The old adage that familiarity breeds contempt doesn't hold too much water with the Northern Cambria High School boys basketball program.
At the same time, the Colts' starting five may prove the adage all wet.
Seniors Adam Polites, Josh Bonatesta, Jeff Hogan, Nick Lee and Derek Bearer are buddies on and off the court, and the success that they've all enjoyed as front-line players on a Colts team that is bidding for its fourth straight appearance in the PIAA playoffs this March is evidence that camaraderie and personal chemistry can play large factors in a squad winning and losing games.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Northern Cambria senior athletes include (from left): Adam Polites, Jeff Hogan, Josh Bonatesta, Derek Bearer, Nick Lee.
"The team concept is in full force with these guys,'' Northern Cambria coach Dan Weber said. "Four of them have played basketball together since the third or fourth grade, and all five of them came up to the varsity together as ninth-graders. They're a very skilled group, and team chemistry and each player knowing where the other is on the basketball floor goes a long way.''
Lee, who transferred into the Northern Cambria School District as a ninth-grader, was quick to become a part of the group.
"We all get along real well,'' the 5-foot-11 Lee, a forward and two-year starter, said of the starting five. "We try to keep company with each other as much as we can. We practice as a team, and we play as a team.''
Many of the five also play multiple sports together. Polites, Bearer and Hogan were all members of the football program, while Lee and Hogan play together on the school's volleyball team. Polites - who scored his 1,000th career basketball point earlier this season - is also a member of the school's baseball team, and Bonatesta plans to join the baseball team this spring.
"We have a great camaraderie on the basketball team,'' said the 6-foot-2 Polites, a three-year starter at shooting guard who is the basketball squad's leading scorer with a 23-points per-game average. "We've been playing together since the third grade, and although Nick didn't come along until our freshman year, he has fit in perfectly.''
All five starters bring something unique to the team, according to Weber.
"Adam Polites is a 1,000-point scorer,'' Weber said. "He works extremely hard at the game both in the offseason and during the season, and he has a passion for the game. Jeff and Nick are our inside guys that provide the glue to the team. Josh and Derek always guard the other team's best players. Both of those guys bring it every night. Their hustle is like no other.''
The overall team success experienced by this starting five is unmatched by any other in school history. Two years ago, as sophomores, they were part of the school's first team since the 1965 state championship squad to win a PIAA playoff game.
"All five players played significant minutes on that team,'' said Weber, 35, who is in his 11th season as the team's head coach.
Two years ago, Northern Cambria lost to Bishop Carroll in the District 6-A championship game. Last year, the Colts beat Carroll in the 6-A title game. This year, Northern Cambria is competing at the 6-AA level, and the field is loaded.
The significance of the challenge isn't lost on any of the team's starting five players.
"We know it's going to be a different scenario than what we're used to,'' said the 5-foot-9 Bonatesta, a two-year starter at shooting guard. "But we have a good team, and we know we should definitely be able to make a run to get back to the district championship game, and win it.''
The 6-foot-4 Hogan, a three-year starter at forward, agrees.
"We have our goals set high, and we want to achieve them,'' he said. "Our goal is to win the Heritage Conference championship, compete for the district title, and move on to the state playoffs and do better there than we did last year.''
Last year was a good experience in the state playoffs for the Colts, who won two PIAA playoff games.
"It was a little taste of getting our feet wet,'' Hogan said. "Now, we're ready to jump in the pool.''
They'll attempt to do so with a strong transition game that emphasizes speed, rebounding, and ballhandling.
"Our biggest strength is probably our transition game,'' said the 5-foot-9 Bearer, a two-year starter at point guard. "We have some pretty good shooters, and a couple good inside post players in Hogan and Lee, and all five of us are good at dribbling the ball. In our offense, we get the rebound and go with it.''
And according to assistant coach Leo Magulick, the flow of the game seems to come naturally to the Colts.
"They play together well as a team,'' Magulick said. "They've been playing together for so long that it has just become natural for them. This is definitely a senior-oriented team. They've played in some big games in the past, and their experience shows.''
That experience could yield a big payoff come March.
"We got bumped up to [Class AA] this year, and we're in with the big dogs now,'' Polites said. "If we make it to states this year, it will be our fourth trip in four years. We're working real hard to get back there.''