WELLESLEY — There is no panic in Northfield Mount Hermon basketball coach John Carroll.
The 18-year coach knows what type of student-athletes seek out his program at this point, and how the character and leadership of those players will allow his team to stay strong in tough situations.
On Saturday night, Carroll left all his timeouts on the board while his team gave away a 13-point deficit to Perkiomen (Pa.) before digging in to earn an 88-77 victory in the eighth annual Scholar Roundball Classic at Babson College.
“A bad team has no leader, a good team has a coach as a leader, and a great team has the players as leaders,” Carroll said. “We really do put the game in the players’ hands.”
Over the past decade, NMH (7-1) has emerged as a national power with seven straight trips to the National Prep Championship Final Four.
During the 2016-17 season, NMH set a program record with 30 wins, only to be topped by a 31-win season and NEPSAC Class AAA championship in 2017-18.
While it recruits plenty of top prospects, including Harvard commit Chris Ledlum and Penn commit Max Lorca, NMH is a school that truly emphasizes academics as much as athletics.
“This is a legacy that I built on, not built,” said Carroll, a 1989 alum of NMH and three-time Northeast-10 champion during his playing days at Assumption College.
“We’ve built it by showing that high-character kids, who have a high academic standard, can play great basketball. We were one of the first [schools] to show that could happen, and as a result those kids tend to find us.”
Lorca, a 6-foot-8-inch power forward from Brooklyn, N.Y., reclassified as a freshman and came to NMH, which he described as the best academic and athletic program in the country.
The senior provided a steady presence in the middle during Saturday’s win, anchoring the paint with 5 points and nine rebounds while showing leadership in other ways.
“It’s on us to call timeouts,” said Lorca. “If we’re feeling uncomfortable, we let [the coaches] know. Otherwise, it’s on us. That’s how you get ready for college [basketball], not by getting babied.”
In his first season at NMH, Ledlum is quickly learning how to fit into a particularly unselfish brand of basketball. The 6-6 forward from Staten Island, N.Y., produced a game-high 32 points with eight rebounds and three blocks Saturday. During Sunday’s 113-90 win over Masters School (CT), he set a new program record and Scholar Roundball Classic scoring mark with 51 points.
Standing next to an NMH veteran in Lorca, Ledlum agreed, “It’s a players’ program. Coach Carroll is great at developing us, and you get out [of it] what you put in.”
For basketball players at the Central Mass. boarding school, an excellent education and athletic leadership skills come standard.
And the institutions fortunate enough to enroll Carroll’s former players benefit from those traits. More than 60 NMH graduates have played Division 1 basketball since Carroll took over and five of his former players are currently captains of their college teams, demonstrating the leadership qualities fostered by his “players’ program.”
“We use phrases like leaders leading leaders,” said Carroll. “There are no freshmen, sophomores, juniors. There’s young leaders and old leaders.
“The expectation is when they go to college, they’re going to be captain, and that’s the emphasis. That’s how they define success. Success breeds success, and for the new players that legacy could be heavy. But if it’s not a burden, it’s a gift.”
Nate Weitzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org