At Deptford High School, you have to go back to the 2014-2015 season to find the last time the boys basketball team finished the year with a record that wasn’t below .500, when they finished with a 13-13 record.
First year head coach Brandon Williams, a 2007 Deptford alumnus, has his squad off to a hot start in the 2020-2021 campaign, with a 3-0 record that includes big victories over Cumberland Regional and Delsea Regional, as well as a win in the final seconds of the season opener over the defending Group 3 Champions in Timber Creek, a game that hinted great things may be to come.
And while Williams would certainly love to snap the team’s five year streak of consecutive losing seasons, his first goal after being named head coach in the offseason was to create a team of players who excel on and off the court and learn to play and care for one another, and not themselves.
“I wanted this job because, with me being from the community and me being a face that the kids recognize, I wanted to be able to make an impact on their lives,” Williams explained. “I certainly want to get Deptford basketball back to where I know it can be, but I more so wanted to be able to help these kids in a variety of ways that I might not have been able to before.”
Williams, a four-year coach with the football team and three-year strength and conditioning coach for the school, was already well-known by student athletes around the building before being named the head coach. He previously coached the JV boy’s basketball team under former-coach Bill Fahy, before Fahy resigned at the end of last season.
Immediately, Williams knew he wanted the job.
“When Fahy resigned, I knew I really wanted to put my hat in and see if I could make this thing right,” Williams recalled. “I knew what could happen if I got this chance, and I’m just excited about it right now.
“My whole purpose as their coach is to help inspire them and be that light of positivity,” he added, “and show them how to be a husband and father one day in the future, with all those good characteristics.”
Due to COVID, Williams hasn’t yet been able to implement everything he would like to in the program, but moving forward, he wants to expand on a program he’s created called CHAMPS, which means Coaches Helping Athletes Mentor Players/Students. It would pair upperclassmen with underclassmen to allow younger players on the team to have a mentor they can go to in a time of need, whether it be with academics, athletics, life advice or other issues.
Williams believes his coaching style stands out as an effective way to connect with his athletes, reaching them on a personal level and, in turn, creating a coach-athlete relationship where they mutually respect and understand one another.
“As far as motivating, I feel that was always one of my talents as a young coach to be able to light a fire within the kids,” he noted. “As a coach, you’ll hear people talk about getting kids to run through a brick wall for you … I never really took that approach; it was more so me being real with them, being honest and letting them know their expectations on the team. And in return, the kids, as young adults, respect me being honest with them.”
Due to his unique ability to foster a strong relationship with his athletes and get them to play together, Williams has the team primed to snap the aforementioned losing streak.
“I expect to win every game that we go out there; I want to have a winning record and win the division,” he said. “Those are the two goals that we set at the beginning of the year. But to be honest, I want them, more importantly, to be the best player they can be inside of every game.
“With what COVID can do to anyone’s season right now, I want them to play like every game is a championship,” Williams added. “Any day can be pulled away. Go there and play your hardest, like it’s your last game. Because you just don’t know.”
Last season’s starting five all returned for the 2020-2021 season, allowing the coach to build off the existing chemistry already instilled in the boys following a 12-14 season.
“They go with each other: They’ve all been a staple in the Deptford program for years now,” Williams said. “All five of them together equals success. The chemistry was already kind of there from last year, but this year, I feel like they actually rely on each other and play together so much more.”
With a season shortened by COVID, Deptford is currently scheduled for a 12-game regular season, as allowed by the NJSIAA. Teams that make the playoffs in their respective conferences will then be allowed to play an additional three games.
For Deptford, the climb to a winning record, which last occurred during the 2011-2012 season, has been a gradual one over the past three-and-a-half years, with records of 3-21, 9-16 and 12-14 in it’s three previous seasons.
Team captain and senior Hassan Hampton says the team has worked hard to get better each season, with all of the hard work starting to show real results and promise early on this season.
“Most of us have been playing together since our freshmen years, so we’re all familiar with one another and feel comfortable; we’ve been getting better year after year,” said Hampton. “We all know our personnel really well and the way we play. We talk about it every day, that we haven’t had a winning season in a while. Coach (Williams) always brings it up and we use that as a way to fuel us and strive to be better.”