NAUGATUCK — After getting bounced in the first round of the Naugatuck Valley League and state tournaments the last two seasons, Naugatuck head coach Mike Wilson knew he had to change things up a bit this year.
Having one of the top scorers in the NVL in senior Jean Lukau is certainly a great thing, but the Greyhounds would face an uphill battle without a strong rotation.
“It’s not going to do us one bit of good to have Jean score 30 points a game and we finish at .500,” Wilson said. “If we want to be competitive in this league we are going to have to have the rest of the guys on the court be effective.
“Of course we want Jean to score, he’s our best shooter. But we’ve been down that road before and saw how that turned out for us. We have put together a nice rotation and they are all contributing, and that makes a world of difference.”
Naugy used the first couple of weeks of the season to put that rotation together. Lukau led the ‘Hounds in scoring four times through the first eight games while five players emerged to score in the double digits on multiple occasions.
Senior Gwayne Fisher, junior Derrick Jagello, sophomore Robert Sanders and a pair of freshmen, Avery Hennet and Ese Onakpoma, have all scored double digits on several occasions and led the team in scoring at least once.
What has also helped the Greyhounds click is the development of a deep bench, including seniors Andrew Robertson and Shane Carey, juniors Keywan Garris and John Mezzo and sophomore Justin Barth, to give the Greyhounds the kind of depth that can turn them into contenders.
The Greyhounds picked up some momentum to start the new year by winning three straight games to improve to 5-4.
After a pair of convincing victories over Wilby, 63-47, and Watertown, 80-45, the first week of the month, the Greyhounds headed to Bristol last Tuesday to face St. Paul and came home with a 68-48 win.
Naugatuck wasted no time and raced out to a 23-9 first quarter advantage over St. Paul.
Lukau, who finished with a game-high and season-high 34 points, simply dominated the first quarter. The senior hit on six of eight shots from the floor and finished the quarter with 18 points.
Jagello (7 assists, 5 points) was working the ball to the open shooter and took the spark out of St. Paul when Lukau returned the favor, kicking it back out to the junior guard who rippled the net for a 3-pointer. That opened up a 16-7 lead with 3:49 left in the first quarter and the Falcons never drew closer.
“We are starting to make some plays,” Wilson said. “It was nice to see. They are all buying into their roles. We are playing the right way and it makes a world of difference.”
As the Greyhounds hit the midway point of the season, Wilson said the goal is to continue to get better.
“One step at a time, one game at a time,” Wilson said. “The goal is to improve every day, every practice and every game. You can’t judge it by wins and losses. We just want to see the team improve every day.”
Naugatuck will host a much-improved Wolcott team on Friday. Next week, the Greyhounds will face Ansonia on Wednesday and host Seymour on Friday.