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Spring Grove embracing buzz around team

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When the Spring Grove boys' basketball team took the court Tuesday night in New Oxford, the Rockets found themselves looking at an opposing student section decked out in green and white Michigan State gear.

Why? It was a playful attempt by New Oxford students to have some fun with Spring Grove senior and Michigan commit Eli Brooks. While that particular gesture was a first, the extra attention was nothing new to Brooks, or his Spring Grove teammates.

Whether the Rockets are home or away, they seem to always attract a big crowd. Home games this season have so far required parking attendants, while road contests have also filled up the stands and parking lots.

The Rockets are doing their best to not let the extra attention and scrutiny faze them. For them, the goal is simple.

Give a performance worth remembering every night.

"People pay money to see us play, so why not give them a good show,” Brooks said. "I noticed (the Michigan State theme) but it's done with good intentions. They’re all friends with me, it’s not anything hateful. We just try to focus on what’s inside the lines and do our job."

While there are plenty of talented and entertaining teams in York County this season, the Rockets are generating considerable buzz and it's no surprise why. Division I prospects don't come through the area very often, and Brooks is arguably the best player the league has seen in years.

For opposing fans, Spring Grove coming to town is a rare opportunity to watch a future Big Ten player in person. But for Spring Grove fans, each home game means much more.

Prior to Brooks' sophomore year, in which the Rockets finished 15-10, Spring Grove hadn't enjoyed a winning season since 1995. The team's recent resurgence has sparked a sense of excitement and pride around the town, and plenty in the community want to enjoy the ride while it lasts.

“Our baseball team two years ago and the football team about four years ago had a lot of interest, but this is really exciting because this is the first time I can remember the basketball program being at a high level," longtime Spring Grove resident and girls' varsity lacrosse coach Jeff Richards said. "You used to come and there’d be nobody here. So it's really been nice.”

Added Spring Grove senior and student section leader Austin Piety: "It’s weird because my freshman year when the basketball team wasn’t very good there was none of this. You barely saw a quarter of the people that come here now and as a senior you have to sit in traffic to get into the parking lot. It’s just completely different."

While the high level of interest could add more pressure to a team that's had a target on its back since winning the league title last season, the Rockets have been handling it well. Two weeks into the season, Spring Grove is 4-1.

For Brooks, dealing with large crowds and attention is second nature. But while it's been an adjustment for some other players on the roster, they've embraced the experience so far.

"We love it, it makes us play better honestly," said senior guard Austin Panter. "It doesn't make us feel any more nervous. If we have a dead crowd we play worse than when we have a hype crowd."

The Rockets will likely have plenty of "hype" crowds the rest of the season, and they'll also have plenty of challenges. Division I is loaded this season, and numerous teams will try to prevent Spring Grove from repeating as YAIAA champions.

However it works out, the Rockets will still try to put on a show every night.

"We talk about giving (fans) the best show and we just keep moving the show around," head coach James Brooks said. "Take it to whoever’s gym it is and let them watch what we do.”