Granby Memorial High boys basketball head coach Wally Hansen can be forgiven for being a bit sheepish when responding to the question of whether he thought his team was a title contender at the start of the season.
Indeed, Hansen admitted in a telephone interview Thursday that he didn’t know that the Bears were moved down from Class M — where they had been competing for the last six years — to Class S (for smaller schools in terms of enrollment) until three weeks before the season started.
“I had no idea,” said Hansen. “But when I saw that we were in S, my eyes lit up.”
Fast forward to March and the Bears have made school history, advancing to their first-ever state championship game in basketball.
Third-seeded Granby Memorial (22-4) will face No. 25 Weaver (12-12) at the Mohegan Sun Arena at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Hansen said. “It’s been a really special season. I can cliche about it all day. It’s been awesome.”
It’s taken far more than just a drop in classes for the Bears to make their run at the state title.
“We have unbelievable kids,” Hansen said. “They didn’t want to go home.”
Hansen credited players such as senior captains Mike Noyes and Carlin Champion with providing the leadership on and off the court.
“Those two — they’ve been through the grind,” Hansen said. “Mike leads by example, and Carlin is our vocal leader. They set the tone for our team. They’re there every day, and have been for four years. They give all I want; they’re two great kids. They’ve earned this. They deserve it.”
Granby Memorial also got a boost when senior guard Brett Buser, the team’s leading scorer, transferred in from New York last summer.
“He’s been dynamic,” Hansen said. “Christmas came a little early in Granby.”
Other key contributions have come from seniors Kurt Field, Caleb McMullin, Dawson Tefft and Jake Yankauskas, as well as sophomores Tanner Gibson and David Eke.
Competing in Class S has been far from a cakewalk. The Bears needed every arrow in their quiver to defeat Kolbe Cathedral 56-54 in Plainville in the semifinals on March 13.
Unlike Granby Memorial, Kolbe Cathedral has a rich history of winning state titles, with four to its credit.
But Granby Memorial beat Kolbe Cathedral at its own game Wednesday, Hansen said.
“We were ready to play and didn’t back down,” Hansen said. “We took it to them. We pressed them. We did to them what everybody thought they would do to us.”
Champion led the Bears with 18 points, while Buser had 16 and Noyes and Gibson had 8 apiece in the victory.
So now it’s on to Weaver at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Weaver, too, has won its share of state titles (7). The difference between the two teams, however, is that while Granby Memorial has a wealth of senior leadership, Weaver is led by a freshman — Keandre Fair — who paces the team in scoring at just over 21 points per game.
“[Weaver] traps and presses all over the place; they’re quick, athletic, and fast,” Hansen said. “Fair is dynamic. He can score from anywhere on the floor. He makes other guys better.”
If a state title isn’t enough motivation, Weaver will also be looking to avenge an 82-69 loss at the hands of Granby Memorial on Dec. 28.
But that game may as well have been 100 years ago for both teams. Records (Weaver just reached .500 with its semifinal victory) and seeds also go out the window come tipoff time.
Still, Hansen said that he feels good about his senior-laden team taking the floor on Saturday.
“We need experience on that floor, we need guys who are confident and who play with appropriate intensity,” Hansen said. “We’re going to play to win. We’re not just happy to be there. We’re there to win the darn thing.”
Patch will post coverage of the game after it's over on Saturday. Check back with us!