The East Lansing High School boys basketball team is undefeated this season, with a 14 and 0 record. They work hard, but they try not to take themselves too seriously, says Coach Steve Finamore.
“When kids start playing basketball at a young age, it’s all about fun, and as they grow and mature, I often wonder where does the fun go, why’s everyone so serious nowadays?”
Finamore says he wasn’t necessarily surprised by the performance of this year’s team- he got a tip early on that this group might be something special.
“I got an email when our senior class was in the 7th grade, they said Coach, you gotta see our middle school team. 5 years later, sure enough, that person was right with the email.”
The Trojans are ranked second in the state, and they sit atop their conference. So how does a team like that prepare for each game?
“It’s all about the mental mindset now, we’re practicing, you know, mindfulness, to be in the moment, it sounds like a cliche- we talk about be where your feet are, this present moment, but they’re teenagers they’re not really into this kinda stuff,” says Finamore.
Finamore might not think the players are into his “be in the moment” talks, but they may be picking up on more than he thinks.
Junior Brandon Johns leads the team in points. He says being in the moment is crucial.
“It’s really difficult but that’s really important to take it one game at a time because if you’re thinking about the future too much it can really just mess with the game that’s right in front of you.”
Johns is ranked number 1 in the state of Michigan, and 44th nationally by ESPN. He credits Coach Finamore with helping him focus.
“I’ve learned how to be mentally strong cuz he knows how to get on you if you’re not doing your thing, he knows how to just push you to the limit. So he’s taught me really how to be very mentally strong.”
And when it comes to the team, Johns and many of the players agree: the camaraderie the guys have with each other off the court plays a big part in their success. Johns says they have a pregame tradition.
“We go to subway before every game, we go to subway and get an orange juice. Me personally i think it’s the orange juice is what kicks it, makes you play good.”
Johns expresses what his teammates mean to him.
“Man I don’t know, they mean everything to me just because I’ve grown up with all of them. Just true childhood friends. They mean the world to me really.”
Caleb Hoekstra is a senior who broke his leg and hasn’t been able to play. But he agrees that this players on this team have a special bond.
“Being an observer from the sideline now, it’s pretty remarkable to see just the chemistry that everybody has together and just the fun that we have playing with each other is something I really haven’t seen being on other teams.”
It seems like Finamore’s philosophy really has rubbed off on the team: work hard and don’t forget to have fun.
“You gotta have fun in life, you know life is short, I’m only gonna be with these guys for a little while longer, I think society is getting to a point now, athletics especially, where things are too serious. So I try to keep it fun because you’re gonna look back a couple years from now and say ‘I didn’t have any fun.’ I want these kids looking back saying ‘wow I really had fun with Coach Finamore.’ ”