Freshman Dion Brown helping Monument Mountain to Western Mass. final
The gravity of the moment is enough to make the most experienced hooper shrink under the pressure. When a player can't rely on experience, then supreme confidence and the belief of your teammates are adequate substitutes.
Monument Mountain freshman guard Dion Brown had the confidence and poise to run the show at the point guard position down the stretch, setting up junior forward Graham Herrick for the winning free throws in the Spartans 61-59 win over Wahconah in the Western Massachusetts Division III semifinals on Tuesday.
Monument coach Mike Saporito trusted Brown enough to keep the ball in his hands with 16.7 seconds left in the game. Brown beat his man off the dribble, and even though he missed the shot, his ability to read the defense and make the correct play prevented a costly turnover.
"He's a great player," Herrick said of Brown. "He's awesome under pressure. He just keeps it himself. He's really talented, so he's going to be a great player in the future."
Brown showed flashes of high-level ability, mixed in with the youthful mistakes of a first-year player. The mistakes do not linger in his mind, however. He has a short memory, always eager to attack the next play.
The guard picked up three fouls shortly after entering the game. His third personal was on an ill-advised steal attempt. Still, he was ready to knock down a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left in the first quarter, cutting the Spartans' deficit to one. He finished the game with eight points.
Brown was hit with a fourth foul in the fourth quarter, but he continued playing smothering defense. He did a good job of moving his feet while guarding a driving Wahconah player, blocking a layup, which led to a steal and a fast break the other way. Brown's defense was key in halting Wahconah's comeback attempt.
"I have a lot of confidence in [Brown] and I have confidence in Caleb Carlson," Saporito said. "I went with both of them in the fourth quarter, they both played a lot. I just felt like Dion had something tonight, that I liked what I was seeing out of Dion.
"I've liked him from time to time, where he just looks like he's really on. The coaches all decided that that was the direction we're going to go for the last two minutes."
In addition to Brown, fellow freshman Ty Higgins also plays key minutes off the bench. Monument's depth allows it to bring several other talented underclassmen off the bench as well.
Saporito said it's been a long journey to the Western Mass. final, but with a roster filled with young players, the Spartans appear setup for sustained success.
"We're in our seventh year, and I feel that we're in a seven-year abundance right now," he said. "Hopefully we can keep this thing going. We set the goal to be a final four team. ... I think after tonight there's eight teams left in the state tournament and we're still alive. We've got to get through one more game to really get that vision, but we believe it."
Akeem Glaspie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @TheAkeemGlaspie on Twitter and 413-496-6252.
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