The Hopewell Boys basketball team is off to an impressive 6-3 start and a big key to their success might be attributed to more than improving on the court.
Hopewell Sports Nation had the chance to talk with Vikings junior guard and leading scorer Zach Kovell, who says their on-court success has to do with what’s gone on off the basketball court.
“The moral as a team has been a lot better,” says Kovell. “We’ve come together more as a family than we would have last year and that’s coming from outside of just basketball. We’re hanging out, going out to team dinners, stuff like that. I believe that helps us play more together when we get on the court. That’s a big deal for me because if we’re able to communicate on better and work together better on the court, that’s only going to make us better. If you’re having people that are bringing a negative energy, that doesn’t help at all, it just brings the team down. That negative energy is just as bad as a missed layup. Because we’ve built such a strong bond as a team, I think it’s really helped us to improve our attitude and mentality.”
That’s obviously a big thing and something that might happen with professional or college teams but not so much high school teams. How was this comradery formed and who were the leaders?
“I really think it’s been the team as a whole, especially during the offseason and in the summer. We would go up to Independence Square and play basketball for hours, like a couple days a week. We were constantly together, putting time in, working, working, working to improve our game. It was the same way in the Fall when we had open gyms. The morale last year was extremely low. We came together as a team and said that we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard, both on and off the court, both mentally and physically and come together as one because we’re not going to win if we’re torn apart.”
This family bonding has no doubt helped but so has the fact that it’s resulted in wins. The 2023-24 Vikings started the season 5-0 which made the buy in much easier and strengthened this togetherness.
“To open the season, we had five straight wins which helped us realize we can do things this year that haven’t been done in previous years in Hopewell basketball,” said Kovell. “Now in section play, it’s going to be a lot tougher but we’re still extremely confident in our ability as a team to prove people wrong. Our goal is to make the playoffs and then make a run in the playoffs. Honestly, that’s not even a goal that’s an expectation.”
Kovell has been a leader for Hopewell off the court as well as on the court. In 9 games, Zach has led the team in scoring (20.8 points/game) and is shooting an impressive 41% from 3-point range. As opponents are finding out, he’s a dangerous player because of his shooting touch from the outside as well as lightning quick first-step off the dribble which seemingly gets him into the lane at will.
“One of the most important parts of my game has always been my speed. I’ve always been able to get by my defender at will. Something that I’ve really worked a lot on is finishing at the hoop as well as the floater in the lane. I’ve really, really put a lot of time into that in the off-season. I also worked on fixing my jumper and trying to make it more consistent. Other than that, I’m just trying to give our team everything I have, every single game because I’ll do anything to win. That’s all I want to do this year is win.”
Kovell is an integral part of this team’s success and must play well if this team is going to reach their ultimate goal of the playoffs. He’s willing to accept that pressure but at the same time, admits there’s plenty of other players on this Hopewell roster that can and have been getting it done this season.
“Honestly, being called the leader of the team is something I take with a grain of salt,” said Kovell. “Going into these games, the teams we’re playing watch the film and are keying on me defensively. I’ve been trying to use that to our advantage and trying to get some of my teammates some looks. Yeah, I can go out and get my points but at the end of the day, if I do that and we don’t win, what’s the point. It takes a lot of pressure of me to have other guys that can score, like Zach (Gigliotti), Pip (Thomas Pipkins). When those guys heat up, they get really hot. If they can score 10, 12 points a game that helps the team a tremendous amount. Now we have Mason (Showrank) coming back and he’s really going to help the team out. He’s another guy that can get to the bucket at will. So, if we can get 8-10 points from all these guys, that will greatly, greatly, improve our chances of winning.”
“Making the playoffs this year would mean everything. This year, our mentality has been to prove people wrong. Everyone thinks that we’re going to be dead last in the section again this year, win no games and finish last in the section. We want to come out and show people what we’re really made of. We want so badly to prove people wrong and to win basketball games. If we were to make the playoffs, that would mean everything.”
Kovell and his Hopewell team will look for win No. 7 and more importantly a section win tomorrow night when they travel to take on the Ambridge Bridgers.