February 10, 2021

PDS Boys’ Hoops Edges Pennington In Opener as Players, New Coach Work to Get on Same Page

MAKING STRIDES: Princeton Day School boys’ basketball player Hampton Sanders races up court in a game last season. Last Wednesday, sophomore guard Sanders scored 26 points to help PDS defeat Pennington 61-58 in double overtime in its season opener and the first game under new head coach Eugene Burroughs. The Panthers play at the Hun School on February 11 before hosting Sinai Christian on February 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Eugene Burroughs and his players on the Princeton Day School boys’ basketball team are going through an intense learning experience together this winter.

Having coached for D-I college programs and then going on to the pro ranks in the NBA and G-League, Burroughs is making his debut at the high school level as he takes the helm of the PDS program.

His players, for their part, are getting inundated with some advanced hoops concepts.

“One of the phrases that I use with them is that sometimes you have to make the uncomfortable become comfortable because right now everything is so new to them,” said Burroughs.

“One of my assistants said to me the other day, coach do you think we are putting too much stuff in, the guys look confused. I said you know what, I am going to have them raise their level instead of me going down.”

There will be some bumps in the road as Burroughs and his players get on the same page.

“I told my assistants, think about what we are doing now and where we could be next year with these kids when they have figured it out, this is how we do it,” said Burroughs.

“Next year you will come in with guys who have been around and they will be flying around. They have got a feel for it and it will be a way different animal. This is the growing pain stage of doing something new. This is new to me too.”

Burroughs likes the way his players are responding. “It has been going good for me, it is an adjustment getting used to the kids, their skill set, and learning what they can do,” said Burroughs.

“They have been really receptive. It has been great. Our energy levels have picked up as a team. I feel the guys are learning.”

The Panthers showed a lot of energy in their season opener against Pennington, rallying from a 22-13 first quarter deficit to win 61-58 in double overtime as sophomore guard Hampton Sanders led the way with 26 points.

In the view of Burroughs, Sanders is poised to have a big season.

“He has got good quickness, he can handle the ball, and he has been a great leader on the floor,” said Burroughs.

“He is only a sophomore but he is vocal. He leads the stretch every day. It is great when your point guard is one of your leaders because he is the guy that has to put people in spots on the floor. He has been very receptive to learning, I think he has a very good basketball IQ. He is learning some new things and adjusting.”

Senior Dameon Samuels is looking very good at shooting guard.

“I think he is probably our best shooter; he is crafty in getting to the basket and can hit mid-range shots,” said Burroughs, who is also looking at sophomore Jaden Hall, junior Hussein Zaher, and junior Nikhil Gandhi to contribute from the perimeter.

“He can handle the ball. I have actually been impressed with his leadership; he is a quiet kid but I think he has made it a point to teach the players a few things on something I was teaching. He understands things. He can pick up things really quickly. He works on his game, he is a gym rat. He has a laid-back feel to him but I think he has another gear to him. When somebody is being competitive and combative, he can take it to another level.”

PDS is hoping that junior Connor Topping can take things to a higher level as he gets a bigger role in the frontcourt.

“He is about 6’3, maybe 6’4, he is a long, leggy kid,” said Burroughs.

“He can shoot it some and can put it on the floor some. He has picked up some things I have taught here recently and put them into play. He has been doing a really good job. I am thinking about him at the three (small forward) position.”

Senior Josh Colon gives the Panthers a good veteran presence in the paint area.

“I am playing him at the four (power forward), he is a tough kid and has a great IQ for the game,” said Burroughs.

“He knows where everyone is supposed to be. He is going to talk on defense, he is going to do everything within his ability to make a play. He can make a three, he is going to make the right basketball plays. He is glue guy, he has got a little toughness, he understands everything. He is like the next vocal leader of the group; the guys know his voice, he has been in the program for a while.”

At center, senior Ethan Garita is focusing on diversifying his game to become more of an all-around threat.

“He is athletic, he is long, he is bouncy, and he can put the ball on the floor,” said Burroughs, who will be using junior Anthony Stewart in the low post.

“I am challenging him to show that he can handle the ball, that he can dribble, hand-off, and drive it to the rim from the perimeter. I think for him to play in college and be a Division I player, he has to show that skill set. Last year he was around the basket a lot. He is a legit 6’7, if not 6’8. I think with him, his evolution is to show in college, that he may not be a guy who is around the basket most of the time.”

Burroughs is looking for his players to bring a sense of urgency to the gym on a daily basis as they work through COVID-19 challenges.

“We have to treat every day like it is our last day,” said Burroughs, whose team plays at the Hun School on February 11 before hosting Sinai Christian on February 16.

“With this situation, you don’t know when we may have to go pause or if the season is going to end. There should never be a day in practice where we are not playing hard and having fun. I am excited for the season, the kids are excited to compete. Every day you walk into the gym, you should be smiling and happy because the alternative is that we are at home doing Zooms. It has been good.”