Jeremy Arthur would fall asleep to the bounce bounce bounce of his brother's postseason dreams.
Adam Arthur was a senior then, trying to help lead Kellenberg to its first CHSAA boys basketball title. It was 2009, and little brother, the water boy, would curl up on the bleachers during practice and watch, and think, and then just fall asleep.
Maybe it was the years in youth leagues or maybe it was watching his brother. Maybe, though, the rhythm of that season had sunk so deeply into his subconscious that when it was his turn, Jeremy, now a junior, had no choice but to replicate or exceed it.
Everyone wants to win, but it hasn't been so easy for the Firebirds, not by a long shot. The 2009 squad ended up losing to St. John the Baptist in the final and, in the school's 25 years, it has won the regular-season title once, in 1988. Kellenberg never has made the trip upstate for the state championships, instead spending its campaigns duking it out with Catholic league powerhouses like St. Mary's or Chaminade, depending on what year it was.
Then 2010 happened. Kellenberg posted a 7-17 record in a season in which it lost a beloved athletic director in a car crash, going on to fall in the first round of the playoffs. They were tired of it said one of the senior captains, Kevin Bowles. Basketball was fun, he said. Losing wasn't.
"We wanted this," he said. "We started working over the summer and started coming together in the spring."
And started winning in the winter.
The Firebirds are 20-3 overall and 9-2 in league play after yesterday's 78-64 loss to second-place St. Mary's. They have a one-game lead over St. Mary's with one game to play and if they hold on, they'll have a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
Winning has mostly meant summer practices, team bonding sessions and an uncanny ability to make up fourth-quarter deficits. Leading them are no superstars, though there is Bryan Gellineau, a 6-10 center still learning how to use his size, and the team's tri-captains, an expertly assembled group of leaders that coach Jack McCutcheon said has helped spark his team toward success.
"They all have their unique traits," said assistant coach Lenny Breton of the three captains: Bowles, Arthur, and senior Rob Gomiela. "Kevin is a role model and he won't say much, Rob's not afraid to speak his mind, and Jeremy's a good mix, he's got a very good balance."
But even the best kids can and will lose basketball games. The Kellenberg starting five, which includes forward John Romano, have made their intangibles remarkably tangible, starting with the captains.
GOMIELA'S FIRE -- a career-high 27 points in a 90-78 win over Monsignor McClancy on Wednesday.
BOWLES' CALM -- making five free throws in the final two minutes to ice a 63-59 win over St. Anthony's on Jan. 4. He scored nine of his 25 points in the fourth quarter of a 71-68 win over Holy Trinity on Feb. 10.
ARTHUR'S COURT PRESENCE -- a triple-double against Monsignor McClancy and a game-winning assist to Gellineau in a 42-41 win over St. John the Baptist on Tuesday. His career-high 28 points against St. Anthony's on Feb. 3 helped Kellenberg overcome an 11 point fourth-quarter deficit.
"We have a little bit of everything," Arthur said. "It takes everyone to chip in, and we have a great variety. It's been very fun to see, and we're working hard every day."
McCutcheon added that their depth has been their biggest boon. "We can go big or we can go small," he said. "We don't rely on just one person. We're one team and we're a family."
Gomiela, meanwhile, points to team chemistry -- the rush that comes with winning and the feeling that something special is on the horizon. He, like Bowles, was on varsity last year and he, like Bowles, wouldn't mind making a little Kellenberg history.
"It's been really nice watching it happen," he said. "The intensity is up and seeing the new guys go out and play and now we're tops in the league . . . It feels nice and I go out this year feeling a lot better."
It may have seemed improbable after the thwarted title in 2009 and that stalled campaign in 2010, but hey, these are the Firebirds. Rising from the ashes is kind of their thing.
- Live Games