ANDOVER, Mass. -- Some mornings, sometimes as early as 5:45, Andover High head coach Dave Fazio walks into the school's gymnasium and finds his hard-nosed point guard already there, knocking down shot after shot.
This was supposed to be the year that, with Central Catholic supposedly coming back to earth a bit after a phenomenal three-year run, Joe Bramanti and Brian Miller took the Golden Warriors on their backs and tried to take control of the competitive Merrimack Valley Conference. But with Miller on the mend all winter long, thanks to a broken tibia suffered during football season, the 6-foot-1 Bramanti is going to shoulder a heck of a load. Which brings him here to the gym, getting in his hundred or so shots, developing that muscle memory.
Those who know Fazio are attuned to his rigorous practice demands -- "you don't have a choice, there's only one way in this program," he chuckles. Still, there's a special place in his mind for kids like Bramanti.
"Oh, he's tremendous," Fazio said following the Golden Warriors' 59-50 win over Haverhill Tuesday night. "He's as hard a worker of a kid we've had. His upside is also pretty high, I think he's going to be a good player as well."
At the other end of the floor was 6-foot-7 Noah Vonleh, the much-hyped Haverhill sophomore who has turned many a head in the last six months with his adept ballhandling skills. Like Bramanti, Vonleh is handling it all, bringing the ball up, breaking the press, throwing his long arms around to disrupt passing lanes and redirects shot. Only with Bramanti, it doesn't look easy.
"As a young kid, my dad always preached to me, 'Play your heart out'," Bramanti says. "I think that translates into how I play the game."
Sure, his shot is smooth, on this night leading to a game-high 25 points. But it's on the perimeter at the other end where he earns his keep, harrassing the ballhandler all the way down the lane and keeping himself in position for when that opportunity for the swipe presents itself. He ended this night with six steals in all, and proved again why he is considered one of the region's premier defenders in man-to-man coverage, and why schools as high as The Citadel have shown an interest.
"He does it all," Fazio said. "We're asking him to do alot. We're asking him to cover the best guy, to lead our traps, to run the point, to make good decisions, to score buckets, to, you know, make plays for us. We're asking him to do an awful lot, you know. And I think he did some really good things tonight, and I think he's got to continue to work and he's got to control our team.
"He's got to control the emotions of our team, and he's got to control the execution of our team. Our team's a little spazzy right now. We'll get it together."
So what exactly goes into developing good perimeter defense? Fazio merely points to his chest with his index finger.
"Right there baby," he says. "Heart and desire. He needs some technique, which we'll work on, but you've just got to take personal pride. Lotta great players don't want to cover anybody because they think they're too good for it. But he takes personal pride in defending and covering, and that's why he's a good player."