By Jim Sullivan
---- — Newburyport boys basketball senior co-captains Ian Michaels and Colt Fontaine are leading the 8-3 Clippers the best way possible — by example.
Michaels, a two-year starter at guard, averages 11.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steal per game. Fontaine, a two-year starter at power forward, averages 9.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 2.3 steals. But the numbers are not why coach Tom L’Italien chose them to lead his team.
“They both have interesting stories or journeys to get here,” L’Italien said of his captains. “They lead in their own ways, Ian more with his voice, and Colt more with his actions. They both have a great influence on the team.”
Three-sport teammates in football, hoops and baseball, both Michaels and Fontaine came to basketball from different angles.
“Ian, in his sophomore year, really had to learn how to be a good varsity player. He got away with being just a really good athlete up until then,” said L’Italien. “It was a process for him to learn how to compete on an everyday basis. Getting yourself mentally prepared. Because athletically, he could survive out there. And it’s been really nice to see how far he has come.”
Fontaine, L’Italien says, was a little more ambivalent toward basketball.
“He was obviously a good athlete, (but) he liked football and baseball more going into his sophomore year. He’s had a huge, huge impact in the past couple of years,” L’Italien said of Fontaine. “This year, he’s had three games where he had close to 20 rebounds. He’s got a nose for the ball, he’s competitive, he leads by example.”
Born athletes, Michaels and Fontaine have been playing sports together since middle school, and both said the speed of hoops is what attracted them to the court.
“For me it’s the pace of it, the quick decisions,” Michaels said. “I like how it is up and down. I like how you have to make those split-second decisions. I like how it is an athlete’s sport, you’ve got to run.”
“It’s a lot like Ian says,” said Fontaine. “Baseball is a lot slower. And you can clearly see the athletes stand out more in basketball, I think. There are no breaks in it, you’re running up and down constantly.”
But fooling around on the court and captaining a varsity team are two different things entirely, and Fontaine says he was surprised how fast the leadership role came upon him.
“It comes quick,” Fontaine said. “And I think we’re just beginning to realize that. We all thought last year was a pretty good year, but it ended a lot quicker (against Arlington Catholic in the second round of the state tournament) than we all thought it would. And we just don’t want that to happen again this year.”
“I was excited to take that leadership role on the team,” said Michaels. “Basketball is the type of sport where you come a long way during the season. In January, you’re playing your best ball. We’ve just got to get those younger guys to come along and take that leadership role because, 30 days away, we’re stepping out and we’ve just got to get them ready to take that role.”
“In the beginning, a lot of the young kids didn’t really realize the potential of the team,” said Fontaine. “And I think a lot of the kids now don’t want to see it go to waste.”
With the last month of the regular season staring him and his captains in the face, L’Italien is confident he has the right men for the job.
“It’s been a real nice process, watching these guys build up to the players they are now and the leaders they are now,” said L’Italien. “As a team we’ve got to keep building toward consistency right now, and it starts with those guys. It spills into the other seniors, and from there, into the rest of the team. These guys want to go out with a bang. It’s important to them.”
“We’re the seniors,” said Fontaine. “We’ve got to make our footprint now.”