H-K Building a Foundation with New Coach
Junior captain Callen Powers is leading the H-K boys’ basketball team as the Cougars play their first season with new Head Coach Brett Cavalieri this winter. (File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Source)
Senior Lucas Kamoen scored 16 points for H-K when the team took a close road loss against Wheeler on Jan. 12. (File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Source)
When Brett Cavalieri started coaching high school basketball as an assistant four years ago, his goal was to make it to the top level as a head coach. After spending some time at Westbrook, Cavalieri earned an opportunity to become head coach of the Haddam-Killingworth boys’ basketball team this year following the retirement of former coach Jim Abbott.
The Cougars are off to an 0-8 start while they’ve been dealing with some issues thus far, but Coach Cavalieri still has an unwavering faith in his squad. Cavalieri is eager to see how the Cougars continue adapting to his system as they strive to put some wins on the board during the latter half of their campaign.
“My system is really analytical. I want to get good shots on offense, and, on the other side of the ball, I want to prevent the opposing team from getting high-quality looks,” Coach Cavalieri said. “We’re a very inexperienced team this year, and one of our two players with varsity experience [junior captain Tate Callender] has been out the entire season with an injury. We have a lot of room to grow, and I’m excited to see where we end up.”
H-K lost all three of its contests last week, but still saw some marked improvement in its play. On Jan. 10, the Cougars traveled to Old Lyme took a 66-48 loss to the Wildcats. Junior captain Callen Powers led H-K with 15 points, while sophomore Blake Kamoen scored 12 points in the game.
Coach Cavalieri praised Powers for how he’s gone about leading the Cougars as a captain through the early portion of the season.
“Callen is the best leader at his age that I’ve been around. He means everything to this team,” said Cavalieri. “Callen drives the offense and attitude of this team, and all of the guys look up to him. We expect things to be a little different if Tate ends up returning, but Callen has been the focal point of our squad so far.”
Three days later, H-K faced Wheeler on the road and was edged out by a 44-40 score. Senior Lucas Kamoen scored 16 points for the Cougars, while Powers followed suit with 11 points of his own.
Coach Cavalieri was pleased to see H-K grind its way back into the game after trailing by double digits at intermission, although he knows that his young club still needs to play better in order to get that first victory.
“We were down by 12 at the half in this game and ended up battling back to be down by two points in the closing seconds of the game,” Cavalieri said. “We really need to start executing in all areas of the court. Being a young team, there’s no area where we have it all down right now. Until we start executing consistently, there will be growing pains.”
In H-K’s final matchup of the week, the Cougars hosted Hale-Ray and took a 74-35 defeat on Jan. 14. Powers scored 14 points for the Cougars, and Blake Kamoen netted 10 points.
Even with the slow start to the season, Coach Cavalieri credited his players for refusing to give up during some tough times. Cavalieri is hoping that type of effort will translate to some success on the court as the season unfolds.
“One thing I want to bring over from Westbrook is the never-quit mentality. I think our guys have done a great job so far of always giving 100-percent effort, even if they’re down big,” said Cavalieri. “That’s one thing that I will always preach to these kids is to give it their all at all times.”
Coach Cavalieri and the Cougars have some concerns about competing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Cavalieri added said that H-K’s athletes are happy to be playing basketball this winter and want to make the most of their campaign.
“We’re definitely worried about playing through the pandemic, but we know how important basketball and all sports are for these kids,” Cavalieri said. “I remember at the start of the pandemic how down a lot of kids were because they weren’t able to compete in sports. I just want to see these kids have fun, while still being safe of course. Basketball is just as important to their mental health as it is their physical being.”
In addition to Lucas Kamoen, H-K’s senior class for the 2022 season features Adam Alonzo, Jayden Zaitoun, and Declan Christopher. Along with the captains Callender and Powers, the Cougars’ juniors class include Joe Giaccone and Tyler Perry. Blake Kamoen and Ryan Erskine are H-K’s sophomores, and Andrew Crayton is a freshman on the squad.
No matter how things turn out in his first season, Coach Cavalieri likes the players that the Cougars are going to battle with on a game-in, game-out basis.
“The one thing people should know about this team is that these are really good kids,” said Coach Cavalieri. “The entire team is pretty much brand new, and these kids have worked incredibly hard to rebuild this team from the ground up. I’m very proud of them.”