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Roundtable: Early MIAA boys hoop thoughts

10/3/2013

With the big news breaking Monday night out of Springfield -- where the legendary Jack O'Brien is returning to the sidelines, out at Springfield Central, after eight years away from the game -- we thought this would be an opportunistic time to deliver some early thoughts and predictions headed into the first MIAA basketball practices in late November.

Brendan Hall

ESPN Boston High Schools Editor

What Jack O'Brien's return means

Simply put, with what William Shepard has built at Putnam, and how the Beavers' bitter rivals have responded with this O'Brien hiring, we could be entering an unprecedented era of buzz for high school hoops in the birthplace of basketball -- and that's already with the two schools combining for the last two Division 1 state titles. The schools' rivalry with each other is well-documented. Bringing in a patriarch like O'Brien cranks this rivalry up to 10 -- and, perhaps, the schools being less than a mile apart along Roosevelt Ave. brings the intensity to an 11.

Barring catastrophe, the Beavers will be a unanimous No. 1 to start the season, with four starters returning and four transfers coming in, most notably sophomores Davidson Pacheco and Tyonne Malone (who already holds offers from UMass and Boston University). O'Brien produced nationally-ranked squads at Charlestown, McDonald's All-Americans at Salem, and has six Division 2 state championships to his name. Central is already a budding statewide power, but given O'Brien's track record, it seems a foregone conclusion this program will hit another gear quickly.

All things considered, I may end up renting a second property in Springfield this winter. With these two squads battling it out for supremacy in the 413, there is no place else to be this winter for high school hoop fans across the Bay State.

PRESEASON TOP 10

1. Springfield Putnam

No surprise here. The Beavers return four starters and bring in several excellent transfers with college scholarship potential. By season's end this was the best running team in the state, and they show no signs of slowing down in 13-14.

2. Mansfield

Everybody but Greg Romanko returns from last year's D1 state finalist squad, including Hockomock MVP junior forward Brendan Hill. By season's end, this was the best shooting team in Massachusetts, and with everybody back in tow they are a favorite to return to the Garden and beyond.

3. Lynn English

They may surrender a ton of points, but they are incredibly fun to watch and have one of the deepest backcourts in Freddy Hogan, Stevie Collins and Erick Rosario. Throw in promising 6-foot-6 pogo stick Johnny Hilaire, and a frenetic pace that routinely scores in the 80's or 90's.

4. Central Catholic

The Raiders lost two of their best forwards, Doug Gemmell and Nick Cambio, before the playoffs, yet still came away with the D1 North title. With a fully healthy Cambio, plus Fairfield-bound sharpshooter Tyler Nelson, they're a favorite in D1 North for the umpteenth year in a row under coach Rick Nault.

5. Brookline

Point guard Elijah Rogers' breakout run in the D1 South tournament has been much-talked about in the offseason, but the difference will be 6-foot-6 center Obi Obiora. He's a defensive monster who is still developing an offensive game, but like Rogers he can control a game without scoring points.

6. Catholic Memorial

The return of Aahmane Santos after a year of prep school gives the Knights one of the deepest backcourts in the state. If junior marksman Giulien Smith can go for 20 points a night, these guys have potential to make their deepest run since winning the D2 state title in 2008.

7. Springfield Central

All together now...#JackIsBack

8. St. John’s (Shrewsbury)

Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Give Bob Foley two frontcourt pivots and he can carve up pretty much any team in the state. Oh, and they'll have a pretty nice backcourt between Davon Jones and Adham Floyd.

9. New Mission

As usual, the Titans have a Northeast-10 ready backcourt with Franklin Pierce commit Asante Sandiford aboard. But this is going to be the season Shaquan Murray comes into his own, fresh off a promising summer AAU run.

10. St. John’s Prep

The Eagles were already considered a contender with junior Ben Judson in the fold. But the addition of Lowell transfer Kareem Davis changes everything.

SUPER TEAM

G – Tyler Nelson, Sr., Central Catholic

Fairfield commit has been one of the state's top marksmen for several years, a reputation further solidfied this summer on the EYBL circuit. Now, he'll be counted on to lead the Raiders through a tricky D1 North title defense.

G – Elijah Rogers, Sr., Brookline

At times demonstrating supreme athleticism, there are few guards that can control a game without scoring points the way Rogers can. And then when he is scoring...boy, is he fun to watch.

F – Brendan Hill, Jr., Mansfield

For all of his shooting and rebounding ability, it's the 6-foot-5 point forward's passing ability, especially in the open court, that puts him among the state's elite.

F – David Murrell, Sr., Springfield Putnam

Despite all of their blowouts, at times it seemed like the Beavers couldn't throw the ball in the ocean. But they would never get outworked as long as the 6-foot-3 Murrell (14.9 points, 10 rebounds, .530 field goal pct.) was underneath. He is as physical a player as you'll find.

C – Chris Baldwin, Jr., Springfield Central

When his head is on straight, there isn't anybody in the MIAA with his level of talent. And it's not even close.

PARTING THOUGHTS

1. With seemingly increased pressure on kids to play AAU basketball six, seven, even eight months out of the year, it's nice to know the folks at Putnam get it. Guards Dizel Wright, Ki-Shawn Monroe and Jonathan Garcia are apparently playing soccer this fall, and I couldn't agree more with this decision -- but not so much because it works different muscle groups, keeps them fresh from burnout, and reinforces team-oriented goals, though those are obviously important factors. The Beavers want to play a "40 Minutes of Hell" style of basketball; if you watched the Beavers last year, they got a lot of points off of turnovers and fast breaks. Some players doing soccer, and others running cross-country, ensures these kids will be able to keep up with Shepard's preferred tempo when they officially begin practice next month. Maybe others can take a hint or two from this.

2. While many of us (myself included) were occupied with getting pulse on the Jack O'Brien hire at Springfield Central, that same Monday night Methuen may have snuck under the radar with a bit of an underrated hire. Anthony Faradie is a bright young basketball mind, and what he built at Medford is nothing short of terrific when you consider where the Mustangs were before his arrival. The Merrimack Valley Conference is arguably the state's toughest league, and every now and then the Rangers come above water to enter the conversation. With Faradie at the helm, they have potential to be in the discussion every season.

3. The 2013-14 statewide divisional realignment was met at first with a groan when it was introduced last year, but I've come around on this quite a bit, if not solely for the competitive shake-up about to unfurl in Division 1 Central. It's going to be a whole other ball game for the St. John's of the world when they have to face the likes of Westford, Acton-Boxborough and Franklin in playoff games. Also, I've long championed Franklin as one of the fiercest (and most innovative) student sections, and I am 150 percent on board with any realignment that puts these lunatics in the state's best venue to watch a high school game, WPI's Harrington Auditorium.

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Chris Bradley

ESPN Boston correspondent

What Jack O'Brien's return means

Jack O'Brien to Springfield Central seems like a perfect marriage, especially given the amount of talent in inner-city Springfield. Central star forward Chris Baldwin is supremely gifted; at 6-foot-7 he can rebound, block shots, shoot from mid-range, and dominate in the paint. However, his production last year for the Golden Eagles was often inconsistent and there were plenty of questions this summer -- whether it was him switching up AAU teams in the middle of the live period, or abot whether or not he would even be back at Central or transfer to a nearby prep school. Baldwin has shown he has the talent to play college basketball at the highest level, but his focus and production will likely determine how far he goes. Can O'Brien get the most out of the MIAA's highest-level college prospect? Given O'Brien's track record, my gut says yes.

PRESEASON TOP 10

1. Springfield Putnam

Coach William Shepard has to be excited about the talent on this team, after throwing Davidson Pacheco and highly-touted wing Tyonne Malone into a rotation that already included a large core of last year's state championship team--including David Murrell, Dizel Wright, Jonathan Garcia, and Ty Nichols. The scary thing about Putnam is that this team is more talented than last year's Division 1 state title team.

2. Mansfield

It will be state championship or bust for the Hornets this year, after coming up just short against Putnam in the Division 1 state championship game. With a solid core of Brendan Hill, Kyle Wisnewski, Rocky DeAndre, Ryan Boulter, and Mike Boen, Mansfield has to be the pre-season favorite in Division 1 South.

3. St. John's (Shrewsbury)

The Pioneers only lost Kenny Harrington off of last year's squad that fell in the Division 1 Central final to Milford. Bob Foley's stable of post players is the state's best: featuring Alex Fisher, Drew Vittum, Charlie Murray, and TJ Kelley. St. John's also returns starting point guard Davon Jones and highly-touted sophomore Adham Floyd.

4. Lynn English

The element of surprise was on English's side last year--nobody predicted their lengthy run in the Division 1 North tournament. The Bulldogs will have the "X" on their back this year though, returning high-scoring guards Erick Rosario, Freddy Hogan, and Stevie Collins, scrappy forward Danny Lukanda, and 6-foot-6 center Johnny Hilaire.

5. Catholic Memorial

The transfer of Aamahne Santos takes CM from Catholic Conference title contender to state championship contender, as he joins Guilien Smith and Denis Tobin in the Knights' backcourt rotation. This could be CM's best team in years, rivaling the Matt Droney/Dan Powers-led squad of 2012.

6. Central Catholic

Tyler Nelson and Nick Cambio will be back for venegance after losing to Mansfield in the Eastern Mass. championship game last year. They'll have a pretty solid supporting cast: Aaron Hall, a 6-foot-6 senior, was impressive in Cambio's absence last year, and remember the name Kevin Fernandez--the freshman point guard should get minutes right away in Rick Nault's rotation.

7. New Mission

Returning guards Asante Sandiford, Shaquan Murray, and Randy Glenn, this Titans' squad has to be one of Cory McCarthy's best yet. City league rival Brighton bested New Mission in the city championship game last year, is this the year the talented Titans return to glory.

8. St. John's Prep

The Eagles were one of the state's best teams last year, and should be once again this year with returning projected starters Ben Judson, Max Burt, and Max Butterbrodt. Throwing Lowell transfer Kareem Davis into the mix makes this team a well-oiled machine on offense.

9. Melrose

Frantzdy Pierrot was one of the MIAA's best all-around guards last year, while sophomore point guard Sherron Harris improved by leaps and bounds this summer. Keep this in mind: Melrose was 22-0 last year before they lost to eventual state champ Brighton by 3 points in the D2 North semis.

10. St. Peter-Marian

Is this finally the year that the talented Guardians win a title at WPI? Perhaps. This team will be one of Marcus Watson's best in recent years, featuring senior leaders Connor Brown and Sean Sweeney, in addition to well-regarded sophomores Makai Ashton-Langford and Greg Kuakumensah.

SUPER TEAM

G - Elijah Rogers, Sr., Brookline

The do it all point guard will be one of the MIAA's top scorers this year as a senior. His ability to take over a game should enable Brookline to make a lengthy run in Division 1 South.

G - Tyler Nelson, Sr., Central Catholic

He may very well be New England's best shooter, and Nelson will be plenty motivated after falling up short in the Division 1 North tournament two years in a row.

G - Tommy Mobley, Jr., Newton North

Mobley would certainly give Nelson a run for his money in a shooting competition, the star junior torched the MIAA last year--emerging as one of the state's most dangerous scorers.

F - Brendan Hill, Jr., Mansfield

Hill will be one heck of a floor presence one year after helping Mansfield get to the Division 1 state title game. The versatile 6-foot-5 big man, a coveted college football prospect, is nimble and versatile, making him a matchup nightmare.

F - Chris Baldwin, Jr., Springfield Central

There isn't a player in the MIAA with a higher ceiling than Baldwin. Last year he played second fiddle to former two-time All-Stater Kamari Robinson, but this year Central will be Baldwin's team. Expect him to put up huge numbers.

PARTING THOUGHTS

1. St. John's Prep first-year coach John Dullea has a lot to be excited about these days, especially after picking up a transfer in former Lowell point guard Kareem Davis. Davis, a 5-foot-9 junior, will be looked at to contribute right away for another very good Prep squad who will also feature lefty shooter Ben Judson and blue collar big man Max Butterbrodt. Davis' ball handling and superb floor vision were integral in a high-scoring Lowell offense last year, which should give plenty of indication to how Prep's offense will look this season.

2. Few players in New England had a bigger summer than St. Peter-Marian sophomore point guard Makai Ashton-Langford, even picking up his first scholarship offer from Dan Hurley and Rhode Island. Ashton-Langford and 6-foot-4 classmate Greg Kuakumensah will bring some promising young talent to a St. Peter-Marian squad that returns senior Connor Brown--one of the MIAA's best outside shooters, and senior big man Sean Sweeney--a long, athletic forward who primarily stays down in the post. Guardians' coach Marcus Watson never shies away from a challenge, look for another tough schedule loaded with teams from outside Central Mass.

3. Good luck finding a better backcourt in the MIAA than the one Catholic Memorial will boast this winter. After junior Guilien Smith tore the state's best defenses apart last year, star guard Aamahne Santos announced earlier this fall that he would be joining Smith and the Knights this year. CM has been outstanding at the Beantown Slam Fall League at New Mission, that great play should carry over smoothly going into the winter season.

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Terrence Payne

MassLive.com

What Jack O'Brien's return means

As a Springfield native, I am excited to watch the legendary Jack O'Brien a lot this winter. I've heard the stories and it will be interesting to see where he takes this Central program, who won its first state title since the Travis Best era under Mike Labrie in 2012.

This shakes up the Springfield hoops landscape for sure. We've seen what a good coaching hire can do, look no further than Will Shepard. Putnam has the state title and a new school, which is attractive to basketball players. O'Brien helps stir kids back to Central.

Central is in a very talented city. It's not just a battle between Putnam and Central on Roosevelt Ave.

Springfield Cathedral, despite enrollment issues, has some quality freshmen (and one eighth grader). He also added Anthony Reynolds from Sabis. Justin Dalessio has won with small numbers and he does return Darrick Boyd and an improved Edens Jean-Baptiste.

The big question is how he will handle Chris Baldwin, and if he can help reach his potential.

PRESEASON TOP 10

1. Springfield Putnam

Four starters return, as well as sixth man Ty Nichols. Kayjuan Bynum is gone but add forwards Tyonne Malone and Davidson Pacheco to the lineup. David Murrell will be a force on the offensive glass and Dizel Wright and Jonathan Garcia are as good as defenders as you'll find in the state.

2. Mansfield

Wouldn't a Mansfield-Putnam rematch be great? Brendan Hill, along with many other key contributors can make that possible with another run by a team that lost only one senior.

3. Central Catholic

The Raiders once again have a team with high expectations. Tyler Nelson and Nick Cambio know how to make runs in the playoffs, the question is whether it ends in the Garden or the DCU Center?

4. Brookline

The Warriors have talent inside and out. Elijah Rodgers will be running the point while Obi Obiora looked to be one of the better rim protectors this summer with Middlesex Magic.

5. Lynn English

The Bulldogs impressed last year with a young cast, but is Steve Collins, Erick Rosario and Freddy Hogan ready to put Lynn English among the state's elite teams?

6. St. John's (Shrewsbury)

Always a team to fear in Central Mass. The Pioneers bring back Davon Jones and T.J. Kelly to anchor a team that looks to qualify for the state semifinals after a season ended in the Central Mass. finals to Milford.

7. Melrose

A team that made it to the Division 2 North semifinals returns Frantdzy Pierrot and Sherron Harris makes for another promising season for Melrose

8. Brighton

The Division 2 state champions have to replace Malik James, who is now at Notre Dame Prep. The strength maybe its frontline with Nick Simpson and Jason Jones

9. Springfield Central

Chris Baldwin returns after flirting with the idea of prep school. The key addition is head coach Jack O'Brien though

10. Springfield Cathedral

Darrick Boyd is back. Edens Jean-Baptiste is much improved. Those two guys will carry a team of transfers and newcomers.

SUPER TEAM

G - Tyler Nelson, Sr., Central Catholic

He's been one of the best shooters in the state over the past few years. It's his senior season and is looking to advance Central Catholic to the DCUenter

G - Darrick Boyd, Jr., Springfield Cathedral

He was one of the best kept secrets as a sophomore. He's putting up numbers in his first season on the gridiron, but he is one of the state's best guards and will prove it this season with an improved Springfield Cathedral lineup.

G - Tommy Mobley, Jr., Newton North

Like Nelson, one of the best shooters in the state. Has good size at the guard position, and is coming off a summer with the BABC's 16U team

F - Brendan Hill, Jr., Mansfield

The sting of losing the state title game to Putnam is still there. That only adds to his motivation to bring the Hornets back to Worcester for a shot at redemption.

F - David Murrell, Sr., Springfield Putnam

Kayjuan Bynum is gone, leaving that role for Murrell to fit. He'll be the fixture on the boards, especially on the offensive glass where Putnam was so effective last season.

PARTING THOUGHTS

1. Putnam isn't living off last year's success. The Beavers are no longer the "little brother" school on Roosevelt Ave., and they are eager to enter the season with a target on their backs. Putnam is going to have a tougher schedule, and got a good run this weekend at the Commonwealth Academy Fall Tip-Off this past weekend where they matched up with two prep schools. The Beavers handled a short-handed MacDuffie squad, and topped a talented ninth grade team that will be Commonwealth Academy's varsity team this winter.

2. Lynn English made a run last year, and returns so much talent. Guards like Steve Collins and Erick Rosario ran with Metro Boston this summer, and played up in the 17-under division at the Maine Event in June and during the July live recruiting period a the BasketBull Summer Championships. Gaining experience like that against some of the region's top talent is so important for a Bulldogs team that has high hopes this winter.