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First-Year Coach Has Masters School Boys Basketball Team Thinking Big

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January 29, 2023

By Tom Pedulla—

Junior guard Adam Bello does not mince words when asked about the recent history of boys’ basketball at The Masters School. “We were the joke of our conference,” he said.

No Fairchester Athletic Association opponent is laughing now. The Panthers are making tremendous strides under first-year coach Joey Kuhl, a former director of operations for Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino at Iona, and the future appears to be blindingly bright.

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After it won only three games last season, Masters’ ability to split its first 10 games was heartening. The record included the first league victory in four years and the first home win in three years. The school did not play two years ago due to the pandemic.

“The buy-in is there. The belief is there. We’ve got to keep getting better,” said Kuhl, 29. “We’re a long way from where we want to be, but I couldn’t ask for better kids, better effort, a better administration.”

The native of Austin, Texas has done everything possible to succeed in his first head coaching opportunity. He worked from 2012-2017 for the San Antonio Spurs and their team in the NBA Developmental League. He served as a graduate assistant at Texas Tech before joining Pitino more than two years ago. He cites Pitino as a profound influence.

“He is an absolute savant when it comes to the game of basketball. There is nothing he hasn’t seen,” Kuhl said. “He is a genuine innovator and there aren’t many of those in basketball. So the chance to be around him every day was invaluable. Just trying to keep up with his mind was one of the most difficult tasks I will ever have. He’s one of the best coaches ever for a reason.”

Kuhl brings Pitino-like intensity to his new position. “He’s brought a passion we haven’t seen in the past,” said senior Chris Gatty, a member of the varsity since he was a freshman. “The team has really rallied behind him. He’s motivated us to build for the future.”

There used to be only occasional film study of opponents. Now, it is done on a regular basis. At one recent session, one player raised his hand. Instead of asking a question, he wanted to suggest a certain strategy. Kuhl’s eyes lit up.

The gym opens at 7 a.m. every school day for those who wish to enhance their shooting skills. Typically, more than half of the 16-player roster attends. More emphasis is being placed on time in the weight room and a stepped-up strength and conditioning program.

“I’m a serious basketball guy,” Kuhl said, “and I’m giving them a serious basketball environment.”

Players are excited by their progress, individually and as a team. “We’re making a huge jump,” Bello said. “Now, we’re actually serious contenders and pushing for the playoffs.”

Player development is Pitino’s top priority. It is the same with Kuhl. Bello’s emergence as the Panthers’ leading scorer is among the most significant breakthroughs.

“In previous years, I haven’t been as confident,” Bello admitted. “I found my role as a scorer and not just a passive player but an attack-first player.”

Gatty is providing tremendous leadership. Kuhl praised senior Noah Kassel-Yung for his consistency. Edward Tam is a sophomore guard with the mental toughness that allows him to be an outstanding defensive player. Jake Raab is making an impact as a freshman and joins Tam as a building block for the future.

Kuhl knew a great deal about The Masters School because his girlfriend, Mariah Pena, teaches English in the upper school. Athletic Director Logan Condon needed less than one day to persuade Kuhl to take on the once-strong program.

“He has brought the full aspect of building the student-athlete,” Condon said. “We feel with Joey we really have a cornerstone for building the program and building a solid foundation for the future.”

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