SCHENECTADY — John Miller wore a look of satisfaction as his Schenectady boys' basketball team went through its practice Monday afternoon at the Pat Riley Sports Center.
It's just a few weeks into the high school season, and the Patriots have nearly matched their six wins from last season. Their third-year head coach likes the effort his cast of youngsters are giving away from the court, too.
His multi-layer vision, he believes, is gradually coming to fruition.
"People come out and see what happens between the lines Tuesday and Friday night," said Miller, who took over for Eric Loudis before the 2017-18 campaign. "What we're doing every day is making us stronger. It's the only way I know how to do it, and I have an amazing coaching staff that is parallel to that vision."
It's about making positive strides off the court, and on the court, where Schenectady has won four of five games.
"It's a process when you start over," said Miller, who served as Loudis' junior varsity coach for three seasons before taking over the lead varsity position. "We came in and had a specific vision of how we wanted the program to function. We placed an emphasis on behavior, academics and attendance. We thought if we tackled that, the basketball would take care of itself."
The basketball the Patriots are playing is up-tempo, exciting and team-oriented.
"We want to show people that we can work together, that we are a team — a unit," Schenectady senior Kareem Sanders said. "We're not just a bunch of guys playing street ball."
Miller said the young men he is working with have also bought into the messages of classroom diligence and accountability away from the court.
"Every day we come to practice, and [Miller] makes us take out our homework," said Schenectady senior Naylon Carrington, who made the first quarter honor roll. "If you don't keep your grades up, he'll make you sit out. You've got to keep up."
Miller's players must carry a routing slip that their teachers sign after each class, and that they must present to Miller or one of his assistants before a practice or game.
"The bigger picture is what are we doing for them in their high school careers and after," said Miller, who is in his 13th season coaching basketball at Schenectady. "We have athletes top to bottom who can play basketball somewhere. We're emphasizing what they need to do to have that opportunity. When colleges call, the first thing they ask are about grades and attendance."
On the court, Schenectady has showed up for each game.
"We're trying to have a good, positive season," said Sanders, who has started alongside Carrington, senior Shonta Hilts and juniors Jahsean Haggray and Elijah Johnsen. "Our pride, intensity and focus is very high. We're all in it to win. We want to win a lot more games than last year."
Schenectady wasn't able to add to its six regular-season wins last season when La Salle defeated the Patriots in a Section II Class AA tournament first-round game. Schenectady won five games and didn't go to the playoffs the prior season.
"I can't speak for other teams, but I know we can be competitive," Miller said. "I feel like we can accomplish bigger things. When we were doing preseason workouts, I said, 'Look around you. We have the pieces. We have the energy. We have the character to do that.'"
Schenectady displayed its will and desire in close wins against Guilderland, Averill Park, Columbia and Troy, those coming by a total of 13 points. Its only loss was a two-point overtime defeat against Section III's Bishop Grimes. Next up, Schenectady hosts Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake on Thursday.
"We've been in close games. Getting tested early and winning those games is a good sign," said Miller, a physical education teacher at William C. Keane Elementary School. "If we can tighten up as we go, we'll become more dangerous."
"We have a small team, but we can keep up with bigger people," Carrington said. "It's heart. It's chemistry. We've got good energy."
Schenectady's last winning season was in 2016-17, when Loudis guided the Patriots to a 17-6 record, a Suburban Council Grey Division title and an appearance in the sectional semifinals. The team's last semifinal appearance before that was in 2006, when current JV assistant Durett Miles was the team's senior star.
"We've made significant gains in such a short amount of time. I'm happy where we're at," Miller said. "I'm happy where we're going."
BACK ON THE BENCH
Championship-winning basketball coach Matt Sgambati is running the CBA junior varsity this season after a lengthy layoff.
Sgambati had coached the varsity boys at Schuylerville for 12 seasons ending in 2013.
"It's fun to get back in it," said Sgambati, who teaches business at Schuylerville. "I love being around it."
Sgambati's son, Matt, is an eighth-grader at CBA and a member of the school's freshman basketball team. His daughter, Alison, is a senior at Ballston Spa and a member of the school's softball team.
"I said I would not go back into coaching and miss my kids' stuff," Sgambati said. "My daughter decided not to play basketball this year, so I put my hat in for the CBA job."
CBA is 4-0 with Sgambati in charge. His team let a big lead get away Tuesday before sophomore Aidan Ryan hit a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left to give the Brothers a 60-58 win at Shenendehowa.
"It's fun to watch the kids go through the trials and tribulations of success and failure," Sgambati said.
Schuylerville played in seven Section II title games during Sgambati's stint there, and won championships in 2003, 2004 and 2006. He also guided Mechanicville, his alma mater, to a Section II title and an appearance in the Class C state final in his one season there in 2000-01.
Milestone point total recently reached by Fonda-Fultonville senior Abigail Lombardoni, Berne-Knox-Westerlo senior Taylor Meacham and Cambridge junior Sophie Phillips in winning efforts. Phillips scored 27 points in a 76-40 Wasaren League win over Greenwich Friday to extend her career total to 1,026. Phillips hit an early foul shot to get to 1,000, and the Class C all-state first-team selection later connected on six 3-pointers. Lombardoni scored 16 points in a 47-27 Western Athletic Conference win over Schoharie Friday to push her career total to 1,011. Meacham delivered 20 points in a 64-18 WAC win over OESJ Monday to up her career total to 1,013.
Points produced by Duanesburg senior Zack Gamache in a 73-51 non-league win over Loudonville Christian School Monday. The 6-foot-5 senior pulled down 17 rebounds to go with his career-high scoring output.
Madison Meyer's scoring average through five games — all of them wins — for the Duanesburg girls' basketball team. The sophomore team captain outscored Fort Plain by herself Friday with 22 points in a 71-16 victory. Meyer was selected a Western Athletic Conference first-team all-star as a freshman.
Three-point baskets the Shenendehowa boys' team knocked down in a 74-29 Suburban Council win over Albany Friday. Junior Andrew Martin nailed seven of those 3s as part of a 23-point outing. Martin hit four of the Plainsmen's 11 3s in Tuesday's 62-40 win against CBA and totaled 18 points.
Number of 3-point baskets Jackson Atty sank Friday when the Fonda-Fultonville senior guard set a school one-game record in an 82-47 Western Athletic Conference win over Schoharie. Atty broke his own school record of seven 3s, which he set last year in a win over Fort Plain, and later equaled in wins over Galway and Catskill. Atty set a school single-season record as a junior with 93 3s, and extended his school career record to 198 with Friday's effort.