MOUNT PLEASANT, N.Y. – Hawthorne Cedar Knolls boys basketball coach Stephen Gruber watched his team warm up at Westlake High Wednesday for a game against the rival Wildcats.
Gruber is still navigating the waters of his first varsity basketball head coaching job. But as his team prepared to take on Westlake, he had a chance to stop and take stock of his first few games as Cedar Knolls’ head coach.
“Obviously, it’s a new situation for me, so I’ve been adapting pretty well,” he said. “The kids have been grasping the concept I’ve been trying to teach them. It’s all about teamwork and stuff.”
Gruber previously coached in several youth basketball leagues and coached football at John Jay Cross River. His first season at Cedar Knolls is still young, but like every coach, he has already dealt with his fair share of challenges.
“So far, [the challenge is] just keeping it together on the court,” Gruber said. “Sometimes our kids have a little trouble overcoming the adversity during the games. We’re looking to come together as a team in those situations and pull through.”
Cedar Knolls is 2-2 this season, with third-place finishes at the Solomon Schechter and Children’s Village tournaments. Gruber has already led his team to more wins than it had all last season, when it finished 1-17.
While some teams rely on size or experience to make it through a season, Cedar Knolls has a slightly different approach.
“We definitely are an athletic team,” Gruber said. “We have team speed and quickness, and our kids are very aggressive on the court, which is good.”
That athleticism should help in Gruber’s up-tempo offense, which focuses on speed and fast breaks.
“We like to see if the teams can keep up with us,” Gruber said. “We like to test them out and, if not, we’ll pull it back a little bit and get in our set plays. But we’ll try to run them and see if they can keep up.”
On Wednesday, Gruber stood opposite Westlake coach Steven Gage, who coincidentally is also in his first year at the helm. Gruber is only four games into his head coaching career, but he already has his sights set on the postseason.
“We’re definitely looking to make the playoffs,” Gruber said. “That’s always a goal for every team, and definitely the kids have high expectations, too, and they’re looking to do well this year, too.”