Bench Mob Energizes Hoopcats

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Friday, March 6th

BURLINGTON, Vt. -- Most basketball players grow up dreaming about being on the court, having the ball in their hands, and knocking down the shot that helps their team win a championship. But sometimes your coach decides you need more seasoning.

"Obviously you know, we practice with these guys every day," said forward Nick Fiorillo, redshirting this year as a true-freshman. "We're with them all the time, and on game days, to not be able to go out there and fight with them..."

Or the NCAA says you have to sit a year as a transfer.

"This was my first time ever that I've had to sit so many games and that's been kind of difficult," said junior guard Justin Mazzulla.

Or after a successful high school career, you're looking for a way to contribute to your home town team.

"You know, not being part of this, it felt different," added UVM manager Ryan Morse, a native of Jericho and a Mt. Mansfield hoops alumnus.

They can't step out onto the court, but redshirts Mazzulla and Fiorillo and team managers Morse and Earle Brown have found their own special way to affect what happens there.

Enter...the UVM bench mob.

"Bigger plays, we try to have a bigger thing and we talk before the games, set up what we want to do," Brown, a Ludlow native, said. "And then based on what happens, we decide what we're doing next and then we can just hopefully provide the energy we need."

It all got started in January when Mazzulla joined the team as a transfer from George Washington.

"We kind just one game said, 'Let's start doing celebrations whenever someone does something,'" Mazzulla said. "It's kind of had its trickle down effect."

"Earle (Brown) and I were always really excited on the bench before we started doing this type of bench mob stuff," Morse said. "But kind of once Justin Mazzulla came to town and he had the same type of energy we had, we realized we had enough guys at the end of the bench to really start something."

It started out small: threes in the air or just generally being loud...but it has graduated into full blown skits.

"Ooh, that's a tough one," Fiorillo responded when asked to name his favorite skit. "My favorite one personally is anytime we get a dunk, usually from Bailey on the fast break. You know I'm the taller one of the bench mob so I hold up my arms like I'm a hoop and Justin catches the lob from Ryan. That one's always fun because usually the crowd's most into a dunk."

"Let's do baseball today, or let's do the archer one when Ryan (Morse) was the archer," Brown added when asked about the process. "That was probably one of our best ones."

And it seems like the players on the court seem to feed off of their energy.

"Not everything is always gonna be so serious and I think when you get down to championship level, it's more on repetition," Mazzulla said. "The players on the court know what to do, we know what to do so I think it's just important that we continue to have fun. And looking at us on the end of the bench, we'll always be having fun no matter what's going on to bring energy."

These guys love the work they do to be part of the team, but their newfound impact has given them something else to look forward to on game days.

"We were always bouncing around being crazy, but now we kind of have a little method to the madness," Brown said.

"For the most part, it's about the team," Morse added. "It's about us going on runs, trying to stretch runs from 8 points to 10 or kind of just continue to keep the guys having energy. But you know obviously it is nice to have the sideline presence you know that we're doing something for the team and we're having fun while we're doing it."

They'll get their first shot on the playoff stage Saturday night when Vermont hosts Maine in the America East quarterfinals.

"This is a critical time of the year and we're going as hard as we can so I think any extra motivation or energy that we can provide will help," Fiorillo said.

When asked if they had any special plans for the postseason, Brown answered with a wry smile.

"We have a few options that we've talked about. I'm not gonna disclose anything. You can just have the camera ready I guess."