SALEM - Individual talent, no matter how superb, does not automatically make a successful basketball team. In order to achieve anything meaningful, a team not only needs it's stars to blend their games with the rest of the group, it also needs players outside the spotlight to happily accept their given roles.
Fortunately for the Salem Quakers, that is precisely what has happened this season. The result has been a 19-6 record and a shot at their first district title against Cardinal Mooney on Saturday night.
The Quakers boast 10 seniors on their roster, an unusual number for a basketball team, which only has five starting spots to go around.
"The guys who don't play a lot have kept a great attitude," Salem coach Rich Hart said. "They could have left once they realized they would not start, but everybody on our bench brings intensity each day to practice. They genuinely care about the team and they bust their tails trying to make everyone better."
"This year has really been nice," senior forward Zak Wukotich. "We've stayed together for four years, and it's been nice to win together."
The senior class entered this year with the Quakers coming off of three straight losing seasons. But Hart could tell that something special was brewing during the end of 2012, when the Quakers nearly upset Poland in the sectional final.
"Even though we went 9-12 last year, we had 10 or 11 games that could have gone our way," Hart said. "With the way we fought Poland in the tournament I thought we could be pretty good this year."
Hart proved to be correct, as the team has more than doubled its win total. Anyone who follows the Quakers knows all about guard Ryan Bush and forwards Anthony Shivers and Max Wolfgang. Together the trio accounts for the vast majority of Salem's scoring and rebounding. However, the Quakers would not be on the verge of a district championship without the contributions of Wukotich and senior point guard Brendan Webb, both of whom embody the selflessness on the team's roster.
Webb does not put up gaudy scoring numbers, but his ball-handling and passing skills are invaluable to the Salem offense.
"Everybody on this team knows their role," Webb said. "Ryan (Bush), and Tony (Shivers) handle the scoring, Max (Wolfgang) handles the rebounding, and my job is to facilitate. That's what I try to stick to."
Wukotich does not start but is a versatile defender of the bench, capable of guarding both post men and wings, a skill that should prove useful against Cardinal Mooney's athletic lineup.
"I'm always ready to come off the bench and supply defense," Wukotich said. "Whenever Tony (Shivers) or Max (Wolfgang) get into foul trouble I'm ready to come into the game and play hard."
"Role players are vital to any team," Hart said. "We are lucky to have so many guys that embrace their jobs without complaining."
For the Quakers to accomplish their goal of the district title its going to take one more game of the same effort.
"We've been looking forward to this all year, so we'll be ready to get after it." Webb said "What's great about this team is the chemistry we have with each other We've played together forever and everyone is happy to see each other do well."