eschickler@bcnnew.com

Don't coun the Staples boys basketball team out. Anyone who does it is doing so at its own peril. Although Staples lost its entire starting five from last year's team that finished the regular season at 12-8, 13-10 overall, it has a talented group of players who play with heart.

"It will be tough to replace a lot of scoring and leadership, but hopefully, the younger guys learned from them and they will play hard, smart and with confidence," said Wreckers Coach Colin Devine.

Staples will especially miss lefty power forward Andrei Oztemel and point guard John DiBartolomeo, both who possess a lethal outside shot, played in the senior all-star game and are currently playing for Ithaca College and the University of Rochester, respectively. The Wreckers also miss center Joe Kestenbaum, who is playing football at Ursinus College, shooting guard Danny Jabick and swingman Alec Abed.

Working in Staples' favor is the return of 6-1 senior captain Brendan Rankowitz. Rankowitz and starred on the football field at wide receiver and defensive back and on the hardcourt, he started part of last year. He's a capable outside shooter at times and his strength and tenacity enables him to win battles on the glass and play solid defense.

"The kids have worked extremely hard and have a great leader in Brendan Rankowitz coming off a great football season," said Devine.

Junior guard Frankie Bergonzi was selected an FCIAC Future Player last year because of his outside shot, play-making ability and defense. At 6-0, he's very athletic and will be a soccer captain next year for the defending Class LL champion Wreckers. Complementing Bergonzi are classmates Grant Fenton, Luke Yeager and Andreas Bub.

Fenton is a 6-3 power forward who can jump, rebound and score inside. The 5-11 Yeager is a sharpshooting guard capable of draining three-pointers and is an excellent playmaker. Seidman is a 6-1 small forward who is a consistent shooter, rebounder and defender and is also capable of playing guard. At 6-7, Bub is a center who adroitly blocks shots, rebounds and plays tough defense.

Also figuring in the mix are juniors Tyler Jacobs and Jake Felman. Jacobs is a 5-10 guard who helped the football team this fall and the baseball team last spring, and Felman is a 6-0 guard.

"The way we pass the ball and work together will make us successful," said Devine. "We hope to work as hard as we can, play smart and we hope to get into the state tournament. If we play hard and smart, we'll be successful."

Rankowitz said, "We lost a lot of seniors but we have kids step up and we'll be good. We have players who want to win, which is important. We're working hard towards a common goal, which is to get as many wins as possible."

Staples deserves an "A" for tenacity and desire, which will carry it a long way. Proof of it came this summer when it was 6-2 in summer league basketball, including a 61-59 upset victory over vaunted Notre Dame of Fairfield without Bergonzi, who is arguably its best player.

"The kids want to win, go to practice every day and try to be successful," said Devine.

The Wreckers know what they need to do and aren't concerned about whether they are an underdog. However, if anyone takes them lightly, they will be ready to take advantage of it.

"We have to keep on practicing, work together and help each other out," said Rankowitz. "We don't care what anyone thinks about us and we'll just play our game. We don't need motivation from anyone because we're already motivated. If they think we'll be weak because we lost so many guys, maybe we can catch them off-guard."