POTTSTOWN — Chris Talley didn't waste any time in conveying his message and mission statement when he was named Spring-Ford boys basketball coach last fall.
"The first thing he said,' recalled Rams senior guard Ryan Cass, "was ' We want to win the PAC-10 championship.' That was our main goal the whole year.'
Under the direction of Talley (a 2001 Spring-Ford grad who played for the Rams), Spring-Ford put together a methodical march that began in preseason practice and culminated in Tuesday night's 56-48 victory over Methacton in the Pioneer Athletic Conference championship at Pottstown's Strom Gymnasium.
Though he inherited a team with eight seniors —Nick Stanek, Drew Kakareka, Gary Hopkins, Cass, Alex Epps-Ortiz, Noah Collins, Josh Tupper and Matt Foley — Talley still had to mold a squad with potential into championship material.
He also had to make believers out of the Rams.
"He brought a lot of new energy to the team,' Kakareka said. "He just told us to try our best and keep having fun the whole season, and we were going to do big things.'
With a rotation heavy on guards, Talley implemented an up-tempo attack that thrived in transition. But he also stressed defense, foul shooting and maintaining composure — all elements that have been hallmarks of this special season.
And most of all, Talley formed a unique connection with his players.
"Everybody enjoys playing for him,' Kakareka said. "And everybody bought into his system.'
"I think the biggest thing is that these kids like and respect Chris,' said Rams assistant coach Dan Hoff one of Talley's three lieutenants along with Matt Kurtz (a former teammate of Talley's at Spring-Ford) and Jason Kopenitz. "They would run through a wall for him.'
The Rams hit the ground running with a school-record 12-0 start, ran the table in PAC-10 play by going 13-0 to win the Liberty Division, then turned away Pottsgrove 62-48 in the league semifinals.
Against the Liberty runner-up Warriors, Spring-Ford (21-2) got a typically strong effort from Stanek (game-high 25 points) and Kakareka (14 points) for its first PAC-10 crown since 2004.
"This feels awesome,' Talley said. "The community deserves it. The administration deserves it. Everybody is proud of Spring-Ford tonight and they should be. I'm glad the kids were able to deliver.
"That's the thing. The credit goes to the kids. They bought into it. They're the ones that did all the hard work. And they deserve all the credit.'
Still, they needed a driving force to get them over the top. And Talley — the head coach at Owen J. Roberts the previous two seasons — proved to be tailor-made for the position.
"They compete for four quarters; they play really hard,' Methacton coach Jeff Derstine said of the Rams. "Whoever's coming in the game for him, you know they're going to be playing at a high level. Ultimately, you have to give Coach Talley a lot of credit. When he was at Owen J., his kids played incredibly hard as well. The results weren't necessarily there in the win column, but the kids played hard. So it's not surprising how hard Spring-Ford plays.'
Though the Rams more or less consider Talley a "players' coach,' he can crack the whip when need be.
"He's hard on us when he needs to be,' Cass said.
He's also big on team bonding, as evidenced by the Rams taking an impromptu trip to south Philadelphia last week to partake in cheesesteaks at Pat's and Geno's.
"We come to practice every day wanting to work so hard, and it's really paid off,' Cass said. "I think we just work well as a team. We're more of a family.'
With a father figure who had a vision of victory from the get-go.
"Right after we got there in September, Chris preached to them (at an open gym) that there was going to be no rebuilding,' Hoff said. "He said we were going to win right now for these seniors. From the first tryout he talked about getting here, moving on to districts and getting to states, and those were the goals.
"Chris and Coach Kurtz both had illustrious high school careers, and they wanted the same for these guys.'
Talley admits he still feels the sting from his senior season, when the Rams lost to Pottstown (which Spring-Ford beat twice in the regular season) in the PAC-10 final.
"Coach Kurtz and I still talk about it weekly, and we reminded them of that,' Talley said. "We didn't want them to have to live that.'
Instead, the Rams closed out their PAC-10 campaign in memorable fashion, making Kurtz's preseason observation look quite prophetic.
"I remember our first open gym,' Talley said. "We saw the pieces we had, putting them through drills. And he (Kurtz) said, ' I don't think we're going to lose in our league.''
They didn't, thanks to a senior-laden lineup bolstered by the infectious energy of its rookie general — who guided his alma mater back to the top of the PAC-10 for the first time in a decade.
Follow Darryl Grumling on Twitter at @MercSmokinD.