Knights enter new season brimming with confidence

(One in a series)

Although teams haven’t brought in a lot of W’s the last couple of years at Rome Free Academy, boys basketball coach Nick Medicis has a good feeling that will change this season.

The Black Knights enter the 2011-12 season with a renewed focus while taking on new surroundings as they compete on a new home court and in a different league.

With six players, including four starters, on the 10-man roster returning from last year’s group that went 3-15 overall and missed the sectionals for the second straight year, Medicis said the group has worked hard to improve during the offseason, and he can’t wait to get things started.

"Practices are going great, probably the best we’ve had going into a year," he said. "This is the hardest working group I’ve had, just consistency is the biggest thing. I’m excited. When I took this job, this was the year I was looking forward to."

After playing in the Central New York Counties League for several years against mostly Syracuse-area schools, the Black Knights will now be competing in the Tri-Valley League this season.

They’ll be joined by Camden, Holland Patent, Oneida, Whitesboro, Utica’s Notre Dame, and New Hartford.

In terms of student enrollment, Rome has much bigger numbers than the other schools in the new TVL.

But Medicis feels that playing in the TVL is beneficial for not only RFA but also for the neighboring communities.

"I think this will bring communities together and it will bring back old rivalries," he said. "Our games will be a lot closer to home, and it will give our parents and students a better opportunity to come to our road games and give us a better presence. There is some real good competition in the TVL, but I don’t think there is a game that I don’t think we can’t win."

RFA will battle its first TVL opponent, Notre Dame, in its season and home opener on Friday at 7 p.m. on the Coach Stan "Buddy" Evans Court at Strough Middle School. It is the first of nine home games to be played at the Strough gym this season on their new home-based court.

Medicis said his Black Knights are anxious to play their first game and show the improvements that have been made.

"This group of seniors are absolute gym rats," he said. "They’ve played non-stop basketball, and the improvement has shown. The first time they step on the court, they are going to show how much they improved on their shots. I think it was just a confidence thing last year, where we struggled at the beginning, and we snowballed from there. We’ve just got to stay consistent, play the same way the whole game, and we will be tough if we can."

The Orange and Black will be without two key players off last year’s team who have since graduated, Jordan Henry and team captain Dylan Gratch.

Returning senior guards Lloyd Parkmond and Steven Eychner were named the new captains of the team and are among the six players returning from last year’s group. Parkmond was the team’s leading scorer with 158 points, and Eychner scored 31 points in limited duty.

"Eychner will do a lot of ball handling for us and is a natural-born leader," Medicis said. "He stands out, works hard and will be the vocal leader, and Lloyd will lead by example. He’s traveled the country playing AAU ball and we’ve stressed consistency from him, and I think he will bring it to us more than he has before."

Also returning is senior guard Aaron Tennant, who was the team’s second-leading scorer with 150 points last year, along with seniors Jonathan Griggs, Justin Henry and sophomore Elijah Johnson.

Varsity newcomers are junior guards Jeff Cooke, Spencer Kahler, Randy Pearson and sophomore Robert Swift.

"Jeff Cooke is a three-point shooter from last year’s junior varsity team, and he’s going to step in to make some jumps shots," Medicis said.

"Randy Pearson is an athletic wing player, and Spencer Taylor is going to be our glue guy that will shoot the ball and do the little things for us. I think we’re a team that can do it all."

Added Medicis, "This is a big turning point for RFA basketball, and Dec. 2 is when it starts."