By Matt Langone
If you were to take a look at the state of the Dracut High School boys basketball program two months ago, chances are you would've considered it a dismal picture.
It would've been extremely difficult not to. After all, Dracut is about the smallest school in arguably the best basketball league in the state -- the Merrimack Valley Conference. At Dracut, hoops has always taken a distant back seat in the high-school sports hierarchy. It has been the sport that athletes use to stay in shape for another sport. The Middies won one game in each of the last two seasons and routinely were on the wrong end of lopsided scores.
To coach a program like that would seemingly be akin to signing up for a winter of serving as a human punching bag. And, really, who wants that on top of 20-degree weather and 4 o'clock sunsets?
Well, the answer to that question was Dracut alum Brian Myers (class of 1996), who was hired to take over the program in November and left a solid gig as the Lowell High girls coach to return to his hometown. He saw the situation at DHS in a much more positive light than most people.
"The last two guys to coach here weren't community guys," Myers said. "They weren't from Dracut. I felt like the time to coach the boys team was now, regardless of where they have been. I watched film and I talked to people and I felt like there was a little more here than what their record had shown. I was excited.
Myers sold the players on Day 1 about changing the culture and eliminating that aura of losing, and he brought in a refreshing energy. He extended tryouts to ensure that he got a prolonged look at players he was completely unfamiliar with. He didn't name captains, and instead gave every player a fresh start.
"The message," Myers said, "was, 'Give me a chance to show you a different style of basketball. We're going to ask you to compete, and the only way we're going to earn respect is to beat someone we're not supposed to beat.' I remember going home after a couple weeks of practice and thinking we're good."
Earlier this year, they beat Methuen for the first time in six years, knocked off Haverhill on the road and advanced to the championship game of the IAABO Board 95 Lowell Holiday Tournament. They've won seven out of their last eight games and held their last four opponents to scoring in the 40s.
The team bolted out to a 7-4 start, but lately it has been difficult for the Middies to keep up that torrid pace, as the team has fallen to (8-8, 4-7 MVC).
Myers says the team preaches balance and up-tempo play. The leading scorer, senior Mitch Monette, averages just 11 points per game. There's a handful of Middies who can assume the top-scorer role on any given night.
"Coach Myers really knows his stuff," said senior forward Will Peters, who averages 10 points and 10 rebounds. "He didn't like how the program was, and that's the main reason he came back. The last two years were very frustrating. Everyone just felt like nothing was going right."
Myers and his staff run well-structured practices with timed drills and constant activity. He says being at basketball power Lowell High for six years helped hone his coaching philosophy. He also played college ball at Felician University.
Myers was a three-year varsity player at Dracut and was on a team that went 1-19 as a senior. So he can relate to what the players in the current Dracut program have gone through.
"He has a great IQ for the game, probably one of the best coaches I've ever played for," said Monette of Myers. "He lets kids play their own style."
Monette transferred in from Central Catholic, providing senior leadership to the team along with Peters and Cam McCullough. Junior guard Farai Zuvaradoka has handled much of the point-guard duties.
"We coach them hard, and we've put in a system that's predicated around good athletes," said Myers. "We defend at a pretty high level, and the kids are playing free within some structure."
Dracut only lost by 8 points earlier this season to Lawrence and by 10 to Central, which is impressive when you consider the Middies are a Division 3 state-tournament qualifier. They've already punched their ticket to the postseason with more than a month still left in the regular season. Now it's about tourney positioning.
All of a sudden, the picture looks a lot brighter at Dracut High.
Follow Matt Langone on Twitter @MattLangone. His email address is email@example.com.