Hoosick Falls remains a pillar of success
That day, Lance Armstrong had just gone on Oprah, finally admitting after many years of vehement denial that he had participated in doping. The University of Alabama college football team had just won one of its many national championships.
It was also the day of the last home Wasaren League loss for the Hoosick Falls boys basketball team, as the Panthers fell to Greenwich.
Thirty-two home league games later and Hoosick Falls still hasn't lost.
The numbers behind the Panthers' run are impressive — Hoosick Falls has won 34 consecutive league games and taken 64 out of its last 66.
Panthers coach Mike Lilac has been at the helm for the last 22 seasons, longer than any of his players have been alive. He has seen wave after wave of talented players come through his program. He credits them and those who have taught them for the team's success.
"There's a lot of good players that have come through and a lot of good youth coaches and JV coaches," Lilac said. "It takes a lot for a program to come along like that. It is nice to see it through a whole group of kids who come in and play and graduate. Turn over a whole new crop of kids and still be able to keep that success is something we're proud of."
This incarnation of Hoosick Falls has lived up the lofty expectations from previous teams. The Panthers currently sit at 8-4 on the season and are 8-0 in league play.
Those four losses aren't just any losses though.
Hoosick Falls has played one of the toughest non-league schedules around, with their losses coming to Schalmont, Lake George, Glens Falls and Mount Anthony.
Taking those losses into perspective, Schalmont is atop the Colonial Council and the Patriots are considered a Class A team by the New York classification. Lake George is currently undefeated and ranked No. 1 in Class C. Glens Falls only has two losses and has quite possibly the best pure scorer to ever play basketball in the state in Joseph Girard III. It took a 50-point performance from the star junior to down the Panthers earlier this year.
The Schalmont loss aside, Hoosick Falls, an honorable mention in the latest New York state rankings, lost the other three by a combined 11 points.
Having such a tough non-league slate has prepared the Panthers for some of the bigger games they'll play, especially come playoff time.
"It taught us how we have to not give an inch and play every possession like it's important and taking the ball is important," Lilac said. "We don't want to get into the playoffs and have that be our first close game. We had a lot of special situations that came up and game situations we were able to play through. We didn't win them, but it was still good."
A lot of Hoosick Falls' success this year can be attributed to the fact that they came in as an experienced group. The Panthers returned four of its five starters from last season in Guy Milliman, Evan McCart, Jon Kempf and CJ Baker. The only major piece they lost from last season's team was Alex Haynes, who graduated last spring.
Kempf leads the team with 19.6 points per game. Over the last 10 games, McCart has averaged 16.3 points per game, while Milliman averages 16.1 points per contest.
"We didn't have to re-teach a lot of things," Lilac said. "We're not at the point where we're putting a lot of new stuff in, but we're trying to perfect what we had already done. As I've gotten older, I've tried to get away from having a million different things. We try to do a handful of things really well."
With the longevity Lilac has enjoyed during his time in Hoosick, the wins have continued to rack up over the years. Back on January 12, Lilac etched his name into Hoosick Falls history as he passed Howard Dewey with his 333th career win.
Lilac is cognizant of what that win meant, but to him it's not about the wins, it's about the people he's met and the experiences he's had along the way.
"Some wise coach somewhere says that if you're in it and think wins are going to make you happy, you're never going to be happy," Lilac said. "It's really not about the wins. It's about the players and the relationships you build with the people. The wins are just a byproduct of that."
Lilac has been able to build a family and a career in Hoosick Falls, and for that he is grateful.
"I started here I don't know how many years ago. As a young kid, I didn't know anybody," Lilac said. "It's a great town that I ended up raising my kids in. It's been a great place to have a career and raise my own kids, so I'm really happy with how things have turned out."
Adam Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at @AAucoin_Banner on Twitter.
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