Boys Varsity Basketball pushed past #6 seed Governor’s Academy 79-69 to win the NEPSAC Class B Boys Basketball Quarterfinal at Deerfield Academy on March 1. The Highlanders, the #3 seed, will take on #2 seed Millbrook School in the NEPSAC Semifinals on Saturday, March 4, at 1 p.m. at Millbrook.
Live Stream Link - Basketball Semifinals
This is the first time in at least a decade that Gunn Boys Varsity Basketball has advanced to the playoffs. The team ended its regular season February 25 with a record of 17-7.
“All of this part of the year just seems like a reward for the hard work. There’s just opportunity to have it be better,” Head Coach Brian Konick, Ph.D., said Monday, heading into the quarterfinal. “There’s no pressure on the kids at this point. It’s just them having every minute they have to play together, and to try to do something special is just a blessing. This part of the year is very easy for me. They've already won.”
Konik attributes some of the team’s recent success to a unique preseason strategy. This fall, that included a team camping trip at Steep Rock Preserve during a “Live Like Fred” Community Weekend, when the whole community spends time together outdoors as a way to connect with school founder Frederick Gunn and his love of nature.
Heading into this season, Konik said: “I felt like we had a great group of kids. We spent a lot of time starting last spring integrating the new kids that were coming to the school with the returning players. We took the team on a Live Like Fred camping trip in the fall. We went to Steep Rock. And so, a big part of our program is building those kinds of social connections among the kids on the team before the season starts. Basketball has a lot of games. It’s a sport that has a lot of ups and downs throughout the course of a game and throughout the course of a season, the more kids enjoy being around each other and learn to trust each other, the better they are going to be in difficult situations throughout the year.”
Several members of the team have connections from their earliest days on a basketball court. “A lot of these kids knew each other from playing youth basketball together in New York, and they have all of these memories. One of them will say, ‘The first time I played against this kid, I was nine years old.’ They all have this history together. That’s been a recruiting strategy,” Konik said, noting that he will talk with current teammates and their families or go back to the AAU program they came from and try to promote the school. “The closer these kids’ social relationships are, the more comfortable they feel here and the better they're going to do.”
One of the highlights for him as a coach is always the team’s first preseason scrimmage, when all of that planning and hard work is brought to fruition on the basketball court. This year, in a preseason scrimmage against Taft, the team played really well, took an early lead, and finished the game strong.
“So much time and effort is spent imagining the kids, back from when they are touring the school, to seeing how they are going to develop and grow. You're waiting to see if the plan could possibly come together,” Konik said, citing Gunn’s 72‒56 win against Millbrook at home on January 23 as another memorable moment from this season. That win gave the team the confidence to believe they could make it to the playoffs this year.
“They were a favored team to win the championship and they have many college-recruited players,” Konik said of Millbrook. “We had a solid win against them and it kind of made us feel like, ‘Wow we kind of have a chance’”
Then, late in the season, Gunn recorded its first win over archrival Canterbury School, 78 - 71 at home on February 20. It was the first time Boys Varsity Basketball had beat the Saints in recent memory.
This year’s standouts include Santana Sinvilcin ’24, who is the team’s leading scorer, Tristan Davis ’23, who won the The James R. Haddock Basketball Award in 2022 and ALL-NEPSAC honors, and Greg Kenney ’23, a postgraduate who is new to the school this year. Konik credited Stephen Gritti, who joined the team this year as an Assistant Coach, with instilling his general coaching wisdom, which stems from his many years coaching football in high school and college. “He’s been big in developing a bunch of new traditions that help with motivating and inspiring. There’s an award he gives to each kid after each game, and they can pass it down from kid to kid. He adds a level of professionalism to the locker room discussions and film sessions and scouting reports. He also has been helping the kids learn the right way to approach the college recruiting process.”
“It has been wonderful to watch the basketball program flourish under Brian and Steve’s leadership. It has been great for school spirit to have both a packed gym and a packed rink watching our teams this winter. It is exciting to see two teams in the winter in the postseason, and we are hoping for deep runs for each of those teams,” Athletic Director Mike Marich P’23 ’24 said, referring to the Boys Varsity Hockey Team, which also earned a spot in the New England Championships as the #3 seed. The team beat #6 seed Tilton School 5-4 in the NEPSAC quarterfinal on March 1 and will face #2 Seed Holderness School in the semifinal on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Holderness.
Konik brings to the Gunn Boys Varsity Basketball team over 25 years of experience coaching basketball, which he said is like soccer in that it is a sport that transcends socioeconomic boundaries. “I’ve always loved the diversity of people from all different parts of the world who play basketball. They all play differently and they blend together. It’s also very exciting. There are so many opportunities to have successes and failures, and like life, it’s about not living your highs too high or your lows too low,and continuing to stay focused on the goals.”
One of the reasons he chose to come to The Frederick Gunn School was the size of the school. “It’s a manageable size for me, as a psychologist, to effect change and provide support,” said Konik, who is also Director of Counseling. “The same is true with basketball. There are just five players out there. If you have five players working together and trying hard, you almost have a shot against every situation. It’s easier for the bigger schools or the better programs just on sheer volume to be competitive in other sports. In basketball, five players playing together can go from struggling to being competitive to having a lot of success reinventing the program with just a handful of kids.”