Naugy looking to take next step

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Naugatuck High junior Ryan Griesenauer, left, defends senior Brandon Kuczenski during practice Monday night. After a slow start last season, the Greyhounds finished with an 11-11 record and are looking to build upon that success this year. –KEN MORSE

NAUGATUCK — Coming off a 3-17 season and sporting a 2-5 record early last year, the Naugatuck boys basketball team appeared to be headed for a third straight losing season under coach Mike Wilson.

But something was a little bit different as the ‘Hounds had a little bit of a swagger going. They played their best against the top competition in the Naugatuck Valley League. One-point losses to both Holy Cross and Crosby attracted attention and opponents started to get a little leery of Naugy.

Naugatuck went on a five-game winning streak, its longest successful streak in more than five seasons. The Greyhounds finished the season at 11-11 and could have gone further if they had hit a few more free throws down the stretch.

The ‘Hounds come into this season looking to raise the bar yet again.

“We want to take the next step,” said Wilson, the program’s all-time leading scorer. “We have a chance to do something very special here. And having the town rally around us like they did last season will be an important part of building on that success.”

Nolan Kinne, Zac Mercer, and Adam Neveski have graduated but the bulk of last year’s team remains intact. Naugy is led by All-NVL senior center Brandon Kuczenski, senior power forward Husani Foote, and senior guards Mick Pernell and Gabe Pulliam. All four returning players made significant contributions to last year’s team.

“Last year’s success can’t be forgotten,” Wilson said. “We need to build off that and raise the expectations this season. My assistant coaches, Jahmal Francis, John Minicucci, Jeff DeVito, and Brian DeVito, are not about to let this team forget all that they achieved last season.”

The Greyhounds not only have the important pieces of the puzzle in place, but they also have all the tools in the shed to present a challenge to every team on its schedule.

Seniors Jerome Love and Matt Bradley will add to the depth, along with juniors Nate Franklin and Ryne Griesenauer.

Naugatuck held opponents to fewer than 50 points in nine games last season and scored more than 60 points on eight occasions. Wilson sees a wide range of potential for his team.

Naugatuck boys basketball coach Mike Wilson shouts out instructions during practice Monday night at the school. –KEN MORSE

“We have the potential to win by 20 points and we also have the capacity to lose by 20 points,” Wilson said. “It all comes down to playing all four periods and a full 32 minutes a game. We can no longer be satisfied of being in the game at the half or be in the lead heading into the final period. We need to finish what we start.”

The veteran presence throughout the team gives Wilson a good problem.

“We have several strong leaders on this team. I haven’t picked any captains yet,” Wilson said. “To be honest with you, I’m the captain of this team.”

Sophomore Jason Bradley will miss the season due to a foot injury suffered in the Thanksgiving football game, but the Greyhounds have a few younger players who will be looking to battle for minutes, including sophomores Maleek Brooks, Dayvon Russell, and Bryan Coney.

“The main philosophy has to be playing for the guy next to you,” Wilson said. “If it’s about individual stats we won’t even make the tournament, I don’t care how much potential this team has. If we play team basketball we can do something very special here. If we get the same kind of support from the school and the town the way we did last year, this team has the capability of taking it to the next level.”

The Greyhounds open the season Dec. 12 at home against Wolcott. They travel to Holy Cross on Dec. 14 and return home to face Sacred Heart on Dec. 17.