Hopewell finding its way in 1st season

Matt Morgan, Correspondent
Cary News, january 10, 2007

When basketball coach and athletics director Andy Pogach showed up for his first day of work at Hopewell Academy earlier this year, he didn’t find much.

“They may have had two kickballs and a couple of cones,” Pogach said, laughing.

The 27-year-old University of Pennsylvania graduate was hired by the two-year-old school a week into this school year to start the Hopewell Athletics Department — and to start it fast.

“It’s been challenging, it’s been fun,” Pogach said. “To come in here and they hadn’t had any teams and they hadn’t had any sports and to me that seemed like a really neat opportunity to basically start from ground zero.”

In a few months, Hopewell has gone from ground zero to fielding a nine-player varsity basketball team that competes in the newly formed Central Carolina Athletic Conference. The team plays its home games at the Bond Park Community Center in Cary.

The Tigers are 2-3 on the young season, but Pogach is thrilled that his team is simply competing.

In his first few weeks, Pogach tried to figure out which sports the students were interested in and which sports were feasible considering the obstacles.

The obvious choice for Pogach was basketball. It required the fewest number of players and was popular enough that he would be able to field a team out of the school’s 35 total students. Pogach is no stranger to basketball either. He served as a varsity team manager for the University of Pennsylvania basketball team for four years in college and spent three years as the director of basketball operations at Penn.

While Pogach’s basketball pedigree was impressive, the basketball background of his students wasn’t. Only three members of the first Hopewell squad had ever played organized basketball before this year, but that actually excites Pogach.

“In a public school atmosphere, with thousands of kids at a school, these kids wouldn’t have the opportunity to participate on a sports team,” Pogach said. “Here we’re giving everybody an opportunity to come out and play no matter how good or how bad you are, and an opportunity to learn the sport and be a part of a team.”

This meant that Pogach couldn’t take anything for granted in the teaching process. Instead of teaching X’s and O’s, Pogach spent the first month of the season teaching players the simple things, such as checking into games and how many fouls each player is allowed.

While the early scores haven’t been in Hopewell’s favor, Pogach is thrilled with his team’s progress.

“The improvement that I’ve seen from day one to today is incredible,” Pogach said. “The first day they came in and they didn’t really know what to do. Now they know what to do. We put a drill in there and a day later they have it down pat.”

Helping the process has been the team’s positive attitude.

“They understand the big picture,” Pogach said of his players. “They’re not out there crying, screaming and moaning that we’re getting our butts kicked. ... They’re trying on the next possession, trying to score a basket, or stop them.”

With no seniors, Pogach has implemented a two-year plan for his team. Rather than worrying about wins this season, they’ll focus on learning.

Next year, the team plans to focus on winning, even winning the conference tournament.

Team captain Drew Dennis is excited about his team’s future.

“[The losing] has been a little bit difficult, but we can see we’re improving in some areas,” Dennis said. “We know we have some good talent on the team that would be playing at Cary or Apex. We’re just fortunate to have them here.”

Along with basketball, Pogach also plans to expand the Hopewell athletics program over the next five years. With gym expenses and participation a prime concern, he will have to choose his sports carefully. Pogach hopes to add cross country, tennis and possibly coed soccer within the next few years. But for now, Hopewell seems thrilled just to have the basketball team taking to the court.

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