BEACON FALLS — In its first decade of athletics, Woodland has seen a few prolific sibling duos. The Alfieres, the Joneses, the Kingsleys, and the Palmeries are just a sampling of the top families of Woodland sports.
By the end of this winter, Hawks fans might be able to tack on another name to the list thanks to the basketball exploits of Yahmad and Rahmi—the Rountrees.
The brothers have the Woodland boys basketball squad on pace to set a school record for regular season wins and to make the Naugatuck Valley League tournament for the first time in school history.
What makes the duo’s performance so far this season more impressive than the stats indicate is that both are in their first full seasons as starters for coach Tom Hunt’s Hawks.
Yahmad, a senior who is second in the NVL with a 20.1 points-per-game average, has been one of the league’s most dangerous scoring and rebounding threats throughout the first half of the season.
He’s already played more games than he did last season after he had to sit out two months due to academic issues. When he returned for the home stretch of 2010, he showed glimmers of excellence in helping Woodland to its second-ever state tournament appearance.
This year, Yahmad made sure he took care of business in the classroom so he could hit the hardwood first thing in December.
“That had to be the toughest thing that happened in my life,” Yahmad said of having to sit out more than half of last season. “There’s no way I can describe how I felt but I knew I had to get back out there so I got more serious with my school work. It did make me want to prove a lot, that I can do my school work and that I belong out on the court with my team.”
Before Yahmad was able to return full-time last year, Rahmi was seeing significant time as a freshman backup point guard. He learned from three-year starter Ryan Genua, who helped prepare Rahmi for his sophomore season.
“Playing behind him let me know what the starting role was going to be like,” Rahmi says. “He taught me a lot and helped me improve day after day. I knew playing in full games the next year as a starter wouldn’t be easy so I didn’t lean back at all last year.”
He hasn’t disappointed this season, ranking 11th in the NVL in scoring with 12.8 points per game. But the early-season success for the Rountrees and Woodland hasn’t come easily as the relatively inexperienced team has felt some growing pains.
“We’ve had games where we had a lead well over 10 points and the other team managed to make a comeback and put themselves back in the game,” Yahmad says. “A lot of us aren’t used to the pressure we have and our expectations.”
The Hawks have shown a clutch gene that has been almost nonexistent in program history, pulling out wins over Watertown and Naugatuck in games that came down to the final seconds.
Those victories, among others, have been in large part to the outstanding play of the Rountrees. Both are capable ball handlers and shooters, each taking shots in crucial situations. Rahmi is a quick guard with excellent defensive hands while Yahmad is one of the most agile 6-foot-5 players in the area.
“I was a point guard all my life,” Yahmad says. “Then I had a growth spurt that put me well over six feet tall. Only having height and ball handling skills isn’t enough, so constantly my father and coach Hunt helped me develop a down-low game. Being able to do both makes me extremely hard to stop.”
Though Yahmad is the team’s leading scorer, Rahmi doesn’t feel like he’s playing in the shadow of his brother. Instead, he feels like he has his own role to fill.
“He is a better player than me, of course, but I’m doing my job for the team almost as good as he is,” Rahmi says.
They’re perfectly able to play in their own roles, but those roles call for plenty of interaction on the court. Not surprisingly, the two feel they have an edge when they’re on the floor at the same time.
“We make a good duo maybe because know each other’s game from playing for so long and talking about our game, building that type of chemistry,” Rahmi says. “We know what we both can do.”
“He knows me better than anyone else on the floor and he also knows what I’m capable of doing to my opponent,” Yahmad says. “Plus, it’s my mom’s dream to have two sons playing together.”
The tandem is definitely making their mother proud with their play this season and the best might be yet to come. Yahmad’s numbers are certainly worthy of all-NVL and all-state consideration, both of which would be a first for a Woodland boys basketball player.
The only one who might be more determined to get Yahmad named to the all-league and all-state teams is his brother.
“I want to help my brother be Woodland boys basketball’s first all-state player,” Rahmi says.
“That’s a major goal for me,” Yahmad says. “I work at it every day, but what’s all-NVL or all-state without a successful season?”
He might be able to earn it all as the Hawks are 6-3 as of Tuesday and are in the thick of the NVL Brass Division race. Rahmi says the team’s goals are still very attainable.
“My goal is to be the best Woodland team there was,” Rahmi says. “I want to either put up a banner or just be a part of a Woodland team with the best record or make both tournaments.”
But perhaps the most important success this season might not be measured in wins or losses but in decibels—of the increasingly passionate fan base developing around the team.
“I think from last season ‘til now we already changed the image of Woodland basketball,” Yahmad says. “People love coming out to watch us play. We have even more support from our community. Every day we’re going to work harder so that we can keep a positive image for our basketball program.”