Northeastern boys' basketball coach Jon Eyster made it a point to tell us, the media, he doesn't like when we come out with preseason rankings or print expectations.
He says it puts too much unnecessary pressure on his group of teenagers.
Well, this is me not listening to his request and, instead, doubling down by putting his Bobcats under the microscope for the 2017-18 season already.
When Northeastern won the program's first York-Adams League tournament title in history on Friday night, a 62-51 win over Central York, it was simply the Bobcats living up to preseason hype. Blessed with a steady mix of veteran seniors, tested juniors and talented freshmen, it's no surprise Northeastern is king of the mountain in the Y-A League.
What's scary is that, when you look at the roster breakdown of this year's squad, you'll notice that many of the players who made the Bobcats so incredibly tough to beat this year will return next season.
You can't underestimate the importance of seniors Austin Greene and Brandon Coleman this season. Greene was a steady presence in the team's starting five, while Coleman was the overlooked senior who really made everything click for Northeastern. Coleman is, as former major league baseball player Reggie Jackson said, "the straw that stirs the drink."
When the Bobcats (23-2) needed big buckets this year, Coleman delivered. Not a big team by any means, Coleman was responsible for being an inside presence on defense, using his long 6-foot, 2-inch frame to neutralize the opposition's big men. Coleman and Greene rarely did anything that jumped off the page to shock you, except when throwing down monster dunks, so it was easy to look past them and instantly gush over the superb talents of juniors Fred Mulbah and Antonio Rizzuto.
So, yes, Greene, Coleman and the other seniors on the team will be missed next season, but they'll leave the program in good hands.
Much of that is because both Mulbah and Rizzuto will be back for their senior seasons, and will do so as Northeastern's two leading scorers from this year. You couldn't think of a better situation for a reigning league champion.
"A lot of (the roster) is freshmen, so for them to get a winning sense and to win a championship like this for the first time ever, it's good for them," Greene said after Friday night's championship game. "They know what winning is like. We won most of the year, but they know how to work hard. They learned early, and we didn't treat them like babies. We had to treat them like grown men and that's how it was."
That mentality within the team helped to make the Bobcats what they were this year. Aside from Coleman, Greene, Mulbah and Rizzuto, the final member of the starting five for much of this year was freshman Nate Wilson. Being thrown into the fire like that required a sense of toughness, and Wilson, like the rest of his older teammates, showed that.
More youth on the way: While guys such as Mulbah, Rizzuto and Wilson will be instrumental in next year's success, it's what the league hasn't seen much of yet that could really cause more problems.
The Northeastern junior varsity team, which was made up basically of all freshmen, only lost twice all season. That's concrete proof that the talent within this program doesn't just stop with the varsity team, but trickles down to the lower level. Eyster has already shown a willingness to use freshmen off the bench, going with his son, Nate, as well as Austin Richards, on a regular basis this year.
It's expected that several members of that impressive JV team will be used in larger roles with the varsity team next year, which will only set up the program up for even more long-term success. That's scary to fathom, considering the Bobcats are in the midst of three consecutive 20-win seasons.
"We have good players coming up," Rizzuto said on Friday night. "They compete with us at practice all the time and it makes us better and makes them better too. We're going to be good."
Are we seeing the start of a potential years-long dynasty with Northeastern? It's definitely too early to tell. This team still has a ways to go this season, as it not only begins the District 3 5-A playoffs on Monday, but does so as the top seed. A deep district run is expected, which will also bring a state tournament appearance with it.
But, it's never too early to think about what can come next year, even if Eyster doesn't like it much.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org