WORCESTER — Hudson High boys’ basketball coach Mike Notaro experienced the Clark Tournament as a player at Clinton High in the mid-1970s, as an assistant coach on Tony Gannon’s Gaels staff, and also as a proud father when his sons, Mike Jr. and Matthew, played for Clinton.
When Notaro took over the Hudson program three seasons ago, he told his players all about the Clark Tournament and took them to last year’s Large School final between Bartlett and Westboro so they could see first-hand what makes the Clark so special.
“It was really exciting to come watch and see what the atmosphere is all about,” Hudson senior guard Sam Stout said Monday morning during Clark Tournament media day. “On the surface, you think it’s just a regular basketball tournament. You see how much more than that it really is. It really got us hungry and made us want to play here.”
Stout and his teammates were in elementary school the last time Hudson made the Clark Tournament field in 2009.
This year, playing in the Clark was a top priority for the Hawks.
“After watching last year,” Notaro said, “they said, ‘Wow. We want to taste it.’ That was kind of the motivator for some of them to say, ‘Hey, let’s do what we’ve got to do.’ ”
During last offseason, Hudson players made the most of every open gym, competed in fall leagues and took extra reps in the weight room.
Their dedication has resulted in a resurgent season and a berth in the 79th annual Clark Tournament, which gets underway Sunday at Kneller Athletic Center.
“They put in the work to be here,” Notaro said. “I’m so happy they get to experience it.”
No. 5 seed Hudson (10-6) faces No. 4 seed Shepherd Hill (12-5) in a Large School quarterfinal at 6 p.m. Monday.
“It’s nice to have the feeling that ‘Hudson is back,’ ” said junior forward Tim Person, who is the team’s leading scorer (15.1 ppg). “It’s a great feeling for us that we can represent Hudson. We’re hoping we can put on a good showing.”
In addition to Person, junior Cam White (10.8 ppg) also averages in double figures. Notaro said the senior leadership of Stout and forward Andy Lenox, who are captains, and Michael Chaves, Kenny Sullivan and Ben Hamilton has been fantastic.
Hudson won a total of 11 games the last four seasons combined, so the team’s revival this year is impressive.
The Hawks clinched the Mid-Wach C League title last week and were winners of nine of their last 11 heading into Monday night’s game against Lunenburg.
“The last few years were a struggle,” Person said. “We knew it was going to take putting in the extra work. We always talked about we had the pieces to build the program back up, but I think it was going into this year we knew it was going to take more than having the guys to do it. We had to work harder in the offseason and train and prepare like we were capable of coming to the Clark Tournament or making a postseason run.”
The 2017-18 season did not start well.
Hudson was 2-4 through its first six games and lost junior starting center Joey Camaratta to a torn ACL early in the year.
“We started slow,” Notaro said, “and when we sat down one of the things we talked about was if we want to get to the Clark we have to turn it around now.”
A 56-37 win over North Middlesex on Jan. 9 got Hudson’s season on track.
The next week, Person hit a layup with 19 left to lift the Hawks to a 44-43 win at Quabbin, the perennial Mid-Wach C favorite and the Clark Tournament Large School top seed, and that victory really boosted the Hawks’ confidence.
“That was a good win,” Stout said. “Once we knew we could hang with them and win, we knew we could play with anyone.”
After a loss to Bromfield in its next game, Hudson won five straight. Included in that streak was another win over Quabbin, 61-48, last Tuesday, which gave the Hawks the Mid-Wach C crown. Notaro said the atmosphere in Hudson’s home gym that night was fantastic.
“We knew we had to regroup to reach our goals,” Lenox said. “We turned it around and proven that we’re much more of a unit and proven that we deserve to be here. We’re not just here to be here. We’re here to make a run.”