Comet connections: Basketball emphasizes building relationships beyond the court

Hudson Pitcock | The Chronicle

Brotherhood is not just a slogan, it is an on-court advantage.

Photo by Lily Haller
Matt Debrosse and Braylan Payton celebrate a key basket.

Last year, Adam Toohey took over as head coach of the Mason boys basketball team. The Comets went 16-8 in his first year, but the on-court results are not the only thing that the team is looking to build on. After 27 years of success under Greg Richards, Toohey sought to continue his on-court legacy while leaving his own mark on the culture.

One new rule Toohey implemented was a no earbuds policy on game days. The move was not popular with all players, as many like to listen to music to relax and prepare to compete. Toohey said his goal is to bring the players closer together, and removing barriers allows for closer bonds on and off the court.

“Basketball is best played as a group of connected individuals,” Toohey said. “I think that you grow more connected as individuals when you’re communicating with each other. You’re about to go out into an environment that is not friendly, that’s going to be loud, and we just want the guys to talk to each other and get connected as opposed to listening to their headphones.”

Though it was originally met with some pushback, the rule evolved into a great bonding experience for the team. One exception to the rule is that athletes are allowed to be on their phones as long as they are still engaged with their teammates, such as playing a videogame game with each other. 

Sophomore Brycen Johnson said he ended up appreciating the guideline, as it led to a new relaxing pre-game tradition with his teammates.

Photo by Lily Haller
Abib Abib posts up for a contested shot against St. Xavier.

“I think it’s good team bonding,” Johnson said. “We like to play a lot of Among Us before the games. I feel like it relieves a lot of pressure to play with your teammates which helps us play better together on the court.”

Recently, the team took a trip funded by the Mason basketball program. They stayed overnight in an Airbnb in Loveland and shared a meal at Texas Roadhouse. With no ball or hoop in sight, the expedition was solely intended to strengthen relationships.  

Every player was given a chance to share parts of their life stories out loud. This led to players opening up with each other through emotional conversations. Toohey said the team benefitted from an experience where they could connect with each other without the pressures of the basketball court.

“We feel like a different team after that,” Toohey said. “I think we are a little tighter, we got some guys to open up a little bit more and let their guard down. We talked about what are things you struggle with. When people know that, they can help support you.” 

Senior Matt Debrosse said he learned a lot about his teammates on a personal level which he believes will lead to Mason’s triumph in games. 

“Growing connections helps us out on the court,” Debrosse said. “I know I can trust not only the other starters with me, but I can trust everyone else on the bench to come in and do their job. I know when I’m pressuring somebody, they have my back. I know they are going to always be there for me when I’m having a bad game, and I’ll be there for them too. We’re all going to celebrate each other’s little victories.”

Adam Toohey is in his second season as Mason’s head boys basketball coach.

Toohey also mentioned that one discussion the athletes had was the expectations they have for each other. Valuing student-led feedback, he believes player-to-player support builds chemistry and belief in each other. This is why at the end of every game, win or loss, the locker room conversation has to include time for the end-of-game spotlight.

The basketball coaching staff teaches four core values to their athletes, one being competition. A big philosophy Toohey believes in is competing to steal inches, which is the small things that make the difference in a basketball game. Emphasizing that every single rebound and loose ball is what turns the tides of a game, the end-of-game spotlight is a time for the players to recognize and celebrate each other’s “little” victories. 

“Coming from the coach is one thing, but coming from your teammates is a whole other thing,” Debrosse said. “It boosts your confidence and helps you play better. You know that your teammates have you back, the coaches have your back, everybody in the Brotherhood has your back.”

Debrosse said he misses listening to music on bus rides to games, but understands the rule’s purpose. The team does not have traditional captains, but Debrosse said he appreciates how Toohey has empowered players, particularly the seniors, to lead the team and find ways to build up the culture.

Senior Abib Abib moved to Mason as a sophomore. He said Toohey’s approach has helped him gain confidence and grow closer to everyone in the program, whereas before, he didn’t cooperate on court as well. 

Photos by Lily Haller
Brycen Johnson leads offense to start possession in opener.

“I felt like I didn’t really know any of the kids on the team, like I was just the new kid.” Abib said. “Since Coach Toohey has arrived, I now know every single kid in the program.”

Abib advocated for the need for well-developed relationships in a team. He said it was necessary to have a connected team in order to reach their goals.

“Basketball is mainly a mental sport, needing strong bonds with teammates,” Abib said. “The bigger the bond, the stronger you are together as a team. I feel like everyone has come together as one tightly connected team.”