Wish together, swish together

Hari Sreeramagiri

Whether it’s excruciating early morning practices or hearing the crowd erupt in cheers during a game’s closing seconds, one thing’s for sure: Boys Basketball would be nothing without the guidance of its head coach. Following the deeply saddening loss of former Boys Varsity Basketball Head Coach Tim O’Brien, finding a replacement that would live up to his legacy was difficult to say the least. But after hearing what the players had to say about their new head coach, Zack Johnson, the future of Northwood basketball looks as bright as ever.

There are no questions about his qualifications. From playing Division I college basketball to participating in the coveted pro-am The Drew League, Coach Johnson offers a truckload of experience and expertise for players to learn the fundamentals of basketball, no matter the skill level. And according to them, practices are just what they prefer: a perfect blend of competitive, light-hearted and educational spirit all at the same time. An environment focused on building relationships with teammates, Johnson focuses on using basketball as a vehicle for success both on and off the hardwood.

“He prioritizes a playing style that creates opportunities for players to make their own decisions,” Varsity Basketball player junior Oswald Lai said.  “It’s not predetermined and he doesn’t dictate exactly what players are supposed to do.”

Despite Johnson’s impeccable guidance, leading a team comes with ups and downs. The stresses of COVID-19 persist, making it difficult to come into close proximity with others, let alone participate in a contact sport like basketball. Additionally, the season was held in constant limbo for the majority of the 2020-2021 season. With evolving changes in the pandemic, Johnson was constantly forced to adapt to the circumstances. Having to find ways to keep energy levels high with the barrier of distance learning, keep practices safe and productive at the same time, and adjust to unforeseen circumstances are among a few of the obstacles the team had to overcome.

Johnson has helped students  navigate these times with ease. From temperature checks at the beginning of practice to creating safe competition-based drills, he hasn’t missed a step in preparing basketball for the  season.

“We’ve gone through a lot of changes this year, and he’s there for us 24/7 whether the problem is basketball or non-basketball related,” Varsity Basketball player junior Luke Garcia said. “I’ve never met someone so focused and devoted to a team, and his high energy and enthusiasm feeds into our own and motivates us to be better than the day before.”

Regardless of the players he is coaching and circumstances at hand, Johnson has successfully incorporated his ideas into the team’s playstyle by preserving a spirited and unified environment, which is a staple in any team sport. The next-man-up mentality is what the team prides itself on. The mentality has especially served the team well in the year of shortened seasons and player absences.

“Coach Johnson assisted Coach O’Brien last year, so he’s continuing the principles that Coach O’Brien instilled in us,” Garcia said. “He’s made it his mission to make us into the best players we can be, and we hope to make that dream come true this season.”