Luke Campbell – Special Correspondent
Once best friends, they are now basketball rivals.
Former Holliston High School players Zak Latifi, a 6’2”, 205 pound power forward, and Andrew Lynch, a 6’0”, 195 pound shooting guard, have had very similar basketball careers thus far, and their story isn’t stopping now.
Their true love for the game started in middle school and neither one of them has stopped playing since.
The two, who combined to score over 30% of the points for the varsity basketball team throughout the 2017-18 season, said they learned a lot from each other over the course of their careers.
“Zak is a great player. Playing with him everyday has taught me a lot about being competitive and giving it your all every time you hit the court,” said Lynch.
As most high school basketball teammates’ stories usually end when they graduate from high school, these two are taking it one step further. In April, when Lynch committed to play at Vermont Academy for a post grad year, it became official that he would be playing against Latifi, who will be attending Worcester Academy, a New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) foe.
“It will definitely be the most fun I’ve ever had in a game. The passion, the energy is going to be through the roof, and it’s just going to be really fun,” said Latifi when asked about playing against Lynch next year.
Many coaches and teammates said they loved seeing their competitive game at practice, including the team’s head coach, math department leader Ms. Jenna Galster.
“Seeing them play against each other everyday was incredible. They both give 100% every time they step on the hardwood. Their grit and their intensity when they play is just great to see. I am so happy that they are taking this next step together,” said Ms. Galster.
Many teammates of the former seniors are going to try to make the trip to Vermont when Vermont Academy faces Worcester Academy in the winter, saying it will be “incredibly intense.”
“The game is far away, but I’m sure everyone is going to try their best to get there. Nobody wants to miss this game. It’s a game that nobody is going to forget,” said Emile Exilhomme, former HHS varsity basketball center, who will be playing at Western New England University in the fall.
“I think playing against Zak will definitely give me a boost of intensity. I’m gonna want to kill him, but we’re also going to have fun and talk some trash. I think we’ll smack Worcester,” said Lynch.
Latifi had other ideas of how the game will go next winter.
“I don’t have a doubt in my mind that we will beat them. We got three future division one players and a lot of depth. We don’t have a lot of experience, but that shouldn’t stop us from blowing those boys out in Vermont,” explained Latifi.
Although they have grown up and learned the game together, they have had very different spotlights to this point. One was always “the guy,” while the other was “just another guy.”
“Lynch has always been a better player than me. He is always the top dog, and I haven’t always been at the skill set I’m at today. When Lynch was the starting point guard in middle school, I got cut. When Lynch was starting on the high school team his junior year, I was on the bench and never really saw the floor. It wasn’t until our senior years when we could really make each other better,” said Latifi.
Both players had similar reasons for taking a post grad year before heading off to college.
“Going to Vermont Academy was too much of an opportunity to pass up,” said Lynch. “I’m not just doing this for the basketball. I am really trying to improve my GPA and test scores so that I’ll be able to get into the schools that I wasn’t able to get accepted to.”
Latifi also had some solid reasons for choosing to do another year of high school.
“I had a couple colleges interested, but I wanted a chance to grow both athletically and academically. Also, the coach was a major influence in my decision. He saw the little things in me that not many other coaches saw, so it led me to believe they had my best interest at heart,” said Latifi.
James Sullivan, head coach of the Worcester Academy basketball team, said, “Zak brings a lot of experience, maturity, and leadership to the team” He explained he “went to a couple of the games to watch him, and the way he carries himself on and off the court is tremendous. His character is just tremendous and that is one of the major reasons why I was so interested in him.”
As summer workouts approach, Lynch and Latifi will both be sent to their schools for almost two months straight without coming home. Then they will both be on the five-day plan for the season, meaning they go to school on Sunday morning and go home on Thursday night.
“It is a huge commitment, one that I am going to have to mentally prepare myself for, but it is worth it. Playing at the highest level of high school basketball isn’t supposed to be easy, so we are going to need to work our butts off for the next year, but we also need to make the most of the opportunity of playing against each other at this stage,” said Latifi.
When asked about the level of talent at this stage, Lynch was very grateful.
“Coming from such a small town, and to be competing at such a high level, a level where players go to the NBA, is just amazing. So many people helped me along the way to get me to this point and I am going to work my a** off so I don’t let them down,” said Lynch.
Latifi was also very thrilled about the opportunity.
“Both of us have made it further than people thought. People said I wasn’t good enough to make the varsity team, and now look where I am. As for Lynch, he represents what it means to fight adversity. With so many scary injuries growing up, he continues to push himself and work hard. It is truly incredible,” added Latifi.
As their interviews started to wrap up, they both ended it by saying how much of a help the other has been to their success and their childhood as a whole.
“I’ve pretty much grown up with him. We have transformed into brothers,” said Latifi. Adding, “I for sure wouldn’t be the player I am today without Andrew. He taught me so much, he is one of my best friends, and his help will never be forgotten.”
“The feeling of playing against him will for sure be different because we’re just two neighbors who lived down the street from each other as kids, and now we’re rivals playing at the biggest stage in high school basketball. He has grown into a great player, and I learned a lot from him,” said Lynch.
Fans will have to wait until the winter to see this game, but it should be well worth it.
cover photo by Aziz Latifi