Brookline High senior point guard Elijah Rogers paced the sidelines and clapped incessantly during a recent practice as one of his teammates, senior center Obi Obiora, quietly but diligently worked on his post moves while wearing a T-shirt with Snoopy emblazoned on the front.
“Come on, men!” Rogers shouted as Obiora tossed in a layup. “Let’s go! Let’s compete!”
The Warriors made it all the way to the Division 1 South semifinals last season, and hope to make another deep run in the postseason tournament with the help of their two returning first-team Bay State Conference all-stars, who have contrasting — yet complementary — on-the-floor demeanors.
The 6-foot-7 Obiora is often more of the silent type. Rogers, on the other hand, doesn’t shy away from piping up to prod teammates.
“It’s my fourth year here,” said Rogers, who has played with the varsity team since he was a ninth-grader.
“I had guys pushing me when I was a freshman, sophomore and junior, so I just gotta take after those guys that laid it out for me and just keep everybody up. If you’re not working hard, I don’t want to be on the same court as you, if you’re on my team.”
Rogers was the spark that helped the Warriors last longer in the postseason than any other Brookline team since 2004, when Jeff Adrian, now suiting up for the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats, donned the school’s colors.
Rogers finished the season averaging 14.9 points per game while playing suffocating man-to-man defense and running the offense for coach Luke Day .
“He’s a really smart basketball player,” said Day, who coached for eight seasons at Wellesley High before taking the job at Brookline last season. “It’s something that’s overlooked a lot in his game. He’s almost like a good soccer player who makes a pass to where the guy is going to be, not where he is now. He’s able to kind of see those things two or three steps ahead. Kids who don’t even know they’re open all of a sudden find the ball.”
At the start of last season, instinctive passes fired off by Rogers sometimes led to bungled offensive possessions. It took Day a few weeks to realize the benefits of his point guard’s gambling nature, the coach said.
“I had to learn,” Day said. “A turnover here or a turnover there was OK. To rein him in so much that he didn’t make those turnovers would mean that he wasn’t making the eight or nine great plays that he was making, too. That was part of my learning process as a coach.”
With Rogers pushing the team’s uptempo offense from the perimeter, Obiora, a Metco student from Hyde Park, gives the Warriors a rare blend of size and athleticism on the inside.
After playing with the Middlesex Magic AAU program last summer and working out at the Hyde Park YMCA four times a week, he’s added a midrange jump shot to his offensive repertoire and put on 15 pounds of muscle. Obiora is ready to improve on last season, when he averaged 8.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
“In my opinion Obi is the best big man in the Bay State Conference,” Rogers said. “And he’s starting to play like that. He runs the floor, and when he runs the floor he draws a lot of attention. Then we got our shooters on the wing and they’re wide open for me to find them.”
Rogers and Obiora are joined by senior Miles Morris as captains this season. While Rogers is the team’s voice, Obiora leads in other ways.
“Before practices, I was the one organizing open gyms so we could get in here and hoop a lot,” Obiora said. “A lot of our post guys are young and when they need advice, they’ll come to me. If I see someone slacking off or messing up, I’ll pull them to the side and tell them there. I won’t tell them on the court. That’s more Elijah’s thing.”
Obiora leads by example, especially for his younger brother, Arinze , a junior forward. At a recent practice, Obi caught Arinze off balance, jumped over him and threw down an emphatic one-handed dunk.
“We have a little sibling rivalry going on while we’re practicing,” Arinze said with a smile. “He wants to get me better and I want to get him better also.”
The Warriors return one other starter from last season, 6-2 forward Tyler Patterson , but have a younger roster after losing nine seniors from last year’s group to graduation.
Still, for Obiora and Rogers, the expectations remain high.
“We’re trying to put a banner up for the Bay State Conference,” said Rogers. “Then hopefully we can get a good seed for the tournament, and get back to’’ the South final.
New coach, new style
In his first year as the girls’ basketball coach at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional, Steve Connelly had about a week between the start of tryouts and his team’s first regular-season game. The Warriors completed the quick turnaround by beating Wellesley, 52-28.
“We lost a week with a late Thanksgiving, so everybody got at least a week less practice than last year,” said Connelly, who was pleased to beat what he called a “premier program” like Wellesley early on. “Then we had to miss two days because of snow. We’re all trying to keep up with our own pace. It’s hard. We haven’t even put half our stuff in.”
Connelly took over the Warriors (2-0) after serving as an assistant under Liza Feldman , who resigned before the start of the season. He was familiar with the seven players who returned from last season’s team that went 11-10, and he is in the process of getting his team familiar with the style he employed as a head coach at Cathedral High and for the Bay State Jaguars AAU program.
“I’ve called it a frog in a blender,” Connelly said. “I want everything flying down. I want them going 110 miles an hour. I play like a hockey team. I like to shift in waves. I like to move them in and out. If you have a mess of kids willing to buy into an uptempo game, never stop pressing, never stop running, give everything you got for two or three minutes and then come out — if you have kids who can do that, you’re going to have a good year.”
Connelly said he has a hard-working group led by two captains, the only seniors on the roster, Aimee DeArias and Jody Hahenkels . The team also returns 6-foot-1 junior center Olivia Canning and junior Kristen Ngan , who led the team with 12 points against Wellesley.
Here and there
Medfield High senior forward Kristin Fechtelkotter was accepted to Williams College for next fall, and is in line to play for the Ephs. . . Both 6-foot-8 forwards, sharpshooter Aaron Falzon of Newton and A.J. Brodeur of Northborough have joined 6-10 Josh Sharma of Lexington to form an intimidating front line at Northfield Mount Hermon School. Falzon played the last two seasons at St. Mark’s School in Southborough, while Brodeur starred for Algonquin Regional last season. . . The Good Sports TD Garden Invitational on Jan. 25 will feature boys’ teams from 14 area high schools, capped by a showdown between Newton South and Newton North. Tickets to the fund-raiser can be purchased for $12 through the athletic departments at the participating schools.Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.