When former Hudson resident James Cuyler was hired as head coach of the North Warren boys varsity basketball team last summer, it didn’t take long for him to realize he had a team that was capable of something special.
Cuyler’s assessment was right on the money as the Cougars won 19 of 21 games, claimed their first Adirondack League title in 29 years and earned the No. 1 seed in the Section II Class D playoffs. In addition, Cuyler’s squad is currently ranked seventh in the state.
The Cougars look to take another step toward a Section II title on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls, but it won’t be easy as standing in their way is the No. 5 seed Germantown.
The Cougars are led by Anthony Girard, a cousin of New York’s all-time leading scorer Joe Girard III, who averages 25 points per game. Cuyler says Girard is much more than a scorer.
“We have Anthony Girard and he’s everything for this team,” Cuyler said. “He scores, shoots, passes, rebounds and play defense on some of the other teams’ best players. He don’t back down from a challenge. He comes to me and says, ‘hey coach, I want to guard the other team’s best player if they are guards.
“He’s a Girard and if you know anything about the Girards they are very competitive. We all know Joe Girard but his competitive nature comes from that family. Anthony has it and it’s scary because he’s starting to see now he belongs.”
Girard has plenty of help from his teammates, including 6-5 center Tanner Dunkley.
“Tanner Dunkley is the force down low,” Cuyler said. “He scores inside the paint and dominates on the boards. He’s averaging 22 rebounds per game with 3 blocks per game to go along with 18 points per game. Nate Hopper is the sleeper and so smooth. He can hit the three, but he’s very crafty around the rim. He’s also a underrated defender, and with his length he blocks shots well.
“James Hopper got into the starting lineup in the later part of the season. He’s very athletic and a shot maker and plays great defense. Ryan Miller is the heart and soul of this team. He does anything I need him to do. He leads, shoots, plays defense and just wants to win. Jack Jennings is the best on-ball defender. He makes players work when he’s guarding them.”
Along with an abundance of talent, Cuyler says it’s chemistry that sets his team apart.
“This team is good because they play together,” Cuyler said. “On any given night someone other than Anthony and Tanner can fill the stat sheet up scoring wise. Nate Hopper had a scoring high of 17 points. Ryan Miller has a game high this season of 29 points. James Steen had a high of 20 points. Jack Jennings had a game where he had 14 points.
“So these guys don’t sit back and watch Anthony or Tanner, they attack as well. So it makes it hard for teams to just key in on those two. We average 74 points per game. That’s unheard of in the Adirondack league. Maybe a few teams do it, but it’s hard to do. One thing about us is we score and play defense at the same time. So that’s a great advantage for us. Our strength is our depth.”
Today’s opponent, Germantown, is coming off a 70-60 overtime victory over No. 4 Hartford in the quarterfinals. Bryan Bathrick had a huge game, knocking down seven 3-pointers en route to a 27-point performance. Robbie Eaton added 19 points.
Cuyler had a chance to scout the Clippers earlier this season.
“I got a chance to watch them in a tournament in Waterford,” Cuyler said. “They played hard when I saw them. They have a good guard with Eaton, he runs the team well. Bathrick can stretch the floor and shoot very good so those are things I seen.
“It’s very hard to prepare for a team you don’t know a lot about. We played OESJ and we didn’t know much about them, but it’s sectional time. It’s win or go home, so whether if you know a team or not you better come ready to play because any team can win.”
The Cougars game plan won’t change much, according to Cuyler.
“I always tell my guys you control what you can control,” Cuyler said. “We’ve been playing our game for 21 games and we won 19 and lost two. The 19 games we won we played our game and the two we lost we didn’t. My guys know what they supposed to do because they did it 19 out of 21 times.”
Cuyler loves his new North Country home, but will never forget where it all began.
“Hudson is the place I was born, the place I was raised, the place I’ll always be a part of and always in me,” Cuyler said. “I love Hudson and everyone in that city. The people from Chestertown asked me where I was from and I say Hudson, New York proudly. So when I win, although North Warren is where I’m winning, at the same time Hudson is winning as well because I’ll always be Hud City!”