If someone told American Studies boys basketball coach Michael Hamlett his Senators would host a Public School Athletic League playoff game, that they would face the 41st-seeded team in the tournament and that four of his players would end up scoring in double figures, Hamlett sure would like his odds of winning and moving on to the next round.
But there was Hamlett, in a small room off the court, holding an extended postgame meeting with his team. The final meeting of the season as it turned out.
There was a lot of impassioned talk, lots of hugs, and a fair amount of tears. No one saw this coming, but when the final horn sounded and the scoreboard read Campos Secondary 72, American Studies 59, it was time to call it a season for some, and a career for a pair of special Senators seniors — Nicholas Bliss and Joaquin Rojas Tineo.
“There was a lot of emotion in there,” Hamlett said after the meeting. “Joaquin was a four-year player. Nicholas was a four-year player. You love these kids. These kids are part of my family now. My family gets bigger and bigger every year.
“But it’s just tough. We didn’t want it to end this way. It’s not how we envisioned our season ending.”
It was a season to remember for the Senators, who used a late-season rally to not only secure a playoff spot, but land a home game in the postseason. That’s not something that happens often for this program.
“To get a home playoff game, which is rare in American Studies’ history, to be seeded 24th (in the playoffs), that means the PSAL respected our schedule and respected us as a team,” Hamlett said. “But hats off to that team from Brooklyn. They came out and played tough.”
Campos jumped all over American Studies right from the opening tip, bursting out of the gate with a 22-9 lead after the first quarter and extending its advantage to 36-15 at the half.
From there the Cougars never looked back.
“I don’t really know what it was,” said Bliss, who finished with 12 points. “They jumped on us early and we didn’t do what we had to do. We just didn’t play our style of basketball in the first half, and at that point — down 20 at the half — it was hard to come back. We outscored them in the second half but it was too little too late.”
The Campos lead grew to 30 points in the second half as the Senators couldn’t muster a rally. But Hamlett told his players after the game not to let the loss overshadow what had been a very successful season for American Studies.
“At one point this season, we were 6-5, and we were on the brink of not making the playoffs,” Hamlett said. “Then we ran off five straight to finish 11-5, and we almost won the division. They played their hearts out today. It’s not how we wanted to end the season, but that’s how it goes.”
Troy McLean led the Senators with 14 points with both Noam Pechter and Rojas Tineo finishing with 10 points apiece.
“This program has meant a lot to me,” said Bliss, who will attend the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business next fall. “I think I learned a lot as a player and a person over these four years. I will say, as a four-year member of this program, it’s something I’m really proud of, and I really enjoyed.”
Despite the loss, Rojas Tineo described the past four seasons as a great experience.
“To me it goes hand-in-hand with my school work,” he said. “It’s school work and basketball. It’s never one or the other. Basketball is just as important to me as going to school.
“It’s disappointing we lost, but at the same time, I’m proud of all my teammates, all my guys. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
There was one final emotional step to go through at game’s end for Bliss — taking off his Senators jersey for the final time.
“It was hard to walk off the floor for the last time knowing that I will never put this jersey on again,” Bliss said. “I’m never going to play with these guys again. I’m never going to play for coach again. It’s all over here.
I’m starting a new chapter in my life next year, but it’s not easy to let go of this.”