Boston High School: Charlestown

Some quick-hit thoughts from the week’s high school basketball action around Massachusetts:

1. Don’t look now, but it’s looking like that time of year again for Lynn English. Last season, after a 4-4 start, the Bulldogs won 15 of their next 16 games before bowing out in the Division 1 North Final, their first such appearance since the fabled 2009 state final run. When they are fully healthy and in full swing, the Bulldogs’ backcourt of Freddy Hogan, Erick Rosario and Stevie Collins is among the state’s best, and they’ve proven as much with two gutsy wins over NEC rivals -– first a 15-point rally over Danvers, then a dramatic victory over Salem to avenge the loss two weeks prior.

The excuse for the early slump last year was that coach Mike Carr’s run-and-gun, full-court man-to-man pressure system takes about half a season to get used to. With a year of that system under their belts, that doesn’t feel applicable for the recent spell of three losses in four games that ended with the Danvers win. Perhaps it had more to do with the need for more assertion on the boards, a problem that tends to arise as the Bulldogs sometimes surrender the offensive boards in order to prevent a fast break going the other way. The return of Collins from injury should bolster the backcourt, but if the “Runnin’ Dawgs” are to replicate last year’s success, promising athletic forwards Danny Lukanda and Johnny Hilaire are going to be the key.

2. Went and saw Marshfield host Barnstable on Saturday night, a battle between two unranked teams in our Top 25 poll, and I got the feeling one of these teams –- maybe both -– could steal a game in what should be a wide-open D1 South tournament. Bob Fisher has won everywhere he went, which includes this latest stop at Marshfield, where he always seems to move past the first round. Against Barnstable, the Rams were 11-of-26 from three-point range in a 63-53 win, including a 5-for-7 mark in the first quarter. They get a night like that in D1 South, combined with their speed in transition, and I could see them dealing haymakers to a high seed.

Realistically, Barnstable might be a year away from being a bona fide contender, but first-year coach Chuck Kipnes has this program going in the right direction, and there is plenty to like with this young group. Two underclassmen in particular to keep an eye on are sophomore point guard Izaiah Winston-Brooks, a transplant from Boston, and junior forward Elijah Baptiste, a long and lanky slasher who excels on the wing and has deep range. Winston-Brooks is strong on the ball and vicious driving with his left, and made a few nifty dishes to post players for some sweet assists. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kipnes score an upset on somebody in the South.

3. Seeing Shabazz Napier’s jersey retired at Charlestown on Friday night conjured up a lot of memories for what was a brilliant high school career split between the Townies and Lawrence Academy. My favorite memory of Napier is his final game in an LA uniform, the 2010 NEPSAC Class B Final against St. Mark’s. The undersized Spartans were getting hammered underneath in the first half by the likes of Nate Lubick and Kalb Tarczewski, with many of LA's stars (including Napier) racking up three first-half fouls. Throughout his career Napier wowed fans with no-look passes and dagger three’s, but in this battle he took control of the game in second half by slowing the game to a crawl. Literally, each trip down he would bring the ball over halfcourt and huddle up with the other four players on the floor as he continued dribbling, milking the shot clock for all its worth. The Spartans rallied to win by 10 in that game, still one of my favorite NEPSAC games I’ve covered in my career.

4. It there is one weakness with No. 1 Springfield Putnam, it is its shooting ability. But then again, that was the Beavers’ glaring weakness last year, and they rode that deficiency all the way to a D1 state title. Call me crazy, call me whimsical, but I’m a firm believer that there is a difference between a good shooting team and a timely shooting team. The Beavers certainly aren’t a great shooting team, getting most of their baskets off turnovers and fast breaks. But I saw Ty Nichols hit a gutsy three against Nazareth (N.Y.) back in December to force overtime, and apparently he was up to his old tricks against Holyoke this week, hitting a buzzer-beater to rally the Beavers from down five with 1:30 to go. When their feet are held to the fire, the Beavers pride themselves on not being out-toughed or out-played.

5. Continuing with the “defense trumps offense” theme over in girls’ basketball, I thought No. 1 Braintree made a statement in sweeping its season series with Newton North, even if the Tigers were without star guard Infiniti Thomas-Waheed. The Tigers have been a tough out for the Wamps the second time around. Defense has never been a question in Braintree, but if you’ve been following our girls basketball coverage the last two seasons, you know my biggest criticism of the Wamps is their scoring ability. Well, they put up 70 on a pretty talented Newton North team tonight, so I guess that shows how much I know. Don’t be surprised if there is a third installment of this growing rivalry in the D1 South tournament, either.

6. Two milestones that deserve some praise: Wachusett’s Tom Gibbons, who earned his 200th win in an overtime victory over Fitchburg; and Mahar’s Chad Softic, who earned his 100th win in his seventh season at the helm of the Senators’ program. Under Gibbons’ watch, the Mountaineers have always scheduled tough, and been consistently in the upper echelon within its division. Like his brethren in the famous Gibbons coaching family of Central Mass.,Tom is as genuinely good a human being as you’ll come across.

Softic inherited a program at Mahar that was just looking to get off the canvas, and after going 1-19 his first season he brought the Senators hardware in year five, beating heavily-favored Brighton in the 2012 Division 2 State Championship. The Senators basically played six kids that on paper did not hold water to All-State Brighton players Malik James and Nick Simpson; but they ate the Bengals' much-vaunted extended 3-2 zone alive, jumping out to a 17-3 first quarter lead and making it hold up for a four-point victory. To this day, that is one of the best coaching jobs I’ve seen in my time covering high school sports in Massachusetts.



BOSTON -- It's been a down year for the Boston City League, but one that New Mission has thoroughly dominated. In league games this season, the No. 2 Titans have beaten opponents by an average of 30.7 points, including a 30-point drubbing of Charlestown in their first meeting back in December.

The second meeting -- complete with a 25-minute array of halftime festivities, and a hostile home crowd -- didn't go as planned. The Titans escaped Charlestown, 67-65, on a night it was honoring former Townie and UConn guard Shabazz Napier with the retirement of his jersey. And for Mission head coach Cory McCarthy, this was exactly the kind of win they needed.

"It was good, and in this environment," McCarthy said. "I think there's, like, Satan or somebody hanging on top of that rim, and he might be 10 feet tall, because we shoot the ball well and we just could not for the life of us hit anything from the perimeter."

In this gym, with its unique lighting and less-than-forgiving rims, the Titans (12-2) had to rely on their interior game, led by seniors Asante Sandiford (21 points, 10 rebounds) and Fred "Bam" Rivers (11 points, seven rebounds).

[+] EnlargeAsante Sandiford
Brendan Hall/ESPNBoston.comAsante Sandiford (21 points, 10 rebounds) was a force in the post as New Mission staved off Charlestown.
Sandiford gave the Townies (9-7) fits early, drawing foul after foul underneath as players either leaped at his pump fakes or found themselves in awkward positions trying to handle his pivots. Sandiford went 6-for-8 from the line in the first quarter -- including three trips to the free throw line in the first 80 seconds of the game -- then dominated the paint in the second, going 5-for-6 from the floor.

Rivers, meanwhile, had to come up big late after finding the bench early, picking up his second foul just four minutes into the contest.

Clinging to a 62-60 lead following a free throw from Charlestown's Taris Wilson (18 points), Mission's Randy Glenn dribbled to the right wing and called for a Rivers pick to his left. The runway clear, Glenn blew by his defender and picked up a foul on the way up, sinking one of two for a three-point lead.

Charles Washington rimmed a pull-up attempt from the elbow on the ensuing Charlestown possession, and Rivers was there underneath to scoop the rebound and pick up another foul, hitting both free throws for the 65-60 lead.

After a Charlestown basket the other way, Rivers was sent flying to the floor after receiving the inbounds pass, and with his two made free throws and just 16.6 seconds left the game looked in hand at 67-62.

Not to be outdone, Oliver Benner (18 points) heaved up a deep three-pointer from the top of the key, then dragged Tyrique Lee into the Townies bench for the foul (after brief scuffling, players from both teams had to be separated, but no technical fouls were assessed). With 1.6 seconds left Lee missed both free throws, but Rivers corralled the board on the second shot to seal the victory.

"It was definitely a test," Sandiford said. "It shows we have to stay together at all times and keep our team chemistry up. Down the road we had a couple breakdowns, missed a couple of free throws, we were losing our head because of the crowd. It's very intense in here. But we learned that we have to finish at all times."

Shooting Touch: St. Anthony (N.J.) 66, C'Town 38

December, 29, 2013
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MEDFORD, Mass. -- St. Anthony (N.J.) coach Bob Hurley is in the Basketball Hall of Fame for a reason.

He is notorious for finding the faults in his team, even when they win by as wide a margin as it did Saturday night, when the Friars left the Shooting Touch Shootout with a 66-38 victory over Charlestown.

His team started the game about as well as it could, running out to a 19-0 first quarter lead. The Townies did not score their first basket until two minutes left in the quarter. St. Anthony’s ball pressure created turnovers and prevented Charlestown from getting into its set offense. It had a 39-16 lead going into halftime. To an outside observer, that is a dominant half of basketball.

To a Hall of Fame basketball coach? Anything but.

“To be quite honest, when we got to 19-0 we folded our jackets and thought we didn’t have to do anything else for the rest of the day,” said Hurley. “Unfortunately, it was 19-0 with still probably three minutes left in the first quarter. There was still 27 more minutes to play. With the exception of about three minutes in the fourth quarter, when we got some layups and looked a little bit like a basketball team, giving us a total of about 8 minutes, it was just miserable to coach them.

"It was miserable to think we have them in practice every day, and I can’t begin to tell you how disappointed I am in my team’s lack of leadership and how we truly don’t compete. We just decided it was done very early.”

Charlestown came out with a renewed energy in the third quarter, but it could only cut the St. Anthony’s lead to 15.

“At halftime, I told my team that St. Anthony’s is playing hard on defense, you can’t get in your sets,” said Charlestown coach Edson Cardoso. “You can’t get open because you’re not playing hard enough to get open and run your sets. I thought in the second half we tried harder to get open, we set harder screens, ran faster, and we played as a team.”

Tarin Smith lead the way for St. Anthony (4-0) with 19 points. Freddy Oliveira and Oliver Benner each had 10 points for Charlestown.

Back to the drawing board? Not so fast When a team wins by 28 points and does not play its best game, it would seem like a coach’s dream to be able to get back in practice and be able to show the team it has things to work on. For Bob Hurley, he disagrees with that notion completely.

“We worked hard, we were in the gym for an hour earlier today working on things to get ready,” said the coach. “Our preparation is the same as its been for years, but we don’t have the same type of players to take the work that they are given. We’re not meeting in the middle. It’s not a 50-50 split here by leadership, by staff and then with effort and purpose for the kids.”

Running the gauntlet: The first four games of Charlestown’s season have arguably been as tough as any team’s in the state. While it is only 1-3, Cardoso thinks these games can be a good evaluator and learning experience for his team in preparation of its Boston City League schedule.

In the City League, Charlestown is sure to see a fast pace and defensive pressure like it saw Saturday against St. Anthony’s.

“In our first four games, we played New Mission, Smithfield, the state champions of Rhode Island, St. John’s Prep, and St. Anthony’s, so I like to play these four or five tough games early,” he said. “When we go into the City League and play even tougher teams and try to make a run. We know every chance we have an opportunity. I feel like going into the second half of the season, this game is going to wake us up a little more and get us ready to go. Hopefully a sense of urgency will kick in.”

Recap: No. 7 New Mission 76, Charlestown 46

December, 20, 2013
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HYDE PARK, Mass. -– The last three seasons, New Mission has had the luxury of being able to go long like few other teams in the Boston City League had been able to do, with 6-foot-7 wing Nate Anderson and 6-foot-4 pogo stick Isshiah Coleman manning the frontcourt.

This year’s Titans? Devoid of size, with just four players over 6-foot, head coach Cory McCarthy –- in his unapologetically colorful candor -– summed them up as “a bunch of Napoleons”.

And like one of the French emperor’s fabled invasions, when the Titans get rolling, it’s a full-on blitz. Trailing by two after one quarter to Boston City A rival Charlestown, Mission outscored the Townies 24-5 in the second quarter to blow the doors open, en route to a 76-46 win in front of a raucous home crowd.

“We’ve got a bunch of Napoleons running around. We call it ‘Napoleon Defense’,” McCarthy said. “They’re so fast, and they’re so unpredictable. They’re crazy, they’re nuts, they just want to be big so bad, but they’re just like Napoleon out there.”

Trailing 17-15 after one quarter of play, the Titans (2-0) opened the second with a 14-2 run to put the lead into double digits. Girthy 6-foot-4 senior forward Fred “Bam” Rivers (10 points) provided the spark with some electric play at both ends of the floor.

First, he rebounded his own block, took two dribbles and heaved an outlet pass upcourt to Tyrique Lee, who drew a foul as he converted a driving layup. Several possessions later, Rivers showed off his inside-out versatility with another block, then coming down the other end and stepping out for a three-pointer in the right corner, making it 27-17.

Much of their success came with breaking the Townies’ (0-1) press, carving right through the middle of their 1-2-2 and 2-2-1 sets for some easy transition baskets. But the Townies didn’t have much luck with the zone either. One sequence late in the second-quarter barnstorm left Mission’s Asante Sandiford (nine points) wide open on the left wing for an uncontested three. Daring him to shoot, the Franklin Pierce commit sank it effortlessly.

Coupled with constant man-to-man pressing from guards Shaquan Murray (23 points), Randy Glenn (10), Marcus Allen, Charles Mitchell and Lee, Charlestown struggled for most of the night. In the first half alone, they committed 16 turnovers, including nine in the first quarter.

“They [Charlestown] are a long team, so we thought we could run on them, honestly,” Murray said. “We thought once we got to the middle, we’d look opposite and it would be right there. And once the middle guy got it, we just went right up the court for a layup. It wasn’t always working, but we got it there and we broke it. We tried to slow it down as much as we could.”

Said McCarthy of the press, “I knew we could put the pressure on, and our pressure is different. You don’t know who’s gonna trap who, when and where, and if they stay as mentally focused as they did in the second half we’ll be alright… I realized from last year, I had to get better, and I had to be the one to get better. My players are always good, but I had to get better.”

Viva La Bam
As his nickname implies, the wide-bodied Rivers can be a heavy load to handle underneath on nights like tonight, giving up size and length to Townies’ 6-foot-6 senior forward Freddy Oliveira but giving him all he can handle on the boards. In the Titans’ press break, Rivers will often set up in the middle to facilitate a quick break up either sideline.

Overall, his ball-handling ability makes the Titans pretty flexible in spite of their lack of size, with Rivers able to take the ball up top and facilitate some high-low offense.

“He’s like a point forward, actually,” Murray said. “It’s been a blessing. He’s got a very nice IQ, he can pass the ball, he can rebound, and he can score, so it’s really been a huge help to our team.”

Added Sandiford, “Anything you can think of, he can do. We all believe in him, he believes in us.”

Murray noted how much Rivers has improved his dribbling skills, to which McCarthy retorted.

“He’s always been a good dribbler, it’s just like...” McCarthy began, stumbling to find the right words. “Sometimes a basketball player is really good with dribbling the ball one dribble. Once you maintain the third dribble, you can get all the way to the basket. He just had to be a three-dribble guy –- half-court, three point line, all the way to the basket. He can dribble the ball, man.”

Benner benefits
After three seasons at Boston College High, 6-foot-4 senior forward Oliver Benner has landed at Charlestown for his senior season. Based on the early returns, he could fit a nice role for the Townies in the frontcourt.

Through the first four minutes, Benner had seven rebounds, and he finished with 15 on the night. Long and lanky, he demonstrates good battle around the basket and didn’t get caught out of position many times. His offense was limited to start, finishing 4-of-7 from the field after not attempting a field goal in the first quarter, but look for him to get more involved as the season progresses.

“We’re just trying to teach him to play our style,” Charlestown coach Edson Cardoso said of Benner, a South Boston resident. “He can be a great factor. He rebounds, he has a good mid-range shot. We’ll get him more involved in the offense.”

Hell Week
Mission is off until Dec. 27, when they endure a brutal stretch of three games in three days against some immensely stiff competition. First, they’ll take on Bishop Guertin (N.H.) in the first day of the BABC Holiday Classic. Then on Dec. 28, in the second day of the Shooting Touch Shootout, they’ll take on Metuchen, N.J. powerhouse St. Joseph’s, which features the No. 6 overall player in the nation, Kentucky-bound senior center Karl Towns. The Titans then conclude the three-day swing back at the BABC, where they will face defending MIAA Division 1 state champ Putnam, the current No. 1 team in ESPNBoston.com’s statewide poll.

The last time Mission faced a player as talented as Towns, current UCLA forward Kyle Anderson had his way with the Titans as Jersey City, N.J. juggernaut St. Anthony crushed them, 68-25, to conclude the 2011 Shooting Touch Shootout. But if you know anything about Mission, it’s that they will never waver in their supreme confidence. Mission players got giddy when the subject of St. Joe’s was brought up in post-game.

Rivers, the man who will most likely match up with the 7-foot-1 Towns, acknowledged the talent but said simply, “I don’t care who you are, I’m coming at you my hardest.”

With a boast, Rivers added, “We feel that they need to be ready for us.”

“They’d better be ready,” Murray chimed.

Added Sandiford, “They need to hear about us. We’re focused. We’re ready to stand as a family, stand together. We know they’re a top team, but we’re a top team as well. We’re a family. We’ve got that chemistry. We’re ready for any challenge. We’re the Titans.”

Told of his players’ remarks, McCarthy reinforced that confidence, acknowledging this is a different squad from the one last season that boasted more athleticism – and more talent – but bowed out early in the Division 2 North tournament. Clearly, McCarthy is pleased with the way this team gets after it. When asked about matching up with Towns, he went into rare form.

“He’s good, he’s gonna play for [John] Calipari –- wonderful, you know? Who is Karl Towns?” he said.

Laughing, he continued, “What do you call it, a [quintuple] team? That’s what he’s going to get. And then the guy who gets the ball is going to see five guys too. We’re just going to play ‘Napoleon Basketball’, because even our big guys are gonna be little guys compared to them.”

OK, so what about Putnam?

“What about Putnam? They’re looking in the mirror. They’re just guys that people know, and we’ve got guys that nobody knows. I think they’re ready for us, and they’re gonna be tough to beat.

“Do we think they’re going to beat us? Absolutely not. But they’re just better than us right now. I’m sure they’re better than us. You can put that on record, they’re better than us. So hey, don’t beat us too bad, we just want to have a strong showing.”

C'Town's Hoxter headed to Marshalltown (Iowa) CC

July, 13, 2013
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The Boston Amateur Basketball Club (BABC) AAU club announced one of its former players, swingman Tyrese Hoxter, is headed to NJCAA Division 1 junior college Marshalltown (Iowa) Community College.

The 6-foot-3 Hoxter earned a spot on ESPN Boston's All-State Super Team in 2012 after leading the Townies to the MIAA Division 1 North Championship, the program's first sectional title since 2005. He averaged 19 points, eight rebounds and three assists in what was his junior season; he sat out this past season, having exhausted his MIAA eligibility.

Hoxter is the third BABC product in as many months to pledge to a junior college for the fall. Wareham point guard Darien Fernandez and Springfield Central guard/forward Kamari Robinson, also ESPN Boston All-State selections, are both headed to Laramie County (Wyo.) Community College.

Rematch for Central Cath., St. Anthony (N.J.) at Shooting Touch

July, 2, 2013
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Shooting Touch, Inc. President Justin Kittredge confirmed to ESPNBoston.com this morning that a rematch between Central Catholic and nationally-renowned juggernaut St. Anthony (N.J.) is set for this December, in the third annual Shooting Touch Shootout in Boston.

St. Anthony is an annual participant in the Shooting Touch Shootout, which matches up the MIAA's best squads against some of the nation's best high school basketball programs. Legendary St. Anthony head coach Bob Hurley, one of only three high school coaches inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, serves on the Board of Directors at Shooting Touch, a Boston-based nonprofit that uses the sport of basketball to positively impact the lives of children both on and off the court.

In the first installment of the Shooting Touch Shootout, in December 2011 at the Kroc Center in Dorchester, St. Anthony steamrolled through then-defending MIAA D2 state champion New Mission.

Last December, in the second installment at Emmanuel College, the Friars breezed by eventual D2 state champ Brighton on the first day of the tournament. But in the nightcap of the second and final day of the tournament, before a sellout crowd, Central Catholic gave the Friars a big scare, nearly snapping their nation-best 70-game win streak before falling 52-48.

Central went on to win the MIAA D1 North title before falling to Mansfield in the Eastern Mass Final, at TD Garden.

"I've always said let's play the best," Central head coach Rick Nault said. "To play a Bob Hurley-coached team...It was a challenge last year, a lot of fun, something the kids really looked forward to. Hopefully we can go out and play hard again, try to keep it close. We'll see what happens."

D.C. area power DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) is also confirmed to play two games in the two-day event. No opponents are set yet for the Stags, though a source told ESPNBoston.com that Boston City League stalwart New Mission is a possibility.

Other confirmed teams for the Shootout include Christian Brothers Academy (N.J.), Springfield Central and Charlestown.

On the girls side, New Mission and defending MIAA D2 state champ Medfield are confirmed so far.

No venue is set yet for the Shooting Touch Shootout.

Westford, Algonquin debut in boys hoop poll

January, 15, 2013
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We updated our statewide MIAA Top 25 boys basketball poll this afternoon. To find the complete poll, CLICK HERE.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Poll does not reflect Monday's results)

Some notes and observations about this week's poll:

Debuts for Westford, Algonquin: Two teams make their debuts this week, in Westford Academy (24) and Algonquin (25). For the former it's the Grey Ghosts' first appearance of the 2012-13 season. For Algonquin, it's an historic first, the Tomahawks' first foray into the Top 25 in our poll's three-year history. Stigmatized by a perceived weak schedule, the 8-0 Tomahawks had a dominant showing on Friday against a quality Fitchburg squad, winning by 20 points. They're also speared by a breakout campaign by 6-foot-6 sophomore post player A.J. Brodeur, who is one of Central Mass.'s leading scorers with 17 points per game.

City loses another squad: Hard to believe just a month ago, there were six Boston City League teams in the poll, following Dorchester's surprise upset of Madison Park. Both those teams quickly fell out in the ensuing weeks, and now Charlestown joins them on the list of teams dropping out. It was a less than inspiring week for the Townies, who barely skirted by Latin Academy, then finished the week out with losses to West Roxbury (56-50) and St. Peter-Marian (74-66).

New Mission (2), Brighton (12) and East Boston (15) are the three Boston City League teams representing this week.

Historic week for St. Peter-Marian: In a week that few saw coming, St. Peter-Marian knocked off Catholic Memorial, St. John's of Shrewsbury and Charlestown in a span of six days. For that effort, the Guardians shot up the poll, from No. 25 to No. 14, this week. How long that lasts, however, remains to be seen. The Guardians took one on the chin tonight from unranked Whitinsville Christian, 64-49. The Crusaders themselves sit on the outside looking in, getting notice in the "Last 10 out" section this week.

MVC dominance: For the first time this season, all four of the Merrimack Valley Conference teams in the poll sit in the Top 10. Central Catholic remains No. 1 for the third straight week, followed by Andover (7), North Andover (9) and Lowell (10), the latter of which dropped eight spots following an upset by North Andover on Friday.

Here's how the poll breaks down this week by league affiliation:

Merrimack Valley - 4
Boston City League - 3
Catholic Conference - 3
Central Mass. Conference - 2
Hockomock - 2
Mid-Wach A - 2
Valley Wheel - 2
Bay State - 1
Big Three - 1
Dual County - 1
Middlesex - 1
Northeastern - 1
South Coast - 1
South Shore - 1

Recap: No. 25 SPM 74, No. 19 Charlestown 66

January, 13, 2013
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PAXTON, Mass. -– Add this one to the growing list of games St. Peter-Marian wasn’t supposed to win.

The underdog Guardians’ second half run earned them a 74-66 over a bigger, more talented, and more athletic Charlestown squad, before a capacity crowd at Anna Maria College. This is St. Peter-Marian’s third win over a top 25 opponent in the last six days, a feat no other team in the state has accomplished at any point this year.

Junior Connor Brown shot the lights out for St. Peter-Marian, knocking down five threes on his way to 22 points. In moving to 9-1 overall, Brown is the Guardians’ fourth different leading scorer this season.

Charlestown dominated early on in this one. Taris Wilson got to the rim nearly at will off the dribble, Kevin Williams nailed three first-half treys, and Freddy Oliviera got some buckets off of his patented low post spin move. The Townies pressured SPM’s guards via a 1-2-1-1 diamond press, and were able to get several buckets in transition early in the first half off of turnovers.

However, the Guardians adjusted at halftime, and Brown capitalized in the third quarter, hitting a couple of treys and leading SPM back from a 32-27 halftime deficit.

Role players get it done: Kevin Riley put in some hard work defensively in the first half, but made his presence felt offensively in the second half, scoring 12 points in the half and finishing with 15 in all. On three separate occasions he scored on double backscreens by the Guardians’ big men.

Senior captain Anthony Manzello, who was the hero on Wednesday against St. John’s, assisted on two of those baskets with pinpoint passes. It was an offensive boost that the Guardians needed, as Charlestown made a fierce run late in the fourth quarter.

“It’s my favorite play, Manzello is a great passer," Riley said. "We’ve been playing together so long, he just knows how to catch me on the backside.”

Six-foot-4 junior Sean Sweeney also performed well off the bench for the Guardians, rebounding and giving Berry a rest in the second half. The St. Peter-Marian crowd erupted in the fourth quarter when Sweeney caught the ball in the open floor, and put in an acrobatic lay-up after going by Oliviera and taking a whack to the head from Allijah Robinson.

Makai Ashton-Langford continued to show why he’s one of the area’s most talented freshmen. At one point in the second half the talented point guard came in and scored two consecutive and one lay-ups.

“Makai’s a freshman and he plays with poise beyond his years," Guardians coach Marcus Watson said, with a laugh. "He’s just aggressive. I basically tell him: make your mistakes and I’m going to live with them, But as you can see, he’s pretty good.”

Free throw woes: St. Peter-Marian missed 17 free throws in their thrilling win over St. John’s, and it was a stat that Watson was disappointed about, emphasizing to his team in practice this week that in general they need to become a better free throw shooting team. The Guardians went 16-of-22 from the line tonight, but Watson says improvement can still be made.

“According to this I’m still not happy,” he said as he looked down at the scorebook. “After our last game, our free throw shooting looked horrendous, so we just spent a practice shooting foul shots. I gave them the day off the day after we beat St. John’s, and then on Thursday they came in and they shot free throws for the first 45 minutes of practice. It paid its dividends.”

The Townies may want to take a similar approach going into Wednesday’s showdown with city league rival Madison Park. Charlestown shot 17-30 from the free throw line against St. Peter-Marian. Despite the missed free throws, though, Charlestown coach Edson Cardoso was encouraged by the performance by his team going up against a St. Peter-Marian squad that is one of the scrappiest in the state.

“I think this will be a turning point, cause we’re playing the type of style that we played last year," he said. "I saw spurts of that tonight. We missed thirteen free throws, maybe more...we’re a team that usually can average in the 80’s. It’s going to take some work, but I think we’ll be ready to play Madison based on the turning point of tonight.”

Beating the press: Both teams broke out similar diamond, 1-2-1-1 full court presses. Watson scouted the Townies earlier in the week, and decided to press Charlestown full based on the fact that he expected the Boston City League power to do likewise.

“[The press] just opened everything up," Watson said. "We know teams that press don’t like to be pressed, so we tried to sprinkle that in a little bit. I’m very happy with our defense.”

On the other side of the ball, beating the press was key for Brown, who benefited from several open looks coming out of the Guardians’ press break. He knocked down his first three attempts from outside in the first half, and added two more threes in the third quarter.

“We’re a scrappy bunch, we just kind of go out and try and hit the open man," Brown said. "Whoever gets the ball, we trust them to do what’s right. They were pressing; I just kind of went to the open spots. My teammates found me, and I hit open shots. That’s all it comes down to.”

Statement Win: The Guardians knocked off the state’s 17th, 18th, and 19th ranked teams in the last six days, and their brutal schedule doesn’t get much easier next week, taking on a pair of talented Division 3 teams in Whitinsville Christian and Hopedale, both teams are 8-1. As mentioned, beating three ranked teams in a week span had yet to be done this year, so in doing so St. Peter-Marian sent quite a message to the rest of the state, and they know it:

“I think it proves that Central Mass. basketball can compete. Not to say that we’re going to beat everyone, but we just want to show that we can compete, and that we aren’t going to run from anybody,” Watson said. “There’s a lot of quality teams in Central Mass. I really wanted to challenge my kids this year. I’m pretty pleased with my kids.”

Brown said the wins add a lot of confidence for the Guardians going forward, as they still have plenty of tough teams left to face on their schedule.

“It feels awesome, playing all these teams from Eastern Mass. Coach tells us that we’re not going to back down ever. It’s just a great team win, we executed great on offense,” he said.

“It’s great, we come out and play these teams, nobody thinks we have a shot, and we just try to prove everybody wrong. Good team win, someone new shows up every night, you never know.”

Player Perspective: BC High's Jameilen Jones

January, 10, 2013
1/10/13
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A sculpted 6-foot-4 senior guard with skill and gifted athleticism, Jameilen Jones has emerged as one of the MIAA’s best players after he was selected to ESPNBoston.com's preseason Super Team, after making its second annual All-State Team last March. His BC High squad took a quick exit from last year’s Division 1 South tournament, falling to Franklin in the opening round, but the Eagles have come back with one of their strongest teams in recent memory.

A Dorchester native, Jones has led BC High back to statewide prominence -- just as they were two years ago when they were led by his friend Bryan Hurley, now a point guard at Bowdoin College. The Eagles sit at 5-2 overall and No. 9 in our top 25 poll, with their only losses coming to No. 7 St. John’s Prep and No. 5 Mansfield. As one of the state’s best pure scorers, it will be up to Jones to bring a Division 1 South title back to BC High, and so far, he’s looked up to the task.

We sat down with him to talk about what he learned as a sophomore playing with Hurley, his off-season workout, his gameday superstitions, and plans for next year.

[+] EnlargeJamelian Jones
Brendan Hall/ESPNBoston.comBC High's Jameilen Jones, a preseason Super Team selection, has the Eagles looking sharp in the first half of the season.
Q: After you guys lost to St. John’s Prep, what did you take away from it?
A:
“After that game we had to adjust a little because they figured us out. They basically spread the floor on us and had shooters all over the floor. So what we’re going to do to counter that is to mix in some man instead of playing zone the whole game. But they just shot the lights out on us, honestly.

“We went more man-to-man against West Roxbury (the game following St. John’s Prep). Lately teams have been picking me up at halfcourt and pressuring me with the ball, so what coach did is now we’re going to run a few different plays, I’m going to go in the post and get the ball in the post a little more, we’ll mix in man-to-man a little more too, so that other teams don’t get comfortable with the defense we’re in. Last year we were a little big longer and taller, so this year we have to do things a little differently.”

Q: You often physically overpower opponents with your strength, what kind of workouts do you do in the summer time?
A:
“I didn’t really touch weights this summer, I tried to do more calisthenic stuff like push-ups, things with body weight. With my AAU team, Metro Boston, we do a lot of up-fake, rip through, pull up, and mid-range shooting drills. I like to get my shot around the mid-range area, and we do a lot of drills like that. When we do our drills, they’re very physical, we have people grabbing, hacking, all that stuff. For my high school team...Coach will give us medicine balls, and we have to try to touch the backboard with the medicine balls 10 times...stuff like that.”

Q: What aspects of your game did you focus on this past offseason?
A:
“There were two things. My left hand had to get a lot better, in terms of full court. My left is pretty good in the half court when things aren’t full speed, but I really had to work on my left the full length of the court. Because I have to help Charles [Collins, point guard] bring the ball up when teams press us. The other thing was that I wanted to get my shots more consistent, I felt like last year one game I’d be shooting well, then the next game nothing would drop. I had to get more shots up, take different kinds of shots besides just a set shot, and add some lift to it too.”

Q: You mention Charles, your backcourt mate. How does your close relationship with him help you guys on the court?
A:
"It helps us communicate a lot better than if we weren’t so close. We know where the other one wants the ball, we know when we should take initiative, things like that. He knows when I’m out he has to step up, and when I’m out he has to step up. In a way we kind of rely on each other differently from how we rely on the other players on our team because of the close relationship we have."

Q: You’ve already played against many of the state’s best. Who would you say are some of the toughest players you’ve seen this year?
A:
“For Charlestown, I thought Allijah [Robinson] was very good. Brockton’s guard, Jaylen Blakely was really tough. St. John’s [Prep] had that lefty who shot the ball really well, Ben Judson. Honestly though, the toughest player that we played against, that we had to help off a little more and focus on a little more was Markus Neale from West Roxbury.”

Q: What did you guys talk about at the beginning of the year, in terms of having goals and winning games? How do you as a leader keep your team motivated?
A:
“Our coach, he gameplans for every game the same...At the end of the day, it’s all about getting a W. It’s not so much me encouraging our team, I’ll tell them we have to get our hands up or we need to play better defensively, but coach is really focused on winning every game. He believes we can win every game we play as well.”

Q: What kind of habits or routines do you have for gameday?
A:
“The day before a game, I always try to have a lot of fluids and eat a lot of good food. The day of the game, I stretch a little extra. I also like to think I’m going to do good things, and hope it transpires on the court. I like to think positive. The mental aspect makes a big difference, when you believe and you envision it, I think I have a little bit of a superstition that it helps out.”

Q: What have you been able to learn from your teammates, and who, whether it be family or coaches, has really helped you get to where you are now?
A:
“The first person I think of who helped me a lot is Bryan Hurley, who I played with two years ago. Brian is the best point guard I’ve played with. His leadership is really, really good. He always encouraged his teammates, and kept us in good spirits. As far as other people, my family always encourages me and tries to go to as many of my games as they can, they always want to know when I’m playing. The people around Dorchester always want to know too, so they can come see me play a game. So in terms of players, Brian Hurley really helped prepare me for where I am now, and my family and friends have helped me out a lot.”

Q: Your high school coach, Bill Loughnane, has been around a long time. What kinds of things have you learned from him?
A:
“Definitely discipline. There has never been a player who has lashed out at him, or has done anything that was bad. He keeps us very disciplined, he listens to us, but nobody on this team acts out of line. We try to reflect what we want to produce as a school: good character, being a man for others, and things like that.“

Q: Division 2 schools have shown interest in you, but you have yet to get a scholarship offer. What are you thinking in terms of plans for next year?
A:
“About a month ago, [Worcester Academy guard] Rene Castro told Coach [Jamie] Sullivan at Worcester Academy about me. I spoke to Coach Sullivan, and actually this Friday I’m going to finish the application to hopefully go there. Rene gave me a schedule so I can get to a game, and Coach Sullivan told me to finish the application and what not. I would really like to play at Worcester...It would be really fun. I believe I’m a scholarship player, but I know I have a lot to work on. If I was more consistent, I would have the scholarships right now. I just need to keep working, and it all will work out.”

First month MIAA basketball scouting report

January, 6, 2013
1/06/13
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With the majority of teams about a third of the way through their regular season schedule, we reflect on individuals who have stepped up for their team when the lights are bright, underclassmen who have exceeded expectations, and breakout players to keep an eye on for the rest of the season. Included also are comments from opposing MIAA coaches, on the condition of confidentiality.

***

REASSERTING THEIR TALENT

Nate Anderson, 6-7 Sr. F, New Mission
Anderson’s improvement has been well documented this year, especially in his rebounding and effort on the defensive end of the floor. New Mission lacked floor leadership last year, as seen with their early bounce from the Division 2 North tournament, but Anderson has stepped up in a big way this year for the Titans, who have perhaps the toughest schedule in all of MIAA hoops. How far supremely-talented New Mission goes in this tournament this year will ride largely on the shoulders of their senior forward.
Opposing coach’s take: “I always thought Nate was talented and wondered why he never played more. He’s about 6-6, 6-7, which is a center at this level, but he handles the ball and is mobile like a guard. Now that he is a senior and he has become older, more experienced, and is coming out of his shell, I think he has the potential to be dominant.”

Sam Dowden, 6-5 Sr. F, Andover
Expectations were high for Andover coming into this season, with several veteran guards back and one of the area’s more formidable frontcourt duos in Dowden and sophomore Connor Merinder. Merinder has been out of action since mid-December with a wrist injury, and since then Dowden has stepped up in a big way for the Golden Warriors. Andover sits at 5-2, with their only losses coming by a point to top-ranked Central Catholic and by ten to second-ranked Lowell. Dowden has led them in scoring and rebounding thus far, but he and the Warriors have their toughest challenges ahead of them with four MVC teams ranked in the top 15.
Opposing coach’s take: “A matchup nightmare because he can post up against smaller players and is extremely skilled on the perimeter when you try to match up with a bigger player on him. Sam never seems to get rattled or take bad shots during a game. Plays the game the right way and is always a class act on and off the court.”

Tyler Nelson, 6-2 Jr. G, Central Catholic
Nelson is the most dangerous shooter in the state, undoubted and no questions asked, but what has made him stand out so far this year is how versatile he has become. Playing AAU this summer with BABC, Nelson had a significant opportunity to improve his ball handling, his ability to run an offense, and his defensive reliability. At the end of last season Nelson’s name was always came accompanied by remarks about his shooting ability, but he has become one of the better all-around scorers in the area and a reliable floor leader for Coach Rick Nault.
Opposing coach’s take: “I think he's very crafty. I think that he has high IQ. You cannot relax at any time, because he'll knock down three's. If you over-close on him, he's crafty enough to take that extra dribble and get by you and make a play for somebody else or use his pull-up. So that's what I'd say, very crafty, intelligent, high IQ, smart basketball player.”

Derek Collins, 6-1 Sr. G, North Andover
Yes, another sniper from the Merrimack Valley. Collins came back and is having a solid year for the Scarlet Knights after missing the majority of last season with a back injury. North Andover is one of the best teams in Division 2 this year, currently sitting at No. 14 in ESPNBoston.com's poll, and while their strongpoint is in their frontcourt with Isaiah Nelsen and Chris Bardwell, Collins prevents other teams to be able to double down on Nelsen and Bardwell very often because that would leave the sharpshooting Collins open in his favorite part of the floor.
Opposing coach’s take: “Extremely confident player who can take over the game at any point. Derek has learned how to move without the ball which makes him a much more dangerous offensive player. As a 6-2 guard Derek is much bigger and stronger than most guards he matches up with so he is able to to use his size and strength to score in the paint.”

Riyadh Asad, 6-1 Sr. G, West Springfield
Springfield Central got a lot of the pre-season hype following their 24-1 state championship season, starting this season at No. 1 in our preseason poll. However, West Side has emerged in the opening weeks of the season as the potential favorite in Western Mass. Division 1, and Asad is a big reason why. He’s averaging just over 21 points per game and has shown to be one of the best guards in Western Mass. With Central looking particularly unreliable early on, we could be in for an adventure in Western Mass the rest of the way, and if Asad can keep up with his high-scoring efficiency, West Springfield is a team to keep an eye on from here on out.
Opposing coach’s take: “Asad is one of the more talented players in western Mass. His ability to create and make shots is what stood out to me. He's also been working on his off ball movement ( using screens, cutting hard. etc) which will carry over well for him at the next level. Preparing for him you have to tell your team to be prepared at all times because he loves to shoot!”

Brendan Hill, 6-5 Soph. F, Mansfield
Mansfield is one of the favorites to take Division 1 South, and Hill is a big reason why. Also a football star, Hill’s strong hands, crafty footwork, and innate competitiveness have translated to the basketball court this winter season, as perhaps the most reliable player on one of the best teams in the state. Hill got minutes last year as a freshman, but really broke out this summer playing for BABC, where he was able to work on his post moves and improve his outside shot.
Opposing coach’s take: “Brendan Hill is the most unselfish player in the MIAA. I don't know what kid comes off a summer playing with BABC and doesn't demand the ball every possession. He's a raw Pat Connaughton without the athleticism. He can stretch you, suck the help in and make the right kick out almost all the time. He can dominate offensively but has to get stronger to absorb the banging he will have to take in the Hock league.”

***

FRESH ON THE SCENE

Kareem Davis, 5-8 Soph. G, Lowell
Like any sophomore, he needs to continue to hit the weights so that he doesn’t get pushed around by stronger guards, but Davis has proven to be one of the state’s best young point guards. Lowell sits as the second-ranked team in the state right now, with a showdown on Jan. 18 with top-ranked Central Catholic coming up quickly. Going up against one of the state’s best guards in that game in Tyler Nelson, we’ll soon see how for real Davis is.
Opposing coach’s take: “Kareem is an excellent ballhandler who sees the floor well. He has complete confidence in his abilities and isn't afraid of anything. What makes him hard to cover is that not only does he push the ball up the floor so quickly, but he can also shoot.”

Adham Floyd, 6-1 Fr. G, St. John's (Shrewsbury)
In going through the top 25 poll, there are few freshmen, if any, who are bringing more to their team right now than Floyd; through six games, he is the Pioneers’ second-leading scorer with 9 points per game. With senior captain Ken Harrington out injured for the near future, St. John’s will somehow need to make up for that productivity in the backcourt – the crafty freshman will take his lumps, but he’ll be better for it in the Division 1 tournament, where the Pioneers are infamous for out-executing their opponents.
Opposing coach’s take: “Adham is a very talented young man who works hard on his game. He has a very good skill set. He can handle the ball with both hands, he rebounds well and is not afraid to take the big shot. He also plays with poise beyond his years...He is going to be a handful for years to come.”

Ben Judson, 6-4 Soph. F, St. John's Prep
Judson’s coming-out party was Friday night against BC High, where the sharpshooting sophomore led the Prep with 20 points on their way to their most important win of the season -– he had five threes. This St. John’s Prep team has bought into Coach Sean Connolly’s system and has no problem scrapping on defense; if Judson can continue his standout scoring performances, this team is a legitimate contender to knock off Central Catholic in Division 1 North.
Opposing coaches’ take: “He really didn’t get a lot of time last year, they had a lot of older guys and he had to wait his turn. But already this year he has been one of the best shooters in the area. He’s big and long for a guard. If he gets bigger and improves off the dribble, we’re talking about a scholarship-level player.”

Giulien Smith, 6-1 Soph. G, Catholic Memorial
Smith has been the scorer that Catholic Memorial needed this season, especially after the Knights graduated two thousand-point scorers in Dan Powers and Matt Droney. The crafty left-hander has been one of the state’s biggest breakout stars thus far, scoring 21 against Lincoln-Sudbury, 16 against Rhode Island power St. Raphael’s, and exploding for 28 points in a win over Bay State Conference favorite Newton North. The Knights have emerged as a legitimate top 10 team behind Smith, and have the potential to stay in the top 10 from here on out if their high-scoring sophomore can keep up his effort.
Opposing coach’s take: “He’s a terrific player, and is really, really smooth. He shoots it, handles it, gets to the basket, has great poise and a pretty good tempo to he’s game. I think he’s got a big upside.”

***

PLEASANT SURPRISES

Allijah Robinson, 6-7 Jr. F, Charlestown
He’s bounced around high schools, but it appears that Robinson has found his niche and is becoming quite the on-court leader at Charlestown. With forward Freddy Oliviera playing the post, Robinson has had the opportunity to play his more natural position on the wing -– where he can create his own shot and beat defenders to the rim off the dribble.
Opposing coach’s take: “At 6-foot-7, Alijah Robinson is clearly a matchup problem for any opponent in the state. I was impressed by his nice shooting stroke. Once he beefs up a little more and bangs inside more, he will be even more of a force than he already is.”

Charles Collins, 6-0 Sr. G, BC High
On most other teams in the state, Collins would be a star. The Eagles have their scorer in Jameilen Jones, but so far Collins has been the perfect complement to his good friend and backcourt mate. His outside jumper needs improving, but Collins has been a floor general for BC High at point guard, often showing to be an extension of Coach Bill Loughnane on the floor. Because of his high basketball IQ, matched with his gifted athleticism, he is one of the more college-ready prospects in the state.
Opposing coach’s take: “Charles Collins is a consistent jump shot away from being the MIAA’s most versatile player. He can beat you many ways off the drive as well. He is a coaches’ point guard because he can not only put offensive pressure on another team, defensively he can take an opposing teams’ point guard completely out of his game.”

Drew Healy, 6-7 Sr. C, Lowell
Healy can block shots, hit the mid-range jumper, he rebounds at a high rate, and he runs the floor like a deer. Lowell has one of the most talented assortment of guards in the state, and Healy’s low post skills make it difficult for opposing defenses to focus on one or two players. Veteran guards always win ballgames in the MIAA, but when thrown together with a 6-foot-7 big man with standout upper body strength, this Lowell team has state title potential written all over it.
Opposing coach’s take: “Drew is interesting because he is nowhere near Lowell's top option. He played limited minutes in the Greater Lowell Holiday Tournament, but is very effective when he is on the court. He rebounds well and blocks shots well. He would score much more if Lowell focused on him in the paint and got him the ball. I understand why -- Jonathan Perez and the other Kareem Davis are the focus of the team.”

Alex Cooper, 6-6 Sr. C, Wachusett
If you’re Central Mass. team trying to earn respect, the one and only way to do that is to beat St. John’s, and behind Cooper, the Mountaineers did just that, knocking off the Pioneers last week at the Laska Invitational. Cooper’s game isn’t always pretty, but he seems to have a knack for getting it done when Wachusett needs him the most, getting double digits in both points and rebounds in wins over St. John’s and Doherty. Wachusett shot up the polls to No. 8 after beating the Pioneers, but they have plenty of challenges ahead, with Algonquin, Worcester South, Brockton, St. John’s, BC High, and Cambridge still on their regular season schedule.
Opposing coach’s take: “He doesn't get outworked. For what he lacks in skill, he makes up for in hustle, and he leads by example.”

Dakari Hannahwornum, 6-7 Sr. F, Dorchester
26 points and 28 rebounds. Yes, you read that correctly, Dorchester’s standout big man put up 26 and 28 when they beat previously-ranked Madison Park on Dec. 21. Hannahwornum can be an X-factor for the Bears in their run to a Division 2 South title, especially with his ability to take over games from the low block and overpower teams on the glass. Dorchester has been the breakout team in the Boston City League this year, and behind their skilled big man, they have the talent to be in a game with any given team in the state on any given night.
Opposing coach’s take: “He’s raw but has good potential, he needs to go to a juco or a D2 [college] where they can work with him year round. He erases a lot of defensive mistakes by tossing shots away from the rim.”

Central Catholic new No. 1 in boys hoop poll

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
11:29
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We updated our statewide MIAA Top 25 boys basketball poll this morning. To see the complete poll, CLICK HERE.

A few notes and observations about this week's poll:

Central Catholic is new No. 1 -- again: Lawrence area powerhouse Central Catholic returns to the familiar No. 1 spot following Amherst's upset of Springfield Central late last week. The Raiders have now held the No. 1 spot for periods in all three of our years doing the boys basketball poll. The Raiders have been on a tear to start the season, led by the hot shooting of junior guard Tyler Nelson, but they are in for a double whammy these next 48 hours. Tonight, they face archrival Andover in the semifinals of the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament. Then tomorrow night, they face Jersey City, N.J. national power St. Anthony in the nightcap of the Shooting Touch Shootout, at Emmanuel College.

City cleaning house: Dorchester makes its debut this week at No. 20, following a 70-52 pounding of Madison Park late last week. That gives us a record six Boston City League teams in the poll this week -- New Mission (8), East Boston (12), Brighton (14), Charlestown (16), Dorchester (20) and Madison Park (22). Charlestown is the only team in the poll this week with a losing record (2-3), having fallen to St. John's Prep at home last weekend, but we give them credo here for strength of schedule, and the way they beat up on Brighton and Eastie previously. All five of Charlestown's opponents so far are currently ranked in the poll.

Prep makes its entry: Following a hard-fought win over Charlestown on Saturday, improving to 5-0 on the season, St. John's Prep makes its first appearance in the poll since last season, swooping in at No. 18. The Eagles were No. 1 to start their state championship season of 2010-11, and were a preseason Top 5 in 2011-12, but perceptions about dropoff in talent left them out of the Top 25 to start this season. But with Tyler Dooley, Max Burt, Drex Costello and promising sophomore Ben Judson in the fold, the Eagles will not be an easy out.

Here's how the poll breaks down this week by league affiliation:

Boston City League - 6
Merrimack Valley - 4
Catholic Conference - 3
Hockomock - 2
Bay State - 1
Big Three - 1
Central Mass. Conference - 1
Greater Boston - 1
Mid-Wach A - 1
Middlesex- 1
Northeastern - 1
South Shore - 1
South Coast - 1
Valley League - 1

Recap: St. John's Prep 64, Charlestown 50

December, 23, 2012
12/23/12
12:55
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CHARLESTOWN, Mass. -– If there was any doubt going into the weekend on whether or not St. John’s Prep had the experience to win this year, consider those doubts halted.

Behind 18 points from senior captain Tyler Dooley, Prep knocked off a streaking Charlestown squad on the road on Saturday, 64-50, to move to 5-0 on the season.

Charlestown (2-3) looked as if it had overcome their offensive woes of their first two games of the season, especially after picking up two wins earlier this week over Brighton and East Boston. However, Prep was able to shut down star Townie guard Taris Wilson (five points) and forward Alijah Robinson (10), and forced Charlestown to make rushed decisions and take quick shots.

“We were just going to try to keep them in the halfcourt,” said head coach Sean Connolly. “We didn’t want to let them get too many transition buckets because they’re so athletic and they’re so talented.”

The Eagles led Charlestown 33-26 going into the half, thanks to the impressive first half performance from Dooley and the Eagles’ defensive effort.

The Townies made quite a run early in the third quarter, forward Freddy Oliviera scored six straight points to bring Charlestown within a point, at 38-37. At a pivotal point for Prep, their slew of guards came up big in the dribble-drive offense, slamming the door shut down the stretch.

Eagles reload: It was unclear how good the Eagles would be after losing several talented players from last year’s team. Marcos Echevarria was supposed to be the Prep’s starting point guard before transferring to St. Mark’s, and 6-foot-5 forward Isaiah Robinson also left for prep school -– making his move to Salisbury School, in Connecticut. Prep also graduated several lead contributors off of last year’s team, including thousand-point scorer Steve Haladyna, sharpshooter Mike Carbone, and 6-foot-4 swingman Freddy Shove.

Six-foot-4 guard Ben Judson, just a sophomore, is one of the MIAA’s most promising talents. A lefty with deep range on his jumpshot and an ability to take most any defender to the rim off the dribble, he scored seven points down the stretch to help the Eagles seal the game. Max Burt (13 points) and Drex Costello (12 points) both hit big shots to lengthen Prep’s lead in the fourth quarter. After the game, Connolly praised his captains -- Costello, Dooley, and Josh Syska -- for their leadership.

“With Tyler, Drex, Josh, we’ve got some great leaders this year,” he said, “They play hard and set the tempo for us every day.”

Dooley comes up big: Tyler Dooley was Prep’s best player on Saturday, playing with an incredible amount of toughness and tenacity, a style of play that was clearly contagious to his teammates. Dooley attempted 13 free throws, converting 10 of them, and took some of the Townies hardest fouls -– getting up each time and continuing his playmaking ways. Showing a versatile game and an ability to run Connolly’s offense well, he also finished the game with 6 assists.

“He controlled the tempo for us, he does such a good job running the offense and obviously he’s our best ballhandler, he’s the guy that makes us go,” Connelly said.

Slowing it down: Prep was 4-0 coming into the day, but had yet to face a team as talented as Charlestown. Connolly spent plenty of time game planning for the talented, athletic Townies, making an emphasis to his team to slow the game down, set up their offense, and maximize possessions.

“We were just trying to get some movement, cutting through the zone to try and spread them out. We’ve got some pretty good guards, so were kind of trying to spread them out, get guys getting into the gaps and kicking and getting open shots,” he said of their four-out offense that they put in to get open shots for their shooters.

Defensively, the Eagles got up in the face of Charlestown’s guards and forced them to make a play one-on-one, and the plan was successful, as the Townies generally struggled in the halfcourt.

“It’s a very good win, this is our toughest test by far so far this year,” Connoly said, “This is a very good win for us, beating a very talented Charlestown team. I’m very proud of the way the kids played.”

Charlestown, Dorchester bursting onto scene

December, 22, 2012
12/22/12
1:02
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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.

Recap: Charlestown 53, No. 12 East Boston 48

December, 20, 2012
12/20/12
10:51
PM ET



EAST BOSTON, Mass. -– Charlestown lost its first two games by a combined 53 points, but don’t let that fool you, as the Townies have now strung together two straight impressive wins. First over No. 17 Brighton on Tuesday by 19 points, and then a 53-48 victory over cross-town rival No. 12 East Boston (4-1) tonight.

“We weren’t really in sync as a team and didn’t trust each other as we do now,” said junior forward Alijah Robinson. “Those two losses really woke us up and we just had to come together.”

Robinson took matters into his own hands Thursday scoring a game-high 16 points leading Charlestown (2-2) to their second victory of the year. Robinson actually attended East Boston as a freshman and had his first dunk in the Eastie gymnasium.

“I just came out here with a mindset like I have to play like it is my last game in high school forever and I needed to compete better than anyone else,” the 6-foot-8 center said. “I think I did really well tonight.”

The Townies actually trailed 10-8 after the first quarter, but picked up the pace in the second scoring the first nine points and never looked back as they went into the locker room with a 27-19 lead. A combination of a tenacious full-court press and clutch shooting put them ahead at intermission.

Eastie fought back early on in the second half, cutting the deficit to just two at 31-29 midway through the quarter, but that was where Williams and the Townies exploded, going on a 15-2 run spanning midway through the third to the beginning stages of the fourth.

Charlestown had three dunks on the run, including one by Robinson, who scored nine of the Townies' 15 points. They led 46-32 with just over six minutes left in the game, but the Jets wouldn’t go down quietly.

The Jets went on a 14-0 run of their own to pull within one at 49-48 with 52.7 seconds left in the game.

Following a Charlestown timeout, junior guard Taris Wilson drove to the basket, drawing a blocking foul and then hit one of two free throws, giving the Townies a two-point lead with 37.2 seconds left.

On the ensuing possession the Jets turned the ball over on a bad pass resulting in a backcourt violation. Williams was then fouled and made one of two free throws giving the Townies a three-point lead and the Jets one last shot with 15.1 seconds to play.

Sophomore guard Marcus Shaw’s corner three rimmed out and Charlestown’s Colin Collins added a fast break layup to seal the five-point win.

“I was never comfortable with that lead,” Charlestown head coach Edson Cardoso said. “When you come in here the gym is tight and the fans are yelling, so mentally you have to be prepared to play throughout the course of the game.”

Collins finished with 13 points, while junior forward Freddy Oliveria added 12 in the win.

Coming off of his game-winning full court shot and Sports Center No. 1 top play, Eastie's Pat Santos was limited to just three points. Sophomore Rasheed Bell led the Jets with 12 points.

Winners of two straight, the Townies are now starting to find their true identity, but still aren’t completely where they want to be.

“We’re just adjusting guys right now,” Cardoso said. “We will probably go 10 or 12 deep because like I said our identity is starting to come out, but we still have some work to do.”

Charlestown’s work is not done before the holiday break, with a huge Saturday afternoon visit from St. John’s Prep on tap.

“We are looking forward to the next game and not dwelling on the past, just getting ready for the next one,” Robinson said.

PLAYING THROUGH PAIN
Despite his monster performance, Robinson was actually playing with an injured right finger -- an injury suffered in Tuesday’s game against Brighton.

“I was like 'Jeez, you shot the ball pretty well with a broken hand',” Cardoso said about Robinson. “I was surprised, he was even hitting three’s (two). I wrapped up his hand, and it is still swollen, but we just have one more game before break so he can rest for two weeks.”

Cardoso was impressed with the toughness Robinson showed, playing virtually the entire game after sitting the games first three minutes.

“He is very tough, we want him to get tougher, and he needs to get tougher,” Cardoso said. “Tonight, he proved that through an injury he could go out there and play his heart out.”

Malcolm Smith joins our first hoop podcast

December, 19, 2012
12/19/12
10:10
PM ET
Our first high school basketball podcast of the 2012-13 season posted earlier today. To hear it, you can CLICK HERE or download it off of iTunes.

ESPN Boston High Schools editor Brendan Hall was joined by intern Chris Bradley and Boston City League coaching veteran Malcolm Smith, who coached the last seven seasons at East Boston High before stepping down this past fall to become Dean of Students at Hyde Park's New Mission High.

We discuss the crazy events of the first two weeks of the newly-aligned Boston City League, including Charlestown's surprise blowout of Brighton and the miracle buzzer-beater by Eastie's Pat Santos, whom Smith coached the previous three seasons. Santos' shot also came in at No. 1 on SportsCenters's "Top 10 Plays" earlier today.

Smith also shares with us his sleeper teams, and gives us some bold predictions for the next month of the high school basketball season.

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