SPRINGFIELD — Vermont Academy basketball coach Alex Popp said he knew exactly when Bailey Patella really started to fit in at the prep school.
"We have open runs all fall. There was a day that the guys organized a couple of local colleges to come play with our guys. The word on the street is [Miami (Fla.) recruit] Bruce Brown said 'These are my four,' " Popp said after Sunday's Hoophall Classic game against Brewster Academy. "We knew Bruce would take Tyrique Jones, Christian David. Pat Fisher is his boy. And then he said 'Bailey Patella.'
"Bailey kind of nudged up. For the next couple of days, you could tell that he felt like he belonged because he heard that from the leader [Brown]."
Patella and his former Lenox High School teammate Evan Lanoue both were at center stage Sunday as prep schools took over the Blake Arena court on the third day of the Hoophall Classic.
It was a rough day for the teams of both former Millionaires. Lanoue didn't play in Wilbraham and Monson's 69-61 loss to MacDuffie. Patella had 14 points for Vermont Academy, but Brewster Academy scored a 94-87 win.
Patella, who went to Vermont Academy in the fall and reclassified as a junior, said it was a lot of fun playing in the tournament.
"At Lenox, we played in the Hoophall in the Thursday night game," said Patella after Sunday's game. "Coming out here on Sunday, a really big day and on the big stage, it's a lot of fun to play."
For the record, the Millionaires lost to Smith Academy 68-50 back in 2013. Patella scored eight points as a freshman for Lenox that night. One of the Smith Academy players in that game was David Longstreeth, who is a post-graduate at Suffield (Conn.) Academy, and played in the opening game Sunday morning.
Patella played in front of a bullpen full of college head coaches and assistants. Among those head coaches in attendance for the Vermont-Brewster game were Texas' Shaka Smart and Temple's Fran Dunphy. UMass assistant Andy Allison was also in attendance.
The now-junior said that it's easy to look over and see the throng, but it is something that has become almost an every-day occurrence.
"At the beginning of the year, I was nervous" when coaches came to Saxtons River to watch open gym sessions, he said. "After so many coaches have been coming to us, our coaches said that there were going to be a lot of coaches here.
"[Popp] said to go out and have fun, and that's what we did."
Kentucky, and former UMass head coach John Calipari had already vacated Blake Arena after his son Brad was named MacDuffie's MVP in the win over Wilbraham and Monson.
Lanoue saw all of the coaches in the bullpen. He also has seen coaches like Calipari and his staff coming to open gyms and practices in Wilbraham.
"For me, I just feel pretty lucky to be in that spot," said Lanoue. "It's kind of surreal to take in the whole college coaches coming in, especially like Kentucky. I'd say it's pretty cool."
Patella has scholarship offers from Division I Binghamton and Division II Southern Connecticut out there. He said he's heard from coaches at UNC-Greensboro, Butler and St. Bonaventure. And he still has another year before having to declare.
Vermont Academy has two of the more highly thought of players in New England in Brown and Tyrique Jones. Brown scored 37 points and had 12 rebounds in the loss to Brewster. Jones, who has verbally committed to Xavier of the Big East, chipped in with 11 points. David, a Canadian, is one of the top prospects in Patella's Class of 2017.
"Playing with Bruce and Christian and matching up with them in practice has gotten me a lot better," said Patella. "I never guarded [players like that] before. It's helped my defense out a lot."
The other half of last year's Lenox Daily Double hasn't had the same kind of run on the court. Lanoue watched while the Titans lost on Sunday morning.
"It's a good opportunity. I've met a lot of great people who I'm probably going to be friends with for the rest of my life," Lanoue said. "The kids are great every day. The experience has been pretty humbling."
Wenyen Gabriel is a teammate of Lanoue's and one of the top players in the country. Gabriel has committed to Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats. And while Lanoue hasn't played a lot, the work in practice against high Division I-caliber players has helped.
"Practice is a battle every day," said the former Millionaire point guard. "I'm just trying to bring the intensity and push my teammates to get better, because that's what it's all about.
"At the end of the day, we're all teammates, but you do try to go out there and get better in practice."