NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -– Brighton and North Andover scrimmaged on Sunday afternoon in a battle between two of the top Division 2 teams in the state. Both teams proved why they could start the year high in our MIAA Top 25 poll.
A few notes and observations:
Nelsen the key for NA: North Andover will go as far this year as senior forward Isaiah Nelsen, a St. Anselm signee, will take them this year. The 6-foot-6 Nelsen is one of the best big men in the state, but his athleticism and offensive versatility are what make him stand out. Nelsen is going to be a nightmare for opposing defenses this year, because of how well he runs the floor and how deep his range is on his outside shot. On several occasions he showed that he can score off the dribble, but he was also unstoppable around the rim, where he had no problem finishing through contact.
Simpson ready to star: Junior guard Malik James gets a lot of the headlines for Brighton, and understandably so, but 6-foot-4 forward Nick Simpson showed to have a great nose for the ball and an impressive offensive repertoire. Simpson knocked down several three-pointers, but also gave the Bengals the type of consistent presence that they’re going to need in order to make a long run in Division 2. Keep an eye on Prince Unaegbu as well; he’s going to be one of the best rebounders in the deep Boston City League this year.
Bardwell, Collins provide support: Isaiah Nelsen isn’t the only dual post threat that North Andover has in the lineup. Senior Chris Bardwell, a transfer from Central Catholic, will provide a great complimentary role to Nelsen this year. Bardwell can score using a variety of moves on the low block, but like Nelsen, he runs the floor exceptionally well for a big man. With the type of athletic forwards that the Knights have, they’re going to be able to score on the fast break, or off a set in the half court.
Derek Collins, who missed the majority of last season because of back surgery, showed why he will be one of the most dangerous shooters in the state. He came out with a bang to start off the scrimmage, nailing two three-pointers in the opening minutes to help the Knights develop an early lead.
The day's signature play involved both of these players. Off a turnover in transition, Collins heaved a long bounce pass 50 feet down the court to Bardwell, who quickly dropped the ball behind him for the trailer to score an easy layup.
Shooting woes for James: There's a lot of buzz around James as one of the most promising talents to be seen in the MIAA this year, after the scoring combo guard led Brighton to the Division 2 state finals last March. James sat out the first half today for skipping a practice earlier in the week, and because of that he had a hard time getting anything going offensively once he got into the game. He was one of the better scorers in Eastern Mass. last year, especially off the dribble, so despite his not hitting shots today against North Andover, expectations of the type of season he has the potential to have shouldn’t waver.