By Jim Sullivan
---- — BYFIELD — In his second year as the Triton boys basketball head coach, Dave Clay wants to bounce back from last year’s 5-15 record, and he thinks he’s found the three players to do so.
Senior co-captains Zakariya Alaoui, Paul Dacy and Sam McKenzie gave themselves a couple of weeks off after the end of last season, then got after it in a big way.
“I challenged the whole program at the end of the season that they really needed to dedicate themselves to the game,” said Clay. “And I knew these guys would be the ones leading the pack. They’ve been playing for the past three years and they didn’t get the playing time they deserved last year. That was mostly due to my fault, but they stuck with it, they were persistent and I think it’s going to pay off.”
“We had 10 seniors on the team last year,” said Clay. “So they knew that the off-season commitment was huge, and in order to get the experience playing, they had to play a lot.”
The Vikings’ captains hit the gym every morning at 6, attended the Rising Star summer basketball camp in Melrose and played over 50 games in two summer leagues: the Manchester Athlete Club outdoor league and the Tri-State summer league out of Sanborn, N.H.
“All three of us started as soon as the season ended (and) we definitely learned that if you keep playing every day, you’re going to get better,” said Alaoui, a shooting guard. “We used last year as motivation because it did stink for most of us not being able to play. But we used that to push us hard into that offseason.”
Clay says the three captains earned their teammates’ trust through hard work. After being elected captains, they have raised the intensity level for the younger players.
“It’s a big role to be a captain,” said Alaoui. “Because you have such an influence on the younger kids. They saw that we played basketball all year-round. So if they want to be a captain, they’re going have to play year-round.”
Playing in the summer leagues, the Triton trio saw a lot of older, college-bound competition. The seniors were able to learn, and most importantly, adapt.
“All of our shots got better,” point guard Dacy said. “We all are better shooting. I know, for me, my 3-point shot got better. When you play the game, you just learn more about it, so you just get better.”
“I feel like we’ve all matured,” said McKenzie, a forward. “And we learned our roles. (Now) we’re all going to come out and give it all we’ve got as seniors.”
Alaoui saw some good playing time and was a co-captain last year. But this is his last season, and he wants to go out on top.
“We’re going to turn it around, 15-5,” said Alaoui. “We’ve just got to bring our intensity and dedication to it. Pretty much put it all into the this last season. All we’ve got.”
“We see so much potential this year that we can go far,” said Dacy. “We’re trying to be the first good (Triton) team in a while. The first to win a state tournament game. We want to put Triton back on the map.”
“We want to make it bigger than it’s ever been before,” said McKenzie.
Clay knows that task ahead will be difficult, but has faith in his captains to lead the Vikes out of the wilderness.
“They are the hardest workers I’ve ever come across,” Clay said. “They put in the work in the spring, summer and fall. They committed themselves to the program and have now raised the intensity.”