALLS — Dave Uhl is a firm believer that his chinstrap-style facial hair makes him a better basketball player.
“Without a doubt,” Woodland’s senior point guard says. “It’s all about look good, feel good, play good. I’m a big believer in that. I hope [it’s intimidating].”
Those perfectly trimmed whiskers might be the only imposing part of Uhl’s 5-foot-10 frame, but the real fearsome part of his game is just how hard he plays.
Uhl doesn’t take off minutes. He doesn’t take off possessions. He’s the team’s leading scorer but he’s also the team’s leading defender. Most importantly, Woodland head coach Tom Hunt says, Uhl is simply the leader.
“He’s relished the role of being a senior leader,” Hunt says of the tri-captain. “He’s one of those guys who likes to lead by example. His work ethic has made it so the other guys have to work just as hard as him.”
Hunt pointed out before the season that Uhl dove for loose balls in practice and scrimmages. That set the tone for a season in which Woodland has surpassed its primary goal of winning eight games to make the Class S state tournament. The Hawks have 10 wins and could be a mid-seed in the Naugatuck Valley League tourney.
Woodland’s surprise of a season is mirrored by Uhl’s vast improvement. He’s gone from a panicky point guard who preferred passing to a confident offensive facilitator who knocks down as many big shots as anyone.
“Last year I wasn’t really confident with the ball,” Uhl says. “I didn’t want to step up and I tried to pass it to other people. I feel a lot more comfortable handling the ball and taking more shots this year. Being a senior, you’re the guy everyone’s looking for to step up.”
Uhl’s only been in public school for high school after his mother, Kathy, homeschooled him and his two older brothers, Bob and Jon. He was excited to get the chance to attend Woodland mostly for one reason.
“Sports was definitely a big part of it,” says Uhl, a National Honor Society member. “You can’t play sports competitively really in any other league than in high school and I wanted to be part of that.”
Uhl started last year and saw court time his sophomore year but was never a prominent part of the offense. That experience, though, is part of what Hunt thinks has set Uhl apart this season.
“I think the confidence comes with the amount of time he’s played,” Hunt says. “He has so much experience under his belt and he’s really been able to slow down the game to a pace that would really benefit him.”
Uhl averages 16.9 points per game, good for 11th-best in the NVL. He’s taken over a lot of the scoring load from Tanner Kingsley, on whom opposing defenses have focused this season after he was the league’s third-leading scorer a year ago.
The departure of Ryan Angeloszek and Billy Alfiere to graduation left Kingsley as the only proven scoring threat on the Hawks. So Uhl went to work and changed his game to become a scorer.
“We knew Dave would have to step into the role as not only being point guard but also being a scorer,” Hunt says. “Over the summer he really put in the effort working on his shot. It’s really paid dividends.”
His slick shot is reliable from anywhere on the floor, whether it’s a fast-break layup or a pull-up 3-pointer. Uhl’s two free throws in the final seconds Jan. 25 at Wilby helped Woodland secure a 79-76 win over the previously unbeaten No. 2 team in the state just days after the sudden death of George Pinho, a popular coach with whom many players were close.
“That was the most unbelievable thing I’ve been part of,” Uhl says. “I don’t even know what was even going through my head on those free throws. GP was definitely with us for that one.”
But while the outside focus on Uhl’s rise might be on his increased scoring, Hunt looks at the senior’s defensive effort as perhaps his biggest contribution.
“David’s elevated his scoring but his intensity on defense has translated into a lot of buckets on the other end,” Hunt says. “People sleep on the fact that he plays 32 minutes a game and nobody plays harder than him. His aggressiveness leads the team.”
After that win over Wilby, Woodland lost three of four to essentially fall out of the running for its first-ever NVL Brass Division title. But with two regular-season games remaining before the postseason, Uhl says he thinks his team still has its best basketball ahead of it.
“After the Wilby game I think we got caught looking ahead because we got a little too cocky or something,” Uhl says. “We hit a slump after that game — we lost to Watertown and St. Paul and almost lost to Derby. I think we’re going to come back harder.”