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Madison Park hoop stars take pride in teamwork

Howard Manly | 4/7/2010, 4:47 a.m.
Right after losing a playoff game for the state championship, the Madison Park basketball team took time for one last photograph — as a team. Patrick O’Connor

Dennis Wilson is an old-school basketball coach.

He won a state championship in 1982, and came close this year with a team that compiled a record of 23-2.

But the record is not what’s important here.

No, it’s something larger, something that stays in a young man’s mind for a lifetime.

The something is the idea of teamwork.

Around this sports-crazed city, where coaches named Bill Belichick and Doc Rivers have left tangible championship bling, a lot of people talk about teamwork.

But what Coach Wilson and his players were able to achieve this past basketball season was nothing short of extraordinary.

Just ask team captain Jamal McCollum. For starters, he is graduating and going to Salem State College next year. As far as the wins and losses this season, McCollum doesn’t hesitate.

“It might sound corny, but it really wasn’t about the wins and losses,” he said. “We really enjoyed playing together as a team. We did everything together and worked as a team to accomplish our goals.

“The fact that we had a good season didn’t come as a surprise to me,” he said. “We were a team. We were together every day. Even during the off-season.”

Though the team lost in the state championship round, Madison Park did settle an old score with rival O’Bryant by beating them in the Boston City League Championship game. The team lost to its Malcolm X Boulevard neighbor on Valentine’s Day by a score of 62-60.

But junior guard and tournament MVP Spencer Brathwaite torched O’Bryant with 39 points, and the Cardinals won, 69-65.

Coach Wilson readily admits he had some talented players last season.  But individual talent is not enough, Coach Wilson explained. “If you can combine individual skills with working together as a team, then you have something,” he said.

The teamwork starts with the use of words.

“No cussing, no swearing,” Coach Wilson said.

And there was — and is — a dress code. “No butts showing!” Wilson exclaimed, referring to the popular style of sagging, baggy jeans.  

Those old-school values were drilled into the players during practices. They lasted for five-and-a-half hours every day during the season.

Practice wasn’t always on the basketball court. There were study halls and mentoring sessions, too.  Every now and then, Coach Wilson would talk about some of the players from back in the day, men like Earl Monroe, Bill Russell Julius Erving and Wilt Chamberlain.

Coach Wilson grew up in that era. A graduate of Boston English, Wilson went to Delaware State before leaving to attend Salem State. He started coaching at Madison Park in the early eighties. He coached at Brandeis for four years, but he loved high school ball and Madison Park. But he learned a thing or two at Brandeis.

“We try to run our program like it’s college,” Wilson explained. “We have study halls, and I receive progress reports on every athlete. We want everyone to stay eligible. What we are trying to do is prepare them for the next level.”

For Wilson, the next level is life. And that is why he made it a point to take the entire team down to City Hall last month in order for them to see where laws are made and budgets are decided.

“Sometimes we take for granted who has been shaking the tree for us in the community,” Wilson said, before introducing City Councilor Chuck Turner. “But here is a man who has been able to create legislation that makes things happen in the community.”

After brief remarks from Turner and other City Hall officials, the team shared pizza and soda in a nearby office before accepting a proclamation from the Boston City Council, congratulating them on their success.

“The reason that we were successful,” Wilson said during an interview, “was that we have love and unity. Everybody had everybody else’s back. We had some very good players but what made us special is that we functioned as a team.”