There have been a lot of firsts in the first month of the Guilford boys’ basketball season.
Since Jeff DeMaio took over the program in 2009, the Indians struggled for three seasons and then turned the corner a bit last year when they won 12 games. But things have changed in the early going for Guilford, winning its first five games before being beaten by archrival Hand, 43-38, last Saturday.
But the Indians won just five games in DeMaio’s first season, two in his second and five in his third, so Guilford has already equaled its total in each of his first three years. The Indians also are just three wins away from qualifying for the CIAC Class L tournament and could grab a berth by the middle of this month.
Even more impressive was the Indians’ first appearance under DeMaio in the “others receiving votes” tally in the New Haven Register Top 10 poll on Dec. 30. While they received just one 14th place vote, just being on the list surprised even DeMaio.
“I didn’t see it,” DeMaio said. “My assistant, Jim Lamb, sent me a text to tell me to check out the others receiving votes, so I went online to take a look at it.”
Essentially, people around the state are noticing the green and white.
“If you trace it back to the end of last year, we won six out of our last eight games and lost a tough one in the first round of the state tournament (at Waterford, 48-40),” DeMaio said. “Now we won five in a row. I think the good fortune started in the second half of last year and we’ve returned a lot of players from that core which has served us very well.”
DeMaio mentioned a win over Branford and an upset over West Haven in overtime as key games early last season that helped the program turn the corner.
“Last year we won some of those coin-flip games that can determine your season for those teams fighting to get into the state tournament,” DeMaio said. “Along the way, the kids learned how to win those games after we struggled mightily those first three years losing out on those games.”
With the front line of Luke Dombroski, J.P. Barrett and Nick Rubino giving Guilford some size up front, the Indians can match up physically with many of the Southern Connecticut Conference’s best teams. It wasn’t that way a few seasons ago when DeMaio sent out an extremely small bunch without a single player that was 6-feet tall.
“We lacked some size before and that’s tough,” DeMaio said. “They would scrap, but when we throw the jump ball up now, we match up a lot better than we used to.”
And people inside the school are noticing as well.
Crowds of 50 to 75 people became a packed house against Hand last winter and the crowds have been bigger early this winter.
“We’ve established a style of play the kids have bought into and the parents and administration are supportive,” DeMaio said. “The program is in a real healthy place which is nice to see.”