It's not as though Phil Conners didn't know what he was getting into.
As a member of Longmeadow Country Club and a former coach at Lowell High, Conners is well aware of the struggles over the past several years.
"I know a lot of these kids from coaching against them in high school and AAU basketball, and I know some of their fathers from Longmeadow," said Conners, who was named the new TMHS boys head basketball coach this week. "Even though the program hasn't had a lot of success, I know we've got a lot of kids who are willing to work hard at their games. When you've got kids willing to work hard, you've got something to build on."
Conners, a 1998 graduate of Lowell High School, went on to play college basketball at Westfield State, and joined the Lowell High coaching staff in 2003, serving as freshman coach for five years and assistant varsity coach for two. In 2009-2010, Conners was named interim varsity head coach when current coach Scott Boyle took a leave of absence.
Conners led Lowell to a 12-7 record and a state tournament berth in his only season as the school's head coach. When Boyle returned last winter, Conners took the year off from high school and helped found the Revolution AAU basketball program.
Conners was well aware that the Tewksbury High boys team had won only a half dozen games over the past three years when he applied for the job, but he's no stranger to low expectations.
"The year I took over at Lowell High was supposed to be a down year," Conners said. "We were tiny and I din't start a kid over six feet, but we made the state tournament by playing unselfish, hard working, intelligent basketball. That's my plan for Tewksbury."
By MIAA rule, Conners won't be able to practice with his team and truly evaluate his players until November, but he knows height will be a challenge for the Redmen again this winter.
"I don't think we've got anybody over 6-2 coming back," Conners said. "So we'll have to compensate for that. We'll have to be able to switch defenses effectively and change things on the fly. The kids will have to rebound bigger than they are and they'll have to be able to shoot and handle the ball. You have to have a bunch of tricks up your sleeve without the height."
Having lived and breathed basketball for the past decade, Conners is well aware that his competition will be among the toughest in the state. But he also realizes that being the smallest school in a league populated primarily by MIAA Division 1 schools has its advantages.
"The big thing with Tewksbury is that you are competing in the hardest league in the state year in and year out, but you are trying to get to the Division 2 (state) tournament," Conners said. "The competition is so tough playing all those Division 1 teams that once you do get (to the Division 2 tournament), you're battle tested.
"That's what really intrigued me about the Tewksbury job," he added. "Once you do get it changed and make the state tournament, you're going to be so battle tested, it's almost going to be easier."
The fact that he will be able to move his team into a brand new high school with a brand new gymnasium a year from now was also an attraction for Conners.
"It's a huge thing," Conners said. "The new facility was a major selling point for me to come. You can have all three teams practicing in the gym at once and have your finger on every single kid in the program. Just that feeling of a new gym is really gonna go a long way."
Conners, who teaches at the Stoklosa School in Lowell, is itching to get started on rebuilding Tewksbury's program.
"I can't wait," he said. "I love basketball more than anything. The year I was head coach at Lowell was the best three months of my life, and now it's my job and my turn to try to create something in Tewksbury."