PITTSFIELD — Stability is a key factor in building a successful program.
Since Paul Brindle stepped down as the St. Joseph boys basketball coach in 2012, the Crusaders have had a new head coach every year. St. Joe has a strong history, but lately the Crusaders have fallen on hard times.
This year, former assistant coach Joe Bennett will be tasked with turning around the program.
Bennett said he didn't consider taking over for former St. Joe coach Mike DiCicco after he left to join Pittsfield's staff as an assistant. But the relationships he developed as an assistant made him a natural fit for the role.
"The kids made me want to take on the job," Bennett said. "They were happy with what I did as an assistant and they expressed some interest in me as their head coach. Knowing the kids had confidence in me, and knowing I could help them improve and help to restore the tradition, was an exciting goal for me."
With just 48 boys currently enrolled in St. Joe, Bennett said he understands the challenges of taking over at the small private institution. The school may not have the enrollment numbers of the other county schools, but the first-year coach wants to grow the program by teaching fundamentals. He's crafted his system from his time playing for the MCLA basketball team in the early 2000s and wants his players to be multi-dimensional on the court.
"We're working on jab-steps, pump fakes and getting to the hole with force and authority," he said.
"We don't have a 6-foot-7 center. Our tallest player is Joey [Maynard] at 6-foot-3. Our mentality is that everyone is coming in here as a guard."
Maynard and Cody Tynan are two seniors that have witnessed the highs and lows of the program. Bennett is Maynard's fourth coach during his time at St. Joe. Maynard said he's confident the current group of Tynan, sophomore guard Jamal Beda and junior Mike Gingras can help turn around the program.
"It is difficult [adjusting to new systems], but you adapt really easily," he said. "All the coaches we've had have been really talented. I'm glad to end up with [coach Bennett]. He really knows what he's doing and we're going to have a good year."
The first step to playing winning basketball is believing you can win. St. Joe must erase the memory of last year's one-win season and picking up a win against a Berkshire County opponent could serve as a big confidence booster.
The Crusaders start their season Friday at 7 p.m. against Wahconah. The second game of the season is a trip to New Lebanon, N.Y., where they earned their lone win of the season. The next two games are against two tournament teams from last season in Mount Greylock and Drury. A game against Smith Voc on January 6 kicks off the new year, followed by a visit from Lee.
The outcomes of the first six games could be a strong indicator of the direction of the team.
Regardless of the win-loss record, Maynard said he hopes to lay the ground work for a St. Joe basketball resurgence.
"We have the talent and we strive to win," he said. "I think we can go far this season and that will set the tone for seasons to come."