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Masters Boys Basketball Is Earning Respect

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February 13, 2024

By Tom Pedulla–

If it takes a tooth or two for The Masters School to continue its ascent in boys’ basketball, the Panthers are paying that price.

 Senior Nathan Lothian faced some unexpected dental work after Masters defeated visiting King School, 73-62, on Feb. 10, allowing them to complete a heartening regular season with a 10-8 record overall, 5-3 in the league under second-year coach Joey Kuhl. The Panthers went 7-12 last season, 2-6 league, after Kuhl inherited a ramshackle 3-19 club.

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  Kuhl, a former director of operations for Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino at Iona University, is taking Masters to the Fairchester Athletic Association Tournament for the first time in a long time.

Lothian, one of two senior starters on a team that looks to have a very bright future, embodies the turnaround. Despite his lack of size, he refuses to yield any ground and is a defensive mainstay. “We have talent that has been working really hard,” Kuhl said. “When that happens, you give yourself a chance.”

The coach praised the support the team is receiving from the administration and the school community. “This community has so much to offer and we wanted to make sure that basketball is part of that. We’ve been rewarded tenfold,” he said, adding, “The stands feel different than they did a year ago.”

Everything feels so much better to senior Adam Bello. He was idle as a freshman when the pandemic led to the decision to scrap the season. Then came the 3-19 nightmare.“We fixed a lot in the last two years and fine-tuned a lot of things,” said Bello, who averages 16 points and three assists per game. “Our energy and effort is just through the roof now.”

Before last season, the Panthers had not won a league game in four years. They were without a home victory in three years. Successes this season include a 62-47 thumping against St. Luke’s, a foe they had not defeated since 2014-2015. At the least, they have won back respect. Heady sophomore point guard Jake Raab can see and feel the dramatic difference.

“Definitely the first year, I remember showing up and teams would act cocky, act like they knew they were going to beat us,” Raab said. “This year, they show up and, if they’re not ready, we beat them from the jump. They’ve come with a new respect.”

Azzan Thomas , a junior, delights in proving this is not the same old team but one to be reckoned with. “This year, definitely there were a lot of teams who thought we’d be an easy win and we won,” he said. “So being part of that is really special.”

The Panthers’ confidence is high as they look to make a mark in the Fairchester Athletic Association Tournament. The presence of explosive 6-4 sophomore Omari Levy, who averages 16 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, is one reason for that. He appears to be just scratching the surface of what he can accomplish. “I’m pretty confident in what we have. We’re definitely on an upward trajectory,” Levy said. “We definitely have surprised some people, people who did not think we would be that good, but we have not surprised ourselves.

 “We definitely think we can win the whole thing, put a banner up, make our fans proud and our school proud.”

 In playing a key role in the program’s revival, Bello feels certain that the experience will serve him well long after his time at Masters is done. “I’ll bring the same kind of effort and intensity to wherever I go in life,” he said, knowing he was part of laying the groundwork so that future opponents will have to be ready “from the jump” when they face the resurgent Panthers.

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