Boys basketball: ‘Gold Squad’ plays key role for Centerville

Centerville seniors Max Knauer (with mask), Andy Velasco (20) and Reese Clark (14) have provided key support -- and entertainment -- for the Elks this season. Greg Billing/Contributed
Centerville seniors Max Knauer (with mask), Andy Velasco (20) and Reese Clark (14) have provided key support -- and entertainment -- for the Elks this season. Greg Billing/Contributed

CENTERVILLE – They’re dubbed the Gold Squad for the color of the practice jersey pinnies they wear. It’s a fitting name for the Centerville Elks’ practice team, and especially its three senior members, who have embraced their behind-the-scenes roles as much as they have celebrated the starters’ success during games.

Both have caught the attention of Centerville coach Brook Cupps.

“I won’t notice it during a game unless one of my assistants tells me to watch them,” Cupps said of the entertaining antics of Reese Clark, Max Knauer and Andy Velasco. “You’re watching film and you see them jump up and do something. You’re like, ‘What are they doing?’ You rewind it, clip it and show it to the rest of the team.”

Clark, Knauer and Velasco go into every game knowing their minutes are tied to the score. The bigger the difference the better chance they’ll get to play. That’s not an easy role to accept, Cupps said, especially for seniors who would be seeing more playing time at other programs.

So instead of points and assists their contribution to the team are measured in passion and energy.

“One of the big things in our program is to honor the guys that came before us,” Clark said. “Make sure we uphold the values of our team – tough, passionate, unified, thankful. Making sure we’re keeping the standard up. We might not score in the game but no one’s role is more important than someone else’s.

Centerville is 16-3 overall and 6-1 in the Greater Western Ohio Conference, good for a share of the GWOC title with Wayne (14-3, 6-1 GWOC). Leading up to Friday’s game with the Warriors, the Elks seniors will don those gold pinnies and run the Warriors’ plays as the scout team. It’s likely the most playing time they’ll get. And they make the most of it.

Clark, Knauer and Velasco admit they try to get in their teammates heads to throw them off their game.

“I just foul them,” Knauer said, smiling. “They don’t like that and they foul me back. Sometimes it’s more football that we’re playing. It’s a lot of fun every day in practice getting to compete against those guys.”

“Pressure them as much as possible and get in their heads,” added Velasco. “It’s fun competing in practice and knowing it’ll help the team in general.”

“During practice we go super hard, knocking heads,” Clark said. “It can go too far, but right after practice we’re best friends going out to dinner. It’s fun being able to have that relationship. It’s super competitive but it’s for the best.”

Last season Centerville reached the Division I regional semifinals before falling to Cincinnati Moeller 54-42. Centerville, seeded No. 1 in the Southwest 1 sectional bracket, opens with No. 19 Fairborn on Feb. 20.

Centerville seniors Reese Clark (14), Max Knauer (5) and Andy Velasco have provided key support -- and entertainment -- for the Elks this seeason. Greg Billing/Contributed
Centerville seniors Reese Clark (14), Max Knauer (5) and Andy Velasco have provided key support -- and entertainment -- for the Elks this seeason. Greg Billing/Contributed

The Elks are primed for another postseason run behind a trio of double-digit scorers with junior Tom House (17.8 points), sophomore Gabe Cupps (15.7) and junior Rich Rolf (14.6). Rolf also averages 10.9 rebounds and Cupps 5.8 assists, both team highs.

As for the other two seniors on the team, Tre Johnson and Jayson Hayes have seen quality minutes for the Elks.

“Every guy’s role is equal,” Knauer said. “Our role is to accept the fact we might not get our own success. We might not be able to score 20 points every night, but we can challenge guys in practice every day and help them score 20 points (in a game). We can see it’s a product of us challenging them.”

As for the Gold Squad, Knauer has scored a season-high eight points three times this season. Clark’s season-best is nine points. He also had seven rebounds in a game. Velasco went for five points as his season high.

If the Elks’ regulars don’t come to practice ready to compete, Cupps said all three of those Gold Squad members will take advantage.

“They’re great for that reason. If they just came out and played and didn’t challenge guys … they don’t back down from the guys who are starting or playing minutes,” Cupps said. “There are days where they kick butt. That’s part of what makes us a good team. We’ve got guys in practice who will challenge (the starters). Those guys can’t take days off. Those guys take days off and Max will score on them every time. It makes practices fun. I’m just glad they’re on our side and have the attitude they do.”

During games Clark, Knauer and Velasco turn their attention to opposing teams. While the Elks on the court can’t jaw with opposing players, the Gold Squad have no such limits. The trio also are the first out of their seats during timeouts to run onto the court and high-five their teammates. They slap hands with teammates more during a game than many politicians do on the campaign trail.

“With this team I feel like we have a bond many teams don’t have. We all love each other,” Velasco said.

“Holding guys accountable and being there for each other (is our role). Knowing we can’t do it without each other. Even though we’re seniors we know we might not play. Not a lot of teams have those guys who will do it for the program and be there for each other.”

And that might be what impresses Cupps most. There are other things Clark, Knauer and Velasco could be doing instead of getting up for 6 a.m. practices before school and practices after school. But they’d rather spend their personal time in the gym than play video games, hanging out at home or running around with friends.

“Nowadays there are so many things to do,” Cupps said. “Back in the day there wasn’t anything else to do, right? Now there are so many options. For kids to willingly choose to be part of a team where they know they’re not going to be the centerpiece and take on that servant mentality, when you have kids willing to do it, it permeates and impacts the team so much.

“I think it’s what high school sports are supposed to be about. I’m just grateful we have some guys like that still because I know it’s not like that at some places. The selflessness of it is such an admirable quality. These guys are going to be successful in whatever they do because of it. The embody our core values.”

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