The Saugus Centurions are tired of being the doormat of the Foothill League.
Despite coming off back-to-back seasons where they went 3-7 in Foothill League play, Saugus boys basketball coaches and players say the program is in the best spot it’s been in years. Third-year coach Bill Bedgood cut his roster from 15 players last year to 11 players to create more chemistry amongst his team this season.
Senior All-Santa Clarita Valley first-team guard Zach Phipps, who averaged 18 points per game last season, will lead the team, but he has help from senior guard Anthony McIntyre, who averaged about 10 points per game, and senior forward Micah Toban, who was the team’s top rebounder.
“We’re tired of being the underdog of this league,” Phipps said. “Ever since I got to this school my goal has been to put a (championship) on that banner.”
Over the past 10 seasons, Saugus has finished above fourth place in the Foothill League just three times. Over the past five seasons, Saugus hasn’t finished above fourth place and is a combined 15-35 in Foothill League play.
That includes a 2013-2014 season where Saugus went 0-10 in league play, with 3-7 records in league play the past two years.
Saugus’ teams were not as bad in the past as their league records indicate. The team went 12-15 overall last season, 13-16 in 2014-2015 and 14-14 in 2012-2013.
“I feel we can beat anybody in the league,” Bedgood said. “It was an improvement from where they were before I got here, but this is really the year that we expect it to turn around.”
Bedgood said the hardest thing about that culture of losing was changing the attitudes of players to believe they can win. Anyone observing Bedgood and several players at practice Wednesday could tell they have their swagger back.
“I don’t know if the kids have always bought into wanting to play for each other,” Bedgood said. “This is a team that I really think gets that.”
Last year Saugus carried a roster of seven seniors, six juniors, one sophomore and one freshman. This year the team will carry just six seniors, four juniors and a freshman.
Phipps, McIntyre and Toban have known each other for about six years. All three played varsity last year and said disagreements between players, parents and coaches plagued the team on game days and players sometimes got kicked out of practice as they argued over playing time.
At Saugus’ practice Wednesday, 10 of 11 players played in a full-court scrimmage between the first and second teams. By keeping a short bench, Bedgood wants to increase the reps his second team gets. He also thinks it leads to fewer distractions.
“As much as you try to explain to them what their role is, every kid wants to play,” Bedgood said. “The more kids that aren’t playing, that’s more kids that could be a distraction.”
At 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, Phipps is starting to entertain offers from colleges and this week he will visit Cal Lutheran University. McIntyre is also hoping to play for a community college.
All three players know their roles well on the team. Phipps commands the team in drills shouting “16…24…25” in a shooting drill. Phipps plays mostly on the outside, but has the speed and strength to drive the ball to the hoop from the outside when needed.
At 6-1 and 155 pounds, McIntyre is a speedster who often passes to set up Saugus’ offense but who can also take 3-pointers when needed. Toban, a 6-3 forward weighing 175 pounds, is a bruiser in the paint who can eat space and grab rebounds. “He’s like a (Dennis) Rodman type that can rebound and play great defense,” Bedgood said of Toban. “Probably our strongest player mentally and the heart of the team.”
Saugus’ hidden ace is McIntyre’s freshman brother Adrian McIntyre. Bedgood thinks Adrian McIntyre could play NCAA Division I basketball and could become one of the best shooters in the Foothill League.
“Nobody has the ability to make plays the way that kid does,” Bedgood said.
At practice Adrian McIntyre, 14, appeared to still be transitioning to the speed of varsity basketball, and he is smaller than most, but is also aggressive when guarding bigger players. He, like Bedgood, thinks he could start before the season ends.
Adrian McIntyre feels nervous, but confident heading into the year.
“I feel like I’m kind of under the radar. A lot of people don’t know about me yet. If I just keep grinding, I feel like I could go far.”