December 14, 2011 - After spending two seasons working hard to turn around the boys basketball culture, varsity head coach Paul Marfia thinks this could be the breakthrough season.
Front Row (L-R): Mike Censullo, Malik Brown Middle Row (L-R): Jacques Toussaint, James Patrick, Connor Elzerman, Rob Norfolk, Coach Paul Marfia, Coach Jeremy LaValley, Glacier Wallington, Ben Magdaleno, Mark Hazelwood, Javante Evans, Back Row (L-R): Nate Brubaker, Zack Raisch, Collin Goetz, Jacob Wysocki, Michael Kitchner (click for larger version)
"I'll tell you, this should be the best basketball we've had since I've been here," Marfia said. "We've worked very hard this off-season to improve our skills...I am doing a better job communicating, they are doing a better job of working hard and making it happen."
"This is a year where you can see us turn the corner as a program," he added. "If everyone stays healthy and everyone keeps working hard, then I expect to compete for a conference championship."
Marfia noted the most wins in the modern area of Wildcat boys basketball is 13.
"There is no doubt I expect us to be good...I expect us to compete, to be there and win more basketball games and be ready to go," he said.
One area Marfia hopes to see improvement on is their fourth quarter execution.
During the two years under Marfia, the Wildcats have lost 18 games where they have either been tied or within a bucket with less than two minutes left in the game.
"I need to see some progression in that fact," Marfia said. "I need to see some ownership by my seniors to step up and say listen, we need to start getting this done if we are going to finish games late."
So far, his seven seniors have taken it to heart, which has gotten the attention of Marfia.
"My seniors have really stepped in, set the tone in practice and made the people around them better," he said. "I have been impressed with the leadership of those seniors stepping up and making it happen."
"It's a sign that the culture is changing a little bit and that is a good thing," he added.
The seniors include leading scorer Mark Hazelwood, who averaged 19.1 points a game last season, Jacques Toussaint, Michael Kitchner, Ben Magdaleno, Javente Evans, Collin Goetz and Zack Raisch.
Marfia noted both Hazelwood and Toussaint have been spent three years on
varsity and have become the team's vocal leaders.
"Their ability to lead this group will be key to how quick we reach our potential," he said. "At the high school level, guard play is key."
Marfia also has six juniors and two freshmen on the squad.
"Once they develop their role, they will be big for us," Marfia said about his juniors. "(junior) Mike Censullo will be able to back-up our guards and (junior) James Patrick, once he is comfortable with our system, will give us depth in our post position."
Marfia added "the sky is the limit" with freshmen Glacier Wallington and Connor Elzerman.
"We have greater overall team speed and a balance of all the things you need to be successful," he added. "We have a couple kids that can handle the ball, hit the three, slash to the basket, rebound and defend."
Winning a conference title won't be easy as Oxford gets placed in the Oakland Activities Association gold division with Bloomfield Hills Lahser, Bloomfield Hills Andover, Birmingham Groves, Royal Oak and Hazel Park.
Marfia said Lahser was a favorite to win the league due in part to two returning all-conference players.
"Groves and Royal Oak have very athletic squads and on any given night will be tough to beat," he added. "Hazel Park and Andover are in a rebuilding stage of their programs, (but) you must prepare or they will get you."
Marfia said his goal for the season was to "give championship effort, attitude and preparation in every practice."
"Like everyone in the conference we want to win it," Marfia said. "We were disappointed with how we finished in the conference (last year). This season we hope to make big steps forward and play with a chip on our shoulder."
The Wildcats opened up their season with a dominating 58-24 road victory over Hamtramck on Tuesday, Dec. 6.
Hazelwood led Oxford with 18 points, while Kitchner chipped in with nine points. Toussaint, Wallington and Raisch each added seven points for Oxford.
According to Marfia, all 15 of his boys played, which was a big reason Oxford was able to pull away in the second half.
"I thought they played real well and we used that to our advantage," Marfia said.
Entering the second half up 28-14, the Wildcats outscored Hamtramck 20-7 in the third quarter to open up a 48-21 lead, putting the game out of reach.
The Wildcats opened up their home season with a 60-56 loss to Lake Orion on Friday, Dec. 9.
After trailing by as many as 16 entering the fourth quarter, Oxford went on a 6-0 run to cut the lead to 49-39 before getting a technical foul for having six guys on the court during a substitution sequence.
The Wildcats fought back to cut it to five on multiple occasions in the final quarter.
Hazelwood led the Wildcats with 21 points.
Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.