MILFORD — Some team has to have the unfortunate circumstance to be the conference doormat, the cellar dweller so to speak, each season.
For several seasons this decade, Law was that boys basketball team in the Southern Connecticut Conference. The Lawmen were no longer relevant. How could you be when you have a 9-111 record over a six-year stretch?
A new coach came aboard in the spring of 2017. He had to change the culture. But would the players buy in?
The answer was yes. Two seasons later, Law is coming off an 18-6 mark and a berth in the Division IV state quarterfinals.
“As a freshman, I came into practice and I wasn’t as dialed in,” Law senior Diontae Eady said. “Then a new coach came in and changed the program around. He wants us to lock in more.”
Jamie Anderson isn’t a miracle worker. He’s a high school boys basketball coach who came in with his own philosophy and hasn’t deterred from it: family first, then academics, then basketball.
“We do not sugarcoat it. We are fully transparent. We live that every day with these guys,” Anderson said. “Basketball falls into place once you get the first two things (together). … When I look at a guy during a tough or difficult situation and he knows he can trust what we are doing because it’s the same all the time, he will go and do it.”
Preaching what Anderson and his staff (Dan Maxwell, Matt McPartland and Rob Hansen) preach isn’t something new. Coaches have done it for years. But it’s getting the players to buy in that’s the key.
“We had to trust him, trust each other, trust the process. That took a little bit of time,” Law senior co-captain Jon Vitale said.
Said Eady: “You wake up, you see your family first, then you go to school, then you play basketball. It’s already in order. That just makes it much easier.”
So you change the culture of a program, you change the prevailing attitude and losing isn’t accepted like it once was. Then the work you put in begins to really pay off.
Law went 10-13 in Anderson’s first season in 2017-18, followed by last season.
“They far exceeded their ability or talent with their work ethic,” Anderson said. “This is the hardest-working group of guys year in and year out, day in and day out, I see of anybody around.”
There is a sense of pride here for Anderson, 47, in his first varsity head job. Law is his alma mater. He was an all-league player when Law played in the former CCIAC in the late 1980s. His junior year, the program won 19 games, the most ever.
Anderson prepped a season at St. Thomas More before playing at the University of Buffalo.
Then Anderson played overseas in Italy, Argentina and Israel. Ask Anderson about his days at Law and he doesn’t mince words.
“I was not coachable, so I have gone full circle,” Anderson said. “I was a terrible defender under (then coach) Jim Betzig. I gave him a tough time. I played kind of reckless. That’s kind of how I did things.”
Now as a coach, not only does Anderson say the coaches check the players’ grades each week, they also have formed an eight-player council: two in each grade, meeting bi-weekly to see what works, what doesn’t and how to progress from there.
Eady is now Anderson’s best player. He averaged 20 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game last year. He also was disciplined a handful of times, benched for portions of games.
“Just because I’m the best player doesn’t mean I’m special,” Eady said. “(Anderson) put me in my place.”
Eady admittedly is unsure where his basketball future lies. Prep school looks to be the best option, but Anderson is keeping all options open.
“He is by far a top 10 guard in the state. That’s how I see him,” Anderson said. “His basketball IQ is off the charts. He makes everyone around him better. It’s the matter of the right fit. A post-grad year would be awesome to get him more ready for the college experience.”
The Lawmen know what is coming this season. A much harder regular-season schedule awaits. In their division alone are Hillhouse and Wilbur Cross. Add in Career, West Haven and Fairfield Prep. All five teams are on the schedule twice.
Then the four non-conference games are all from the South-West Conference: Weston, Brookfield, New Fairfield and Pomperaug. So dropping from last season’s win total is a distinct possibility.
“Our mentality is to always prove something. We are never going to be looked at as that vaunted program. There hasn’t been a state championship or a league title here,” Anderson said. “We know how hard the league is, but all the guys know they can win. We won’t get outworked. That’s why they are in every single game.”
Just recall last year’s SCC tournament quarterfinals, when Law went toe to toe with Hamden for three-plus quarters before running out of gas in the fourth. It’s a matter now of trying to take the next step and win those big games.
Opponents knows they can’t overlook the Lawmen anymore.
“Even though we went far into the playoffs last year, I still think people think Law is going to be Law (of old),” Eady said. “People will still think we stand no chance. We need to try and surprise teams and make a name for ourselves in the SCC.”