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South Jefferson appreciates how far it’s come in bid for state title

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ADAMS — Every summer, Pat Bassett looks at the pack of second- and third-grade girls at his annual basketball camp, and tells them that they could be the next group to win a sectional or state title.

At various points, seven to 10 years ago, Bassett delivered that message to every player on this year’s South Jefferson roster. And they took it to heart.

The Spartans (23-0) will play Rochester-Aquinas (15-8) in the Class B state semifinals at 10 a.m. on Friday at Hudson Valley Community College, where a win would put them in the state championship game and provide an opportunity to claim the third state title in school history.

The Spartans won the state championship in 2004 and 2006. They will be making their fifth trip to the state final four and first since 2007.

Each member of South Jefferson’s current starting five remembers sitting on the South Jefferson gym floor as youngsters during summer camp, listening to Bassett, looking up to the past champions, and hoping they’d get a chance to join them someday.

That day has arrived.

“I’d say it’s a dream come true,” said senior point guard Amanda Roberts, tied for the team lead with 12.7 points per game. “I think of looking back and going to watch all the other teams in the past. You go back and, you just idolized them. And now to be here, it’s amazing.”

Junior Brooke VanCoughnett, a 5-foot-4 guard averaging 13.4 rebounds over the team’s last five games, was a manager on each of South Jefferson’s state title teams.

VanCoughnett believes that each player’s long-standing dedication to this program is the biggest reason the Spartans have advanced to this point.

“I always went to the games (as a kid) and I’ve always wanted to be there,” said freshman Clarissa Perry, who has made a team-high 53 3-pointers this year. “Now that we’re actually here, I want to leave it all on the court and do the best we can do.”

Senior Arin Crowell, who has drained 43 threes this year, recalled sitting in the stands for the ’06 state title game.

“It’s just a really cool feeling to be here,” Crowell said.

As one would expect, a strong bond has formed between the players, who have worked tirelessly together since elementary school to get to this point.

“We don’t want to lose for basketball reasons,” said sophomore Austin Stevens, averaging a team-best 18.5 points during the postseason. “But we also don’t want to lose because we don’t want to say goodbye to our friends. Because we know (the seniors) are leaving, and it’s kind of like breaking up a family. We don’t want that to happen.”

“We became a huge family,” Perry added. “It’s going to be tough to say goodbye.”

For Bassett, who the players credited for his hard work in breaking down game film and putting together scouting reports all hours of the night, hanging another state banner would only be part of the reward.

“That’s why I love the way we do things,” Bassett said. “These kids start coming to basketball camp in second and third grade, and they’re coached by the varsity level kids, so they have this connection with the program. They spend a (great) amount of time around the program so there is that investment in it. They want to be the next ones to get their smiling faces on the wall.”

“To me, that’s the most gratifying thing to watch as a coach,” Bassett added. “To watch the development of the players all the way up through.”

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