MOUNT VERNON – Jared Young stared at the wall above the entrance to Ben Gordon Alumni Gym Tuesday night — his eyes twinkling, the corners of his mouth creeping up — wearing the look of a love-struck kid eyeing a pretty girl. But for the senior guard and his teammates, the infatuation is hardly fleeting.
In Mount Vernon, that wall is sacred, a revered ground they hope they are worthy enough to walk on one day.
“You see all the past teams that won states and Feds,” said Young, a co-captain. “We’re hoping to get our picture up there someday.”
Mount Vernon begins another season with those goals at the forefront of its players minds. None of them were even in the school when the Knights won their ninth state title in 2012, forget about the year before, the program’s last as Federation champs.
The coaching staff has used that fact as a point of motivation for a group it believes has the potential to win big.
“It’s a team thing. If we’re having a good practice, one of us might ask (assistant) coach (Brian) Pritchett for a break and he’ll say, ‘You’re not on the wall. You can’t talk to me like that yet,’ ” senior co-captain Jamie Wiltshire said. “It’s a little joke that we have to work harder to get our picture up on the wall.”
The standard has been raised to that level in the wake of last season, one that hinted at the team’s vast potential but ended in relative frustration when Mount Vernon lost to Shenendehowa in the Class AA state semifinals. The Knights’ chief accomplishment was that they achieved as much as they did fielding a team with six sophomores and two freshmen — Bob Cimmino’s youngest ever.
The learning curve won’t stop, but Mount Vernon no longer will have the crutch of a brighter future to lean on.
“I count the majority of these guys like seniors,” said Cimmino, who is in his 23rd season as head coach. “They have the experience and this year is the only year I’m interested in. The future is right here, right now.”
Wiltshire and the three sophomores-turned-juniors — guard Marco Morency and forwards Greg Calixte and Noah Morgan — are all returning starters. Sophomore Demetre Roberts, juniors Eric Monroe and Derrick Hamlin, and Young and fellow seniors Jordan Harper and Tyrique Erskine all carved out roles last season as well.
Outside of the maturation of familiar faces like Calixte, who has added more skill, strength and coordination to his 6-foot-8 frame, Cimmino also expects increased production from Jason Douglas-Stanley. The sophomore guard played sparingly as a freshman, but his talent is evident; Iona made Douglas-Stanley a scholarship offer.
“He’s going to play a lot this year,” Cimmino said. “He just outworks everybody.”
With the number of key contributions expected from the sophomore and junior classes, Mount Vernon should be an even bigger favorite in Section 1 and beyond next year at this time. As a photographer snapped pictures of the Class of 2017 at the team’s preseason brunch last Sunday, Wiltshire admitted as much to Cimmino.
“Coach, that’s a team itself,'” he said.
Wiltshire wasn’t wrong, but it’s this team he and the seniors are worried about. Their urgency has been shared by the underclassmen. In fact, Cimmino said he couldn’t avoid hearing his players’ lofty goals at the brunch Sunday.
“Their expectations are as high as possible,” he said.
Young has already imagined it.
“When everybody comes back in the gym, they’ll see our picture up there,” he said, his eyes locked on an empty patch of cement.