‘We had to build them up’: Concord boys’ basketball fighting for the playoffs in Tim LaTorra’s first season

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 02-16-2023 10:33 PM

CONCORD – One of the key themes for Tim LaTorra’s first season with Concord High boys’ basketball hasn’t been how to run an exquisite backdoor cut or set a perfect screen. It’s been far simpler: how to believe in yourself.

When he walked into the room with his Crimson Tide team for the first time this year, he saw how they’d been beaten down over the years – the program was 2-16 last year, and that wasn’t exactly an anomaly.

The foundation had to be believing in themselves, believing in each other, believing in the program. Even if that didn’t translate to a winning record and a deep playoff run this season, you can’t win games if you don’t believe in yourself.

Since a lackluster stretch of seven losses in eight games, the Tide have strung together back-to-back wins over Merrimack and Manchester Memorial. Now in 14th place in the Division I standings, Concord sits in a spot few expected at the beginning of the year: in position to make the playoffs.

“We had to build them up, build up that confidence, make them believe in themselves, make them believe in each other,” LaTorra said. “Every game we go into now, our guys believe that we have a chance.”

The season began inauspiciously for the Tide, with three straight losses by an average margin of over 30 points. But Concord rallied with three straight wins before subsequently dropping seven of the next eight to fall to 4-10.

Perhaps, LaTorra thought, they’d maxed out their potential with this roster.

“A lot of these guys have not been in meaningful games at this point in the season,” he said. “We were trying to figure out every possible way to keep them motivated. Now you walk into our practice, you wouldn’t know if we’re 6-10 or 10-6. They’re working hard every single day, and they’re still buying into each other.”

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The latest win, Tuesday’s 57-49 defeat of Memorial, came on Senior Night for the Tide’s four seniors: Zanis Lauris, Connor White, Max Leahy and Jacob Menchion. The execution throughout the game wasn’t perfect, but the performance stood as proof that this season has been one of progress.

“For maybe the first time all year, I thought for four quarters the level of focus and the effort was consistent all the way through,” LaTorra said. “It was one of those games, we felt like the result was never in question. Our focus and our attention to what we needed to do to get the result we wanted was there for 32 minutes.”

And for this senior class that’s endured more bumps and bruises than anyone during their time in the program, it was a fitting final performance in the Concord High gymnasium.

For LaTorra’s vision to come to fruition, he’s needed that buy-in from his oldest players, even if they won’t necessarily see the fruits of all the work pay off with a championship in their time.

He’s received that commitment and more.

“I’m just thankful for these guys,” he said. “They’ve been through the bumps in the road here the last couple of years. It’s a testament to their willingness to continue to be part of the program and work hard every day.”

It’s not just about us

LaTorra started the season intentionally establishing what he thought were realistic expectations; he was less concerned with the Tide’s record and more concerned with seeing tangible growth. An ideal season meant being able to envision success for the program in the intermediate future.

There’s still a long way to go for sure. Even if the Tide reach the playoffs, it’ll be with a losing record. And team chemistry can be fleeting year to year.

But LaTorra’s doing what he can to make sure that team chemistry remains. For the last six weeks, his team and the Concord girls’ basketball team have volunteered at the City Wide Community Center, working with first and second graders in their basketball program.

LaTorra’s also organized a basketball buddies reading program, where his players come down to Christa McAuliffe School and read books to different classes. They’ve also attended travel games for kids in the community’s third through sixth grade programs.

“They’re doing more than just coming to practice and going to games and worrying about themselves,” he said. “They’re doing it the right way, to help try to build a program from the really little kids to where they are now. We’re learning that it’s not just about us. You’re trying to leave the place better than when you found it, and doing these types of things is certainly going to make that happen.”

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