Dave Wojeski / For The Recorder 2/27/2014 Glens Falls Assignment Amsterdam's Bryan Stanavich get a shot of over Scotia-Glenville's Mike Palleschi during Thursday nights Section 2 semifinal game at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
Recorder file photo Amsterdam's Marcus Prichard battles Catholic Central's Christian Englund for a rebound during their game last season.
Recorder file photo Amsterdam's Anferny Aponte goes up for a shot between the arms of two Mekeel Christian defenders during the Gloversville Holiday Tournament last season.
By MICHAEL KELLY
There is a slate of fall season sports that just started Monday, but head coach Tony Orapello is already excited for this winter's campaign for the Amsterdam High School Running Rams basketball team.
"They're all stepping up," he recently said of his players. "They've gotten taller, too. This is going to be the biggest team we've had in a long time."
A talented one, too.
"I've got people that can really play," said Orapello. "We've got depth."
Orapello's players went their separate ways this spring to play on a variety of AAU teams throughout the area. Then, this summer, the Rams came back together for a month's worth of early-morning workouts and a short season of hoops in a Schenectady-based league.
Forward Marcus Pritchard, who started last season as a junior, said the offseason had helped the Rams in multiple ways. First, the chance to play AAU with different teammates helped each AHS player to develop new skills; then, the opportunity to come back together for a summer league helped the group begin to mesh and crave the winter's season.
"The thing about summer league is that ... after school ball gets over, you play AAU and that keeps your love of the game going," said Pritchard. "But, coming off AAU, getting to play with your real team, it lights your flame again. It gives you that ... taste of what's coming next."
The Rams' summer ended with a literal look at what is to come for the squad. Amsterdam made it to the semifinals in its summer league before losing to Scotia-Glenville -- the same round and foe which felled the Rams in the 2014 Section II Class A playoffs.
AHS moves to the Tartans' league for this upcoming winter, and the Rams' first Foothills Council opponent is scheduled to be S-G, at AHS.
The Tartans are coming off an undefeated season and a state championship, and S-G figures to be a similar force in 2014-15.
Orapello said he liked the way his squad competed against the Tartans in the summer league, using a physical style of defense to match up with S-G's elite shooting and ball movement.
"We were not intimidated," Orapello said.
A lot of that physical play came from the players hoping to make the leap from the Rams' junior varsity to the big club. The upcoming AHS junior class is filled with forwards, and Orapello said he was happy to see guys like Gehrig Garner and Ben Rhodes mixing it up throughout the summer.
"They all play hard and they will not take it from anybody," said Orapello. "That's what I noticed from the JVs last year."
The coach was encouraged with the way his prospective returning players developed this summer, too. Besides Pritchard, starters Kory Bergh and Bryan Stanavich are expected to return, along with likely starting point guard Andrew Druziak -- who missed nearly all of 2013-14 with an injury -- and others.
Both Orapello and Pritchard spoke glowingly about the way Bergh improved this summer after a breakout campaign in his first varsity season. As a sophomore, Bergh led the team in scoring and made 3-pointers to earn all-league honors, but the guard spent much of his offseason working on his dribbling and passing.
"Kory really became a ball-handler this summer," said Orapello. "He was working on distributing the ball and I didn't even tell him to do that."
Pritchard said he thought a lot of the improvement had to do with last year's JV players joining the mix, as they were the guys Bergh grew up with as teammates.
"He has that special connection with them," said Pritchard. "The thing I like a lot is that Kory -- and [Stanavich], too -- is getting to play with their guys again."
At some points this summer, Orapello said he had to remind Bergh that the club needs him to shoot the ball instead of looking to pass so much. The guard said he understood, and that he is on the same page with his coach.
"We're trying to get things together so we can get a good team," said Bergh. "We're trying to build things for [this winter], and that's what both Coach and I want."
After needing to play a frenetic style with constant four-guard lineups in 2013-14, Bergh said he expects the squad to use bigger lineups with multiple post players this upcoming season.
"Last year, we shot a lot (of 3s), more than going into the post," he said. "So, I'm definitely going to have to change my game a bit."
The Rams will start informal workouts in the coming month to finish preparing for the winter. There is a lot of work to do for all of the prospective players, Orapello said, as the squad has enough talent that cuts are going to be inevitable to trim the roster to his desired 13 or 14 players.
"Something's got to give," Orapello said.
Contact MICHAEL KELLY at firstname.lastname@example.org