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When Todd Peretz stopped by the Yarnall Athletic Center Sunday night, he saw a big reason why his Mitchell College men's basketball program is on the rise.
Even though the season ended with Friday's loss in the New England Collegiate Conference semifinals, he spotted six players working out in the weight room.
"It makes it easier when your better players and most productive kids are always your hardest workers and ambassadors for working hard," said Peretz, who just completed his 14th season as head coach, on Monday.
Their work hard produced program record-setting results.
Mitchell had its best season since joining Division III in 2004-05, posting a 14-12 overall record and winning an NECC tournament game for the first time.
Junior Joshua Ford became the first Mariner and first junior to be named NECC Player of the Year on Monday while Devonta Mosley was named the Rookie of the Year and junior Anthony Epps made the All-NECC second team.
Ford, a talented and versatile 6-foot-4 forward, averaged 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game in conference play. He ranked in the top three in scoring (2nd), rebounding (3rd), assists (2nd), steals (3rd), blocks (3rd), field goals (1st), field goal percentage (1st) and free throws (2nd).
A two-time All-NECC first team pick, Ford improved his all-around game this year, adding strength and developing his perimeter skills. He topped his own school Division III single-season rebounding record with 286 and ranked 14th in the nation in scoring overall at 22.3 points.
"Going into the season, we thought Josh had a chance for player of the year," Peretz said. "He had won player of the week four times throughout the year. I thought he was terrific. It's nice to know other coaches thought so highly of him, too."
Mosley, a 6-3 forward, is the third straight Mariner to win the NECC top rookie honors, joining Ford (2012) and Tim Quinn (2011). The team's third leading scorer at 9.5 points per game, he adapted well to an evolving role, going from a starter to a sparkplug off the bench.
"He took to that role pretty well and ran with it," Peretz said. "He's finally stating to figure out he has to play hard all the time and when he does good things happen."
Epps, a 6-4 guard from Norwalk, played a vital role in Mitchell's season, ranking second on the team in scoring (14.1) and rebounding (5.7). He also was a first-rate defender, always drawing the toughest assignment.
In Mitchell's 77-75 win over Becker College in the NECC tournament quarterfinals, Epps had 13 points and eight rebounds.
"He's just a really good athlete," Peretz said. "He's a tremendous defensive player. ? He stepped up, too, and hit some big shots."
The future is very promising for the Mariners, who return the heart of their team next season. They ended on a motivational note, losing a tough NECC semifinal battle with eventual champion Elms College, 80-78 on Friday.
Peretz is pleased with the direction of the program and attitude of his players. He's looking to add a couple of recruits, focusing on improving the frontcourt.
"It was nice to see the kids showing emotion after the (Elms) game," Peretz said. "This group was visibly upset. From a coaching standpoint, that's important to me that they cared as much as I did.
"? We've got to remember this feeling that we fell a little short and what's it going to take for us to get over this hump. Can we get to the finals and can we win a championship? We know we have to get stronger as individuals and have to get in weight room now."
Judging from Sunday's night weight lifting session, it appears the Mariners are already following Peretz's advice.