Burlington High senior Logan Ciulla was a pretty big deal on Tuesday night at BHS.
But not as big of a deal as he used to be.
A 6-foot-5 forward for the Red Devil basketball team, Ciulla was a key part of Burlington’s 61-58 victory over visiting Longmeadow that advanced the Red Devils to the Div. 2 state quarterfinals on Friday.
The forward ended the night with 18 points, highlighted by five 3-pointers (and two or three more that bounced in-and-out of the rim), and several huge defensive plays including an electrifying block on Longmeadow sophomore Thomas McMahon with 1:24 remaining and BHS hanging on to its three-point lead.
Burlington coach Phil Conners smiles when asked about Ciulla’s contributions, recalling a difficult conversation from two years ago when he told Ciulla that he probably wasn’t going to be a good fit for the team going forward.
The main issue?
Ciulla weighed about 250 pounds.
“I told him,” said Conners, “‘You aren’t going to play here. You have to switch screens, you have to guard everybody, you have to play our system. You’ll never play at this weight. You can’t move.’”
Because of the pandemic, Conners wouldn’t see Ciulla again until the next tryouts.
“I didn’t see the guys all summer,” admitted the coach. “When I showed up for tryouts, I saw this big 6-foot-5 kid and I said ‘Are you a transfer? And he said, ‘Coach, it’s Logan.’”
“I grew out my hair,” laughed Ciulla, “and lost a ton of weight.”
Indeed, the new-and-improved Logan lost more than 30 pounds.
He could switch screens.
He could guard everybody.
He could play the system.
He could move.
And, of course, could he shoot.
“If you told me two years ago that he was going to start on a state tournament team that went undefeated in the Middlesex League, I would have thought you were insane,” the coach said.
On Tuesday, the only ones going insane were the members of the jam-packed student section in the bleachers, celebrating every time Burlington’s big man hoisted up a 3-pointer.
Almost all of Ciulla’s buckets against Longmeadow were critical.
With BHS up 9-8, he swished back-to-back 3-pointers and only a few seconds after his second bomb, his defense forced a traveling violation against Longmeadow on a play that looked to be an easy layup.
In the second quarter, Ciulla’s 3-pointer pushed Burlington’s lead to 10, and his third-quarter bucket pushed the Red Devils to a nine-point lead. He closed out that third quarter with a 3-pointer.
“Down the stretch, he was unbelievable,” Conners added. “He really made some good plays.”
After the game, Ciulla admits that he had to work hard to transform himself into a varsity starter.
“I took the [pandemic] and changed my way of eating, exercised and worked out every day,” he said. “I ran during the mornings, rested during the day and then ran again at night. I hit the gym every day. It just clicked for me. I said ‘I need to do this’ and I did it.”
The timing was perfect for Conners and the Red Devils who had a starter transfer and another leave the team in the first few weeks of the campaign, opening a big role for guys like Ciulla to step in.
Golf coach Bob Conceison’s experience with Ciulla was somewhat similar to that of Conners.
“He tried out for golf as a freshman, and he was terrible,” Conceison said. “Sophomore year he didn’t try out and junior year was the pandemic and he didn’t try out, but all of a sudden senior year he showed up at tryouts and he looked like a new man.”
While Ciulla’s golf scores didn’t put him into the starting lineup on the links, Conceison said his senior’s role on the team was still important.
“He was an unbelievable contributor to our team as a leader,” Conceison said. “I think he really showed what hard work can do. I kind of had a feeling that he would have a good senior year in hoop because that’s what he really concentrated on. All the credit to him for being able to do that. I would say in about 10 years he’ll be taking people’s money playing golf. Seriously, he loves the sport, he loves to play, he plays with his dad a lot and he works hard to get better.”
Ciulla said Tuesday’s atmosphere at the BHS gym was one to remember.
“Hearing (the crowd cheer) just motivates me and makes we work harder,” Ciulla said. “Seeing the stands packed is crazy. I’ve never been in this position before. I love it. It’s amazing.”
Ciulla is now considering possibly walking on to a college basketball team next season. The last time he walked into a gym and surprised a coach, certainly worked out well.
The senior said his journey hasn’t exactly been easy, but it doesn’t seem like he’d change a thing.
“You need to tell yourself that you want to make a change,” he said. “If you’re not motivated, it’s not going to happen. I told myself I needed to do this and my parents didn’t say anything, I just did it. I did the research and kept working hard.”
He laughs when asked about being showed old pictures of himself before he dropped the weight.
“I say get that out of my face,” he added with a smile. “Get that out of here. That’s not me, that’s the old me.” “He’s an amazing kid,” Conceison added. “He’s one of those kids that defied all of the odds.”