North Smithfield hoopsters enjoying moment in the spotlight
North Smithfield head coach T.J .Ciolfi, right, talks to senior guard Dan Jordan (23) during the first half of Thursday night's state tournament game against Shea at Roger Williams University. North Smithfield continues its playoff march Sunday night against Prout at PC's Alumni Hall. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN.
NORTH SMITHFIELD â Confident âŠ but not cocky.
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Cool customers âŠ but not too cool for school.
Notoriety is a natural byproduct of winning, especially when victories are strung, out one after another, without a blemish, like a string of pearls. Yet as North Smithfield head coach T.J. Ciolfi will attest, the wave of attention for their once-in-a-lifetime season hasnât changed his Northmen in the slightest.
âAs soon as we beat Middletown, the stories started to come,â says Ciolfi about the 57-56 overtime win over the Islanders back on Jan. 17, one that catapulted North Smithfield from the realm of obscurity to a feel-good story that inquiring minds wished to probe. âThey were prepared for (the attention) and I told them to enjoy it. Read it, cut out (the articles denoting their feats in the newspaper) and put them in a shoebox.
âThey havenât shied away from it, but they donât walk into the gym full of themselves,â added Ciolfi. âThe approach I have is that âHey, I like the attention too, so letâs get more!â Every game, though, theyâve had the same attitude â go get a win.â
The pristine play of 25-0 North Smithfield matches the white uniforms that will be worn at Providence Collegeâs Alumni Hall for a âRound of 8â state tournament contest against The Prout School Sunday night. The fifth-seeded Northmen and the No. 13 Crusaders tip off at 8:30 p.m. and will lower the curtain on what figures to be an exciting day of high school hoops.
The quadruple-header begins at 11:30 a.m. with No. 3 North Kingstown taking on 11th-seeded Barrington, followed by No. 7 seed Hope and No. 15 seed Bishop Hendricken at 1:30 p.m. Classical, the top seed in the 16-team tourney, will meet No. 8 Westerly at 6:30. Sundayâs winners advance to the semifinals, set for Friday at URIâs Ryan Center.
While Ciolfi has never been on a basketball carpet ride like the one that has carried the Northmen to their present lofty heights, he does have some experience with the concept of âstay hungry, stay humble.â
A onetime menâs basketball assistant coach at Johnson & Wales University, Ciolfi had a front row seat to the scoring clinic Providence native Lamonte Thomas put on a few years ago. Watching Thomas drop anywhere from 30-40 points nightly was pure poetry, but the way the guard whoâs now playing professionally in Germany dealt with the swarm of notepads, recorders and TV cameras is something Ciolfi also remembers well.
âLamonte came into practice everyday with something to prove. When he took over the NCAA scoring lead as a junior [during the 2010-11 season], he could have rested on that. Instead he worked harder for more,â Ciolfi said. âReporters would come by to write or film stories, then he would go out and destroy whoever guarded him in practice.â
The North Smithfield coach has used Thomas as a shining example of striving for more even as the chips appear to be falling into place.
âWe can get the attention and read the papers the next day, but on game night, you better have a 20-point lead at halftime if thatâs what youâre supposed to do,â Ciolfi remarked. âI learned so much from Lamonteâs preparation and I try to bring it to these guys. Take the attention and enjoy it, but give them a reason to keep coming back.â
Last Monday night, Cox Communications sent a TV crew to Gatorâs Pub, where Ciolfi & Co. gathered to find out the open-tournament particulars. As the coach explains, arriving at such an arrangement proved no trouble. After all, thereâs nothing wrong with a little notoriety, especially of the good kind.
âI said to (Cox officials) that I can put together a get-together if we can get the cameras (to Gatorâs Pub) and get these guys their five minutes on TV in front of the whole state,â Ciolfi stated.
On facing his second consecutive Division II squad in Prout, Ciolfi canât stress enough how much the non-Division III teams get after it on the defensive end.
âEvery Division II team Iâve seen, they come out and get stops,â Ciolfi noted.
If the Northmen can take a page out of their opponentâs playbook, their reward will not only be a trip to the Final Four, but they will also enjoy several more days of being the darlings of the Rhode Island high school basketball landscape.