As any number of business books will tell you, turning an organization around starts with turning around the mentality of its members – "changing the culture," the expression goes.
Such is the approach of Carmine Giovino, the first-year coach of the Berkeley Carroll Lions. The Lions are coming off a dismal 3-11 season and have for several years finished in the bottom half of the Athletic Conference of Independent Schools (ACIS).
Giovino, a alum who starred on the Park Slope school's basketball and baseball teams, is trying to get his team to think, act, and play like its powerful teams of yore.
"The top thing we're trying to do is to get our kids to take themselves and basketball seriously, to make a commitment to being a varsity athlete," said Giovino, who coached the Lions junior varsity team last year. "When I was here, athletes were real student-athletes. We took pride in it. I feel like that's slipped a little"
The task of restoring Lions pride will fall to an exceptionally young team. The Lions start two freshmen, two sophomores, and one junior. Giovino thinks the team's youth is an asset because it enables him to better instill his exacting mental approach to the game. As a result, the new-look Lions are spending study halls watching game film. To help his players grasp the game's subtleties, Giovino is even using an interactive program on his iPad that diagrams plays.
"I know everybody says this, but because we're so young, it's really all about getting better every game," he said. "We're trying to win now, but I have my eye on the fact that we're basically going to have the exact same group next year. It's basically a two-year season."
That two-year season has started with a 1-3 record. Last week, the Lions lost in heartbreaking fashion, 51-50, on a last-second buzzer-beater to league rival UNIS. On Wednesday they suffered another loss, to Riverdale.
The elder statesman of the Lions is junior point guard Joe Longo. The 5-foot-10 Longo has actually played varsity basketball for four years, having made the team as an eighth grader. He has a quick first step, a good jump shot, and in his coach's words is the team's "the most developed player."
Flanking him in the backcourt are two freshman wing players, Ian Miller and Shane Pearly. Both of them are around 5-foot-9, and "both can shoot, they can go to the hole, and they're exceptionally talented."
The frontcourt is undersized, which underscores the importance of the fundamentals like boxing out and defensive positioning that Giovino stresses. The star pupil is forward Mike Andria, who despite his short 5-foot-8 stature, is "our best rebounder by far" because of his attention to detail, Giovino said.
Anthony Spina, a 6-foot-forward, is a hustle player who his coach compared to Anderson Varejao, the wild-haired whirling-dervish of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers.
Dondre Benson, a 5-foot-11 sophomore forward, has an excellent mid-range jump shot and can nearly dunk the ball. "He's shown flashes of being maybe our best player," said Giovino.
Junior Duncan Hardy and sophomore Max Jenz, both 6-foot-1, are two of the hardest-working players on the team. "Guys [on other teams] are usually bigger than them, but they're at practice early and they stay late with the coaches to get an edge," said Giovino.
Shortly after he was interviewed for this article, Giovino met his team in the library to watch the tape of the previous day's game against UNIS.
"These kids work really hard and they deserve better than last night's loss," he said. "It's just a matter of how soon they get it."