BLUE HILL—The George Stevens Academy boys basketball team enters the 2016-17 season with added pressure to retain its title as the Class C State Champions after bringing the gold ball back to Blue Hill last season for the first time since 2003. According to head coach Dwayne Carter, though, his team is not paying any attention to the hype.
“We know there’s a lot of talk out there, but we’re trying not to listen to it,” said Carter. “We’re just looking forward, one practice, one game at a time. For us, there isn’t really a game that’s bigger than the other.”
Carter said he expects to have a solid season, with many of last year’s championship team players returning. The team will begin the season without one of its starters, though, as Beckett Slayton is recovering from a back injury he sustained prior to the preseason.
“That injury is unfortunate, as it’s never fun to start a season off with one of your starters injured, but some of the younger kids have stepped up,” said Carter. “Percy Zentz has stepped into the starting role and is doing a great job for us right now.”
Carter has also had to develop a strategy around the loss of 2016 graduate Nick Szwez, who was a force in the paint for the Eagles last season. He and Max Matson were able to dominate inside at over six feet tall.
“Losing Nick was a big loss, we had two people over six feet down low, which doesn’t happen a lot in high school basketball here,” said Carter. “We’ve had to change things up, put people at different roles and execute in a different way.”
The change in strategy has allowed the team to work the ball around the floor both inside and outside of the post, pulling defenses away from the basket for higher percentage scoring opportunities.
“We’ve been running screen and roll offenses and really swinging the ball well in the preseason games,” said Carter. “Our offense creates scoring opportunities much better when everyone touches the ball.”
Carter said one of the main reasons for last year’s success, and what he thinks will make his team successful again this season, is his relationship with the players and the trust they have in him and in one another. With the return of all but three of last year’s players, he is excited about the strong leadership he has in his upperclassmen.
“I think our guys from last year understand that you can’t get anywhere without trust on the court,” said Carter. “I need to trust in them just as much as they need to trust in me. So we work a lot on building that relationship early and then continuing it throughout the season. When you win a gold ball together and experience that, it’s a really special relationship that comes from it.”
Carter is no stranger to the main stage of high school basketball. In 1979, he, along with Athletic Director Larry Gray, won the title for George Stevens Academy. In 2003 he led the Eagles to another state title as an assistant coach under Matt Matson before bringing home another gold ball for the Eagles last year as head coach.
“It’s really cool to have won titles on all those levels,” said Carter. “This will be my 14th year at the varsity level. What works and what doesn’t is constantly evolving, but I think what will work the most this year is to keep looking forward, one day at a time.”
The Eagles kick off the season at 7 p.m. Friday, December 9, in Deer Isle.