SAXTONS RIVER — On April 1, the Vermont Academy men's basketball team celebrated its NEPSAC AA Championship with the school and local community and honored seniors Bruce Brown (Miami commit) and Tyrique Jones (Xavier commit) for being chosen to play in the Jordan Brand Classic on April 15 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Master of ceremonies, Athletic Director Chris Davidson, opened the evening by recognizing the team and welcoming everyone who turned out for the event. He remarked on the team's dedication and accomplishment of earning Vermont Academy's first NEPSAC basketball championship.
Head of School Sean Brennan praised the team and coaching staff on their hard work and sacrifice leading up to their historical championship over Cushing Academy 69-61 on March 6 at the Murray Center in Rhode Island. Brennan also drove home the importance of diligently working toward goals, especially through tough times. He concluded by thanking the faculty, students, and community for their support throughout the season, at home and on the road.
Assistant coach Connor Merrill thanked head coach Alex Popp for giving him the opportunity to join such a special program. Merrill played at VA under head coach Jesse Bopp and, looking back, is proud for helping move VA's basketball program forward. Merrill went on to say that even in college he didn't see the same dedication and drive exhibited by Vermont's players, practicing many nights until 10 and back in the weight room by 6 a.m. He closed by saying, "Saxtons River has the best fans around, and it was an honor to be along for the ride."
Strength coach Casey Cota has been affiliated with Vermont Academy for over 30 years and is a current trustee. Believing deeply in the Academy's mission and experiencing it first hand as a student and parent (of VA player Logan Cota), he wanted to give back. As a parent of a player, he saw an opportunity to give the Wildcats an extra edge through strength training — a bet that paid off. Cota remarked on the dedication and discipline of the team and their maturity level. Even when they were tired and down they showed up and never took their eye off the end goal — being champions.
Head coach Alex Popp, in his second year with the Wildcats, spoke on the season's success, thanking his coaching staff for their commitment and remarking how fortunate he was to work with them. Popp recounted getting his first taste of Wildcat ball as a recruiter for Springfield College's Pride when he attended Bopp's open runs in Lucy Gym. Even then Popp recognized VA's program as a sleeping giant. Coming off a loss in the NEPSAC finals last year against Tilton, the Wildcats were even more determined in their quest for the title. Popp attributed their success to a no days off mentality and praised each player for his consistent effort and support of each other through the highs and lows as a family.
Vermont's three senior captains, Tinga Adiang (St. Lawrence commit), Brown, and Patrick Fisher (Winthrop commit) shared their favorite memory. Adiang spoke of winning the championship and the great job Coach Popp did recruiting. He remembered going to the first open run with the new recruits and being impressed with how good and serious they were. Brown thanked Head of School Sean Brennan for giving him a chance three years ago to showcase not only what he could do on the court but in the classroom. Fisher shared a particularly poignant memory of having a really bad game last year and feeling like he lost the game single-handedly. "Every player came up to me at different times and gave me a hug. I especially remember Bruce coming up and saying, 'It's okay, I got you.' I'll remember these guys my whole life."
Corey Romich '17 was announced as next season's team captain as voted by the coaches and players.
The evening concluded with Brown being honored for being named to the Jordan Brand All-American team and Jones to the Jordan Brand All-Regional team. The Jordan Brand Classic is the nation's most prestigious high school all-american basketball game and will be televised by ESPN.
Vermont Academy is a coed, independent boarding and day school located in southern Vermont, serving grades 9-12 and a postgraduate year. For more information or to schedule a campus visit, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Vermont Academy Basketball, contact coach Popp at email@example.com.