There is something about the first day of basketball practice — that rhythmic sound of the ball hitting the floor, the promise of a new season with everyone undefeated and being back in that gym that you know will be crammed with crazed fans in no time at all.
That day was Tuesday for area high school teams after a snow day took away Monday’s practices.
The day was extra special for new Mill River girls coach Brad Rideout. Not only was everything new following the closing of Green Mountain College where Rideout was the women’s hoop coach, but he is tackling this new adventure with his daughter Mercedes.
Mercedes Rideout will be one of his assistant coaches and will also be at the helm of the JV squad. Mercedes was a 1,000-point scorer at GMC where she played four years for her father.
Rideout will also have Will Tyler on his staff, someone who was also one of his coaches at GMC.
If anyone is as jacked up for the season as Team Rideout, it might be Proctor senior Joe Valerio.
The prospect of being healthy for a full season has Valerio salivating after surgery curtailed his 2018-19 season.
“I’ve got a lot of fuel left over from season,” Valerio said while shooting around at Tuesday’s practice.
Valerio is in his element.
“I love soccer, but ...” he said through a smile.
But does he love basketball more than baseball?
“If you asked me halfway through basketball, I’d probably say my favorite was basketball. If you asked me halfway through baseball, I would probably say baseball,” Valerio said.
Valerio’s coach Jake Eaton is equally excited about the campaign.
Eaton was not excited about losing Monday’s practice, not with a game approaching against Twinfield on Dec. 12.
“That was awful. It was already tight,” Eaton said.
He will do what he can to get the Phantoms ready as quickly as possible.
Part of that preparation will be a three-way scrimmage with Saratoga and Fair Haven in Fair Haven on Saturday morning followed by a scrimmage on Monday at Burr and Burton Academy.
“I just want to see the kids play hard and compete,” Eaton said. “Our motto is to ‘win every day.’”
The Phantoms boast four 3-point snipers who can light up the scoreboard in a hurry — Valerio, Conner McKearin, Logan Starling and Brennon Crossmon.
But Valerio believes there is a danger of relying too heavily on the 3-point field goal.
“We have got a lot of different kids. We want to find our identity and a create a culture,” said Eaton of his objectives for the first day of practice.
The Phantoms went 13-7 during the regular season and bowed out in the Division IV semifinals to eventual state champion Danville.
“I want to see how we compete. We lost a lot of big games last year,” Eaton said. “We have got to step up in the big games.”
The Rutland boys basketball team obviously did win a lot of big games. That is something you have to do to put together a resume that has the Raiders trying to get to their fourth consecutive Division I state championship game.
They were also getting acclimated to their new home on Tuesday evening. The Raiders will be playing home games at College of St. Joseph due to floor damage at Keefe Gym.
Rideout is trying to get some basics installed at Mill River before the Minutemen have a scrimmage against Middlebury on Dec. 9.
“We want to get a couple of offenses and defenses installed, a press breaker and maybe a couple of out-of-bounds plays,” Rideout said.
“First and foremost, we are looking to be competitive and have some intensity.”
One thing that Rideout is going to miss from the college game is the shot clock.
He is a believes it should be installed at the high school level.
There are 10 states that require a shot clock of 30 or 35 seconds in high school basketball including neighboring states Massachusetts and New York.
“I feel it brings some excitement to the game. Once you play with it, you love it,” Rideout said.
Coach Nate Bellomo will be trying to rebuild a team that lost guard Elise Charron, who is off to an impressive start at Castleton University, and Leigha Charron underneath.
“They were some key players. Someone is going to have to step up,” Bellomo said
“The first day we are trying to build a foundation.”
He had everyone in the program in the gym Tuesday including those who will likely comprise the JV squad.
“I am excited about what is going to happen. There is a lot of leadership here,” Bellomo said.
“Today is just about basic skills and drills.”
Bellomo will get a look at his Raiders under fire on Tuesday in a scrimmage at Springfield.
They will be going into a town where everything is new. Springfield has coaching changes for both the varsity boys and girls teams. Mike Hatt takes the coaching reins of the Cosmos boys program and Pete Peck is at the helm of the girls team.
There is also a new girls basketball coach at Green Mountain Union High School where Jeff Buffum takes over for Terry Farrell.
West Rutland has a unique format to its first day. Both the boys and girls teams are sent through an hour of conditioning drills by Athletic Trainer Ali Serrani before they have their own practices.
The West Rutland girls will be looking to defend their Division IV state crown and they will have a height advantage against every opponent.
Division II Rutland County Roulette will generate plenty more excitement in boys basketball with the Fair Haven, Mount St. Joseph, Otter Valley and Mill River all having realistic notions of a state crown.
Out in Poultney, the Blue Devils are hoping to take that one extra step in boys basketball after making it all the way to the D-IV championship game where they lost to Danville.
Coach Todd Hayes will settle for a baby steps for his Blue Devils after the Poultney girls won just three games last season.
That intoxicating sound of the ball hitting the floor was back on Tuesday. Everyone is looking to follow it all the way to the biggest stage of all — either the University of Vermont’s Patrick Gym or the Barre Auditorium.
Several girls teams will begin their attempt to reach those destinations on Saturday during a four-way scrimmage in Fair Haven where Kyle Wilson’s Slaters will host Thetford, Proctor and West Rutland.