It’s been two years since the Dwight School opened its athletic center in East Harlem, and the investment has already paid off.

Earlier this month, the boys’ varsity basketball team won their second straight state championship against Collegiate in the New York State Association of Independent Schools final at the Fieldston School in the Bronx. Saturday, the team begins the Federation Tournament of Champions in Albany, but the road to the tournament began with the combination of a new coach, a new home and a new attitude.

Dwight School boys’ varsity basketball coach Dave Brown graduated from Dwight in 1997 and was coached by street-ball legend Pee Wee Kirkland. Brown has embraced his role as a mentor to younger players, like Kirkland was to him.

“It is a privilege,” Brown told the AmNews. “Coming back to Dwight as an alum and coaching just feels right. I work with many players who are looking to improve on and off the court. Assisting them in their development, especially since I was a student here, is the most fulfilling thing I do, next to fatherhood.”

Judging by the words of senior star players Jeremy Bonifacio and Rodrigue Marthone Jr., Brown’s mentoring has worked.

“Coach Brown is great off and on the court,” said Bonifacio, an NCAA Division I college basketball recruit. “Once you get to know him, you realize that no matter the situation, he is always positive. He always has positive feedback, and he always knows the right thing to say. He’s helped me with my skills to get better, to get stronger and to make the right decision at the right time.”

“Coach Brown is amazing at what he does,” said Marthone, an NCAA Division III college basketball recruit. “We weren’t a winning team and he changed the culture.”

What else changed the culture of the team? The Dwight School Athletic Center, the place that gave the team a home to call their own.

“It’s great to have the athletic center open to us,” said Bonifacio. “I’ve been here since ninth grade and we had no home gyms. In our league, whenever we played a team twice, we had to play on the road both times.”

“It has been an invaluable asset on so many levels,” said Brown. “Having a state-of-the-art athletic center and home court to practice and compete on is great for the team—great for skill development, team-building and school spirit. All-around, it’s a world-class facility.”

The “world-class facility” has helped the team deal with adversity this year after losing five seniors to graduation from last year’s championship squad. They had to learn how to become a team again. Last year had its obstacles as well.

“Last year, the adversity was in handling roles on the team and becoming a team in the truest sense,” said Brown. “It was a bit difficult and challenging for the kids, as well as emotional. The emotional component of it, I think, made it work and that much more special.”

Brown continued, “This year, our adversity was rooted in belief. Our team was younger and didn’t necessarily believe they were talented enough to win. We placed some pressure on our captains to raise their level of play, demanding more from them.”

“We lost a couple of seniors, and they played great last season and that’s why we won,” said Marthone “As we started doing preseason workouts, we started to get confidence, and once we played our game, we were fine.”

And that’s where Brown and company stand. Playing their game and winning in the process. As for competing for another NYSAIS title next year? Brown’s not thinking that far ahead.

“We are just focused on our next game right now,” he said.

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