Some notes and observations from another wild week of MIAA basketball:
Townies on a tear: Is there any team in Massachusetts more feast-or-famine right now than Charlestown?
Consider the first four results of the season (ESPNBoston.com ranking in parentheses):
Dec. 14 – vs. (4) New Mission – L, 87-60
Dec. 15 – vs. (3) BC High – L, 70-44
Dec. 18 – vs. (17) Brighton – W, 66-47
Dec. 20 – at (12) East Boston – W, 53-48
Talk about a brutal start, but talk about suddenly just turning it on. In the Brighton win, the Townies led 50-20 late in the third quarter; at Eastie, they went up 49-35 in the fourth before a late 14-0 run from the Jets made it interesting again.
We unceremoniously dropped Charlestown from the poll following the two season-opening blowout losses. But the way the Boston City League season is going under this new alignment, we might as well stick all five teams from the top tier in the poll and leave them there. It’s going be a roller coaster.
On paper, this is a squad with Top-10 potential, but until the Brighton win they had yet to figure out how to work with each other –- that tends to happen when you have just one holdover from last season, and a couple of transfers.
Last season, the Townies switched to a 2-3 zone to crack out of a slump, and they rode that all the way to a Division 1 North title. Safe to say the 2-3 is here to stay. A key adjustment they’ve made within that is moving Allijah Robinson from the elbow to the baseline/corner on either side of junior center Freddy Oliveira.
Down the road, the 6-foot-6 junior may be a more natural fit along the wing; but right now, he gives the Townies a much-needed presence underneath the boards. With Robinson, Oliveira (6-foot-6) and junior Taris Wilson (6-foot-3) playing low in the zone, that’s a pretty good amount of size to overcome.
The Townies show some toughness, too. Robinson filled the stat sheet in Tuesday’s win (15 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks, four steals), but he also fractured the orbital bone on his right index finger. He had his hand taped up for Thursday’s tilt with Eastie, but after shootaround decided to go bare-handed. He led the team in scoring anyways (16 points), and didn’t appear to be lingering at all.
“I was surprised he was even hitting three’s,” Charlestown coach Edson Cardoso said. “I wrapped up his hand and he’s like, ‘I’m ready, coach’. One more game, and then he can rest for two weeks.
“He’s getting tough. We want him to get tougher, he needs to get tougher, and tonight he proved that, through some injury, he stood in there and played his heart out. He’s also become the leader in timeouts, being positive, telling guys ‘Good job’, and he’s stepping up. He’s coming out of his shell.”
Body By Boyle: Hard not to come away from Lowell’s 93-39 rout of a pretty sharp New Bedford squad and not think this is one of the more complete teams in Eastern Mass., one through eight.
Against the undersized Whalers, the Red Raiders were achieving seemingly whatever they wanted. They ran fast breaks at a blistering pace. They lobbed 50-foot passes over the top of New Bedford’s press for easy baskets. When 6-foot-7 center Drew Healy picked up his second foul late in the first quarter, they went five-out and created a series of open perimeter shots with slick ball movement. When New Bedford brought the ball up, Lowell greeted them with an extended 2-1-2 zone defense that gave them fits.
Plain and simple, Lowell's starting five of Jonathan Perez, Kareem Davis, Kevin Brito, Zaryn Green and Healy is one of the better in Eastern Mass.
One of the biggest things I came away from was the team’s overall upper-body strength. Players were ripping balls loose for steals. Underneath the glass, both guards and forwards alike were throwing their shoulders around and muscling their way to rebounds.
“I’m all over them about it in the offseason,” head coach Scott Boyle said following the win. “The kids work hard in practice and in the offseason. They work hard for it.”
Boyle’s regimen is a bit unique, though, littered with dynamic exercises that hardly involve any weights. One day, players may be taking shot puts and either lugging them around the field house or tossing them. Another day, they’ll be driving the rolled-up cheerleader mats around the perimeter of the gym (for an idea of how hard that is, try pushing a towel around the floor by driving your feet). Still another day, they might be across the city, pushing a sled on a hill behind Rogers Middle School.
“We do some crazy stuff...There’s a lot of different stuff we do with them,” Boyle said. “They’re using their overall body strength, and I mean some of the kids are athletically gifted to start with, too. It shows up, and for us…they’re a young team that’s very talented.
“In our home court, we should be able to get on a team. In two weeks [the Raiders face New Bedford again on Jan. 6], they’ll be fired up and ready to go.
Said Healy, “They were crazy hard, but it pays off. We did a lot of work to work on our body -– endurance, speed. It pays off.”
Don’t Doubt ‘The Dot’, ctd.: We penned Dorchester as a sleeper in the Boston City League during the preseason, and after taking some lumps early against Cambridge and Boston English, it looks like the Bears (3-2) finally got the signature win they were looking for.
Against Madison Park on Friday night, the Bears trailed 13-6 after one but exploded in the second, outscoring the Cardinals 30-5 in the frame to take a 36-18 halftime lead. They never looked back, winning going away 70-52.
After some early struggles, the Bears went back to what’s worked well for them – guard pressure – and switched to an extended 2-3 zone. Later, they moved to a 1-2-2 halfcourt press, and forced a number of turnovers off of traps.
We know what junior guards Dean Lee (three 3-pointers) and Khalil Newson (13 points, 13 assists) are capable of, and what an avalanche the Bears’ transition game can become when it gets a full head of steam. But the Bears also excelled in the halfcourt, sparked by two treys from Lee from his beloved baseline corner spot.
“Dean is our specialist,” Dorchester head coach Johnny Williams said. “But he just stretches floor. Even if he doesn’t hit it, they have to respect him. He demands so much attention.”
The night’s biggest contribution, however, came down low.
With star junior center D’Bryant Coraprez suspended for the first eight games of the season (violation of team rules), 6-foot-7 senior Dakari Hannahwornum stepped up with colossal night, pouring in 26 points, 28 rebounds and four blocks.
“And the funny thing with Dakari, we only gave him three passes,” Williams said. “He gets everything off the miss. He’s a tenacious rebounder, acutely aware of his surroundings around basket, finishes with his left or right, and he’s able to contort his body to finish around the rim. He had two big, thunderous dunks that ignited the team.”
Yet again, we are seeing the fruits of this new Boston City League alignment. The Bears, lined in the second tier (alternately the “B” or “Central” division), suddenly find themselves relevant -- and respected by their peers -- at just the right time.
“The crowd that was there, the other coaches that were there -– Hugh Coleman [Brighton], Mike Kasprzak [Melrose], Malcolm Smith [formerly East Boston], it meant a lot for our kids to see them finally,” Williams said. “It was good for the kids. They work hard, and they wanted to prove they could play with one of the A division teams. The kids believe they can play with anyone in the state.”
Bursting onto the scene: After two weeks of girls basketball, we know at least two things. Braintree, which has won its first three games by an average margin of 38 points, looks every bit the No. 1 team in the state. And Donnaizha Fountain might end up carrying Cambridge on her back most nights, as she did in the Falcons’ 46-39 loss to Arlington Catholic (30 points, 10 rebounds, eight blocks, five steals).
But I’m looking at a few other explosive starts as well. Sophomore Molly Bent totaled 72 points this week in two games against New Bedford, both wins. With the graduation of Rogetta Donaldson and Olivia Costello, Bent has taken a more assertive role in the offense, which includes a faster pace. The Red Raiders can run, and when the run is there they can run a unique triangle offense that can get her the ball off of screens.
Also keep an eye out for Lowell’s 6-foot-2 freshman center, Lexi Schecter. The pivot had a solid debut in the season-opening win over Haverhill (14 points, 10 rebounds), but the one that sticks out is her performance a few days later, registering 17 blocks in a win over Dracut.