MOUNT PLEASANT, N.Y. – Westlake High School boys basketball coach Steven Gage walked from the bench Wednesday to one of his players near the three-point arc.
The player took a few jump shots away from the rest of his team on the other side of the court as the Wildcats warmed up for a game against neighboring rival Hawthorne Cedar Knolls. Gage put his hand on the player’s shoulder, uttered a few words of advice and then returned to the bench.
It was a veteran move from a first-year head coach.
Gage spent the last 11 years as both an assistant varsity coach and head junior varsity coach at Byram Hills High School. But this year, he took over a Westlake program that finished 8-10 last year and did so just four weeks before the season began.
That quick turnaround brought with it some growing pains in the first few games of the season.
“I think anytime a new coach comes into a program, there’s a lot of change,” Gage said. “Right now, that’s what we’re going through. Each getting to know each other, my style of coaching, what I want out of them and obviously the system I want to instill.”
Westlake is 0-3 this season but Gage believes that record does not accurately reflect who the Wildcats are as a team. If time is Westlake’s enemy, then character, according to Gage, is its ally.
“Character’s always the greatest strength you can have,” Gage said. “These kids are really good kids so I think that will come through as time goes on. They’re working really hard in practice and I can see the improvements each day based on where we want to go.”
On Wednesday, Gage stood opposite Cedar Knolls coach Stephen Gruber, who is also in his first year at the helm. As the teams prepared to face off, Gage had another opportunity to continue to make his mark at Westlake with his particular style.
“We try and have a team-oriented game, one that values the ball, plays good strong defense,” Gage said. “One that plays like a family, people who care about each other and really works hard toward creating that chemistry that’s needed to win games and win championships.”