The self-professed “short kid in the kilt playing a tuba” is back at it.
So is senior forward Joe Cremo, the state Class A player of the year who had a game’s worth of stats in the first half alone against Cohoes on Monday night, then quietly backed off in the second.
The Scotia-Glenville boys’ basketball team is again the No. 1-ranked Class A team in the state.
What’s new in the gym on Sacandaga Road is a championship banner that was raised as the Tartans honored their undefeated 2013-14 team, inviting back players like Dom LeMorta and Alex Sausville, who have since graduated.
What comes with that is the usual blowback whenever a team is crowned.
Scotia can expect that every team they play will be thinking about how delicious it would be to knock off the champs, and, sure enough, Cohoes came out firing and enjoyed a 16-16 tie after the first quarter.
The Tartans showed that they’re equally equipped to handle that sort of pressure, though, outscoring the Tigers, 20-2, in the second quarter.
The Tartans missed some open shots in the first quarter, so head coach Jim Giammattei urged them to dial it down, start with something simple, like defense, and let the rest grow from there. Forget about talent, which they clearly have. As much as anything, the type of response and performance on display against Cohoes bodes well for Scotia’s chance to repeat as state champions.
“But we’re still developing, trying to figure it out and trust each other more,” senior point guard Scott Stopera said. “It’ll take some time with the chemistry, but I think once it’s there, it’s going to be something special again, for sure.”
Another example of Scotia’s ready-made fortitude came last Friday, when the Tartans had the fight of their life to get past Broadalbin-Perth, 48-42.
“At Broadalbin, as miserable as the night goes, they’re poised enough to be in those games and know that they still have a job to finish, rather than just use the excuse that we shot bad,” Giammattei said. “That’s not an excuse to lose. We didn’t shoot well in the first quarter here [against Cohoes]. Second quarter it was, alright, defend then. And they did.”
“I wouldn’t say it’s pressure,” LeMorta said. “At the same time, they’ve got to be ready to play, because everybody in the area knows who they are and they’re going to be coming for them. A night like this, it was 16-16 at the end of the first quarter. If they shot like that for the rest of the game, we would’ve had trouble.”
Like any high school team that loses seniors to graduation, Scotia is going through some transition.
The Tartans benefit from the return of Diamond Corker, who transferred to CBA last season, and Joe Almond can shoot it, but Scotia is more of a tall, opportunisitic running team than a three-point machine that got long-range shooting from a variety of players, like they were last year.
Mike Palleschi looks more polished, which is bad news for Scotia opponents, because he was already a terrific interior defender and rebounder. For someone who can take over a game any time he wants to, Cremo is exceedingly unselfish.
Expectation and spirit certainly are high, bolstered by the coolest pep band in the Capital Region, led by Kyle Yagielski, the kid in the white T-shirt and kilt who lugs around the massive sousaphone.
“Right now, I think we are good enough [to repeat as state champ], actually,” Stopera said. “We just need to gain some chemistry. Last year’s team, everybody had one goal, to win the state championship. We started little with the Foothills, then sectionals and started to think, ‘Wait, we can do this. We’re one of the best teams out there.’ This year, I think these guys think we can play with anybody in the state.”
“You can see signs of us from last year,” LeMorta said. “It’s different kids. That possession [in the third quarter] where they moved the ball, five, six passes without even dribbling? The ball’s going everywhere, and that’s what we did last year and why we were so good. They have to get everybody involved to go as far as they want to.”
The Tartans are “figuring it out slowly,” Giammattei said, but even if it takes awhile for Scotia to realize their full potential, they’re embracing the notion that teams are gunning for them.
If anything, it puts them in a position where they have to be sharp on a daily basis, which is one component of getting through a long postseason.
“We’re not going to catch a team on their off night, but we’re ready for that,” Stopera said. “That’s what we want. We want everybody’s best game. We don’t want to play bad teams, we want to play everybody’s best game.”
The man who designed the championship banner, which features a nice touch by listing the names of the players on the team, plans to take it down and replace it because, once he got it up on the wall, it didn’t look big enough.
As much of a symbol of last year’s title, that could be a sign of this year’s team: start small, think big.