WESTPORT — Being a captain has its own list of responsibilities, and that list tends to get a bit longer when the majority of the team is made up of underclassmen.
But seniors Max Sussman and Ben Pearl have jumped at the opportunity to mentor many of the younger players that are having to step up and play a larger role for the Staples Wreckers this season.
“Playing varsity basketball at any age is not easy,” Pearl said. “It’s a challenge especially when you’re an underclassman coming in playing with seniors, playing against seniors, playing against kids that are twice your size. But to have those guys step up and be confident — it’s amazing.”
Along with Pearl and Sussman, the Wreckers have looked to freshman guard Luke Murphy and sophomores Jake Thaw and A.J. Konstanty to play big minutes in crucial games this season.
A situation that has been made much easier thanks in part to the guidance they have received from the upperclassmen, Murphy said.
“They just say, ‘Do you,’ ” he said. “Don’t change who you are. Play the way you are. They know that this is a different experience. They said that ‘This is a different experience for you, and play how you play.’ ”
Murphy has held the task as the primary ballhandler for much of the season — until recently when Thaw returned from injury — but despite his inexperience, he has turned some heads throughout the FCIAC.
“That guy, he can shoot,” Norwalk senior guard Tyrique Langley said. “He hit multiple 3s on us and we were in his face. But he kept hitting them.”
Since returning from an ankle injury, Thaw has showcased his ability to run the offense and taken some of the pressure off Murphy in during so, while also finding a consistent on-court chemistry with Konstanty — something that first began on the gridiron, Thaw said.
“It’s funny because I’m a quarterback,” he said. “And A.J. is a tight end. We’ve had a really good connection on the football field and it just kind of translated on to the basketball court here. I kind of always know where he’s going to be, he kind of always knows where I’m going to be. He just really puts me in good situations.”
Despite some of the struggles the Wreckers have had this season, the brightest spots have come from the younger members of the team that have been thrust into this position and performed against stiff competition.
But as a senior, the main focus is to continue bringing the underclassmen along and keeping their confidence at a high level, Sussman said.
“They’re amazing athletes,” he said. “They’ve had experiences where they’ve been in tough competition in tough places before. I’m really there to just be support. If they make a turnover, if they make a mistake, I’m there to pick their heads up.”
It can be a tall task to ask of a freshman and sophomore to go against some of the top perimeter scorers and defenders in the conference every night.
But the fearlessness and confidence in their own talents that both Murphy and Thaw have shown throughout the season goes beyond their age, Sussman said.
“For a freshman and sophomore,” he said, “they’re very versed in the game. We’re really lucky to have them in the backcourt.”
As the season hits the midway point, Staples has some work to do if it wants to get into the postseason picture in both the FCIAC tournament and the state tournament.
It will be the underclassmen that will be expected to take the lead of getting the Wreckers there.
A position that they have shown to be ready for many times.
That mentality has reverberated throughout the rest of the team. The level of confidence that the upperclassmen have in their younger teammates is evident in the big shots and even bigger moments they have played in this season.
There is no doubt that the future is bright for Staples boys basketball, Pearl said.
“It’s special,” he said. “That’s what happens when they step up. As long as they’re working hard and playing strong, we tell them there’s no reason why they can’t face off against anybody in the league.”
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