Boston High School: Chris Bardwell

Final Thoughts from 2012-13, and looking ahead

March, 27, 2013
3/27/13
8:15
PM ET
Some final thoughts as we put a close on the 2012-13 high school basketball season...

***

A FLU SHOT HE'LL NEVER FORGET

After committing to Vanderbilt last August, Lynn English's Ben Bowden told ESPNBoston.com he was leaning towards not coming back out for basketball his senior year, saying "it delayed my pitching", that he lost "alot of interest" from some colleges "because I didn't throw hard as they wanted me to."

"I'm leaning that way so I can be fully prepared, because we've got the [MLB] draft and everything," Bowden told us at the time. "Where it's at right now, I don't see myself playing. But it was fun while it lasted."

Bowden, a 6-foot-4 lefty flreballer, is one of the state's most heralded prospects following his junior season, which started with a perfect game against Marblehead and ended with a spot on ESPN Boston's All-State Team and whispers of draft potential. He was 10 minutes away from spending his winter in the gym sharpening his craft, on his own; but a chance encounter on the first day of basketball tryouts changed all that.

The school was conducting flu shots that day, and the location just happened to be near basketball coach Mike Carr's office. As Bowden's girlfriend was getting her shot, Carr light-heartedly ribbed him about spurning one last winter with the team. After Bowden wished Carr good luck and the two parted ways, Bowden bumped into a half-dozen Bulldogs players, who gave him even more ribbing.

Bowden went home, thought about it, and by 5 p.m. had changed his mind.

And boy, was he glad. The Bulldogs captivated the City of Lynn over the second half of the season and throughout their sudden run to the MIAA Division 1 North finals, with Bowden starting at power forwrad, drawing fans from all four of the high schools to come see their wildly-entertaining brand of run-and-gun. He called the Bulldogs' wild 94-87 win over Everett in the D1 North semifinals "the best atmosphere I've ever played in any sport", and doesn't regret a minute of his time this winter.

"It got me into very good shape, obviously I have no regrets at all," he said. "Even if I got hurt, I wouldn’t have regretted playing at all. It was an awesome experience."

Vandy head coach Tim Corbin encourages multi-sport activity out of his high school recruits, a sentiment many high school baseball coaches support for a multitude of reasons -- primarily, that it encourages competitive spirit, and also works different muscle groups to keep the body in prime shape.

Carr heavily emphasized conditioning this year with his team, concluding practice each day with a grueling 10-minute session up and down the school's four flights of stairs, and it's paid off for Bowden. Headed into his first start of the spring, currently slated for April 10, he says this is the "best I've ever felt going into a baseball season."

"I feel my legs are stronger, I'm pushing off the mound better," Bowden said. "My core has gotten stronger. Everything we did for basketball has helped me in a positive way for baseball."

Talking about keeping his arm loose, he added, "I feel the best I've ever felt going into a baseball seasons, and I think it's because I've lost quite a bit of weight. I'm feeling a lot better and a lot lighter, and also because I was throwing more...By the time baseball started [this season] I was on my seventh week of throwing. I was a lot more ready than I was in any other season. I was smart about my decision to play basketball because I knew I had to get throws in."

As basketball becomes more individualized at younger and younger ages in this AAU-ized era of specialization, we sometimes forget that these sports can bleed into each other. Notre Dame hoop coach Mike Brey first heard about Pat Connaughton after a tip from the Irish's baseball coach. Soccer prowess helped Danvers' Eric Martin and Melrose's Frantdzy Pierrot become more elusive runners in the open floor. And some are quietly wondering if football may end up being the meal ticket for Wakefield super-sophomore Bruce Brown, who excels with the Boston Amateur Basketball Club (BABC) but also turned in a pretty nice campaign last fall at wide receiver. Same with another budding BABC star, Brendan Hill of Mansfield.

Unless you're one of the top players in the country at your position, I'll never understand why some physically-mature high school guards don't at least give an additional sport a try -- but that's a probably a topic for a whole other day. Know that for as much accolades as we've all poured on English's talented trio of guards, Bowden may have played the most important position of all -- the Joey Dorsey, the rock-solid post player down low counted on for rebounds that can keep possessions alive, and facilitate a whip-quick fast break going the other way.

And to think, if his girlfriend hadn't gone to get a flu shot that first day of tryouts, we might be talking about a whole different story in Lynn.

***

MORE THAN JUST 'WANTING IT MORE'

You have to think long and hard to find the last time a kid in the Merrimack Valley Conference went from benchwarmer on one team in one season, to league MVP on another team the next.

Chris Bardwell's transformation from garbage-time go-getter at Central Catholic in 2012 to an ESPN Boston Super Team selection at North Andover in 2013 is one that will be held up as a model example of will power. At least, that was the rhetoric being told this winter -- that if you want it bad enough as Bardwell, if you train hard enough, you can make the jump.

Sure, some of this transformation has to do with the mental element. But Mansfield wanted it just as bad as Putnam in the Division 1 state title game, and was unable to prevent the Beavers from continuously leaking out for some uncontested fast break points. Scituate wanted to just as bad as Brighton in the Division 2 Eastern Mass. title game at the Garden, but couldn't cleanly escape on-ball pressure from Nate Hogan long enough to prevent Malik James' last-second heroics.

I think of Bardwell -- also a lefty pitcher with reportedly mid to high-80's velocity -- and I think back to my first months at ESPNBoston.com, in the summer of 2010, when St. John's Prep star Pat Connaughton was one of the hottest names nationally on the recruiting front. In basketball, he was an ESPN 100 prospect with a lengthy list of suitors east of the Mississippi. On the mound, he was an overpowering righty with first five round potential, named by Baseball America as one of the nation's top 100 high school prospects.

Connaughton had big hype, and in turn put in a legendary summer workout regimen to back it up, sometimes putting in eight hours of training a day -- quite literally, treating it like a 9-to-5. After signing with Notre Dame, the results spoke for themselves -- a state championship, All-State recognition in both sports, and a Day 3 selection by the San Diego Padres.

OK, so Bardwell's not Connaughton. The point is, situations like Bardwell's are the product of both opportunity and preparation, and all that will power is for naught if you're not training right. Bardwell came into the last offseason more determined, but he also upped his daily cardio, played more basketball, and changed his diet, cutting out junk and carbonated beverages and increasing his protein intake. Training for both basketball and baseball certainly helped him stay sharp.

Let's not forget had Bardwell stayed at Central, he would have been battling for playing time among a deep stable of forwards, duking it out with the likes of Doug Gemmell, Nick Cambio, Joel Berroa and Aaron Hall. At North Andover, he could fit in snugly as a terrific compliment to one of the state's best bigs in Isaiah Nelsen -- though in the end, obviously, Bardwell turned out to be the star of the show.

Success stories come from anywhere. Just take a look at another former Central Catholic baseball product, Dennis Torres, who was cut four times by the varsity during his high school years yet was drafted by the Orioles last June after walking-on at UMass.

Like Bardwell, he wanted it badly. Clearly, Torres was sick and tired of being sick and tired. But as usual, it's never as simple as pure will power and mental maturation. There's a method, and Bardwell played it right.

***

RE-BIRTH OF THE RUN?

When you think of the MIAA's most dominant running teams of the 21st century, there are two programs that come to mind. One is the Charlestown juggernaut of the early 2000's, ranked nationally by USA Today and led by electric scorers like Rashid Al-Kaleem, Tony Chatman, Ridley Johnson and Tony Lee. The other is Newton North, winners of back-to-back D1 state titles behind one of the East Coast's best backcourts in Anthony Gurley and Corey Lowe.

Not about to call it a renaissance, but if there's one thing I'll take away more than anything else from this MIAA season, it's the return of quality running teams to the upper echelon. The two best running teams we saw this season represented two different styles.

There was Lynn English, pushing a white-knuckle pace, using more than 15 seconds of the shot clock only sparingly, and blitzing the opposition coming the other way with in-your-grill, full court man-to-man pressure. It took about half a season for Mike Carr's unique system to click -- but once it did, they were firing on all cylinders. The Bulldogs' backcourt of Freddy Hogan, Stevie Collins and Erick Rosario was as good as any in the state the second half of the season, with the former two earning ESPN Boston All-State honors earlier this week.

With just one real post pivot, senior Ben Bowden, the Bulldogs relied on their guards to generate transiton by forcing turnovers, sometimes flat out ripping the ball out of players' grips for easy fast break points. Carr's emphasis on conditioning was well-known, the the Bulldogs never looked tired.

Many will point to Central Catholic's stark rebounding advantage as to why they were able to lay a dump truck on English in the D1 North Final (they held a 28-7 advantage at the half), but -- follow me here -- that was practically by design. The Bulldogs flat out bailed on offensive possessions once the shot went up, surrendering the advantage and forcing Central's guards to make plays (they did, and did often).

That philosophy stood in contrast to what I felt was the state's best running team this year, Division 1 state champion Putnam. They seemed to play a physical brand of basketball in the City of Springfield this year, and nobody exemplified this better than the Beavers, who made up for lack of height with plenty of linebacker-like bulk in forwards KayJuan Bynum and David Murrell, both ESPN Boston All-State selections.

Throughout the season, Putnam coach William Shepard demonstrated enough faith in Bynum and Murrell's ability to get defensive rebounds that the Beavers' guards could continually leak out of possessions early to get fast break after fast break (Bynum and Murrell combined for 11.4 defensive rebounds, and 19.6 overall, per game this season). When an opposing team's shot went up, guards started strafing up the sidelines in anticipation of a long outlet pass. This led to a slew of production in the D1 state title game from guards Ty Nichols, Dizel Wright, Ki-Shawn Monroe and Jonathan Garcia.

Best of all, these two squads return a ton of talent to keep them in Top 10 consideration for the next two seasons. Both teams must find a replacement for their best big (English with Bowden, Putnam with Bynum), but feature a slew of talented backcourt and wing players to keep the tempo frenetic and the opposition uncomfortable.

***

INTERVIEWS OF THE YEAR

My personal favorites for interviews of the year. First, the short category...



And now, the long category...



***

WILL JACK EVER COME BACK?

After Brighton won its first ever state title, Bengals coach Hugh Coleman held court in the media room at the DCU Center, dedicating the state title trophy and season to his lifelong mentor, legendary former Charlestown boss Jack O'Brien.

Anyone familiar with the bond between O'Brien and Coleman knows it is strong. O'Brien came into Coleman's life at a very hectic time -- being born when his mother was 20, becoming the man of the house at just 6 years old, and watching a number of his family members get rung up on drug arrests. He was under supervision of the Department of Social Services when he first met O'Brien as a freshman at Charlestown in 1993.

O'Brien is probably most known for his run of five D2 state titles in six seasons from 1999-2005 at Charlestown, and Coleman was an assistant on the last three. It's worth noting the 2003 squad, which Coleman's brother Derek captained, was the last squad to win both a city and state championship before Brighton did it this year.

"The way Jack O’Brien came into my life...He never recruited me, no one ever said I was going to Charlestown, I ended up going there by chance, he ended up going to Charlestown and it was special," Coleman said. "I lucked out and got the Brighton job four years ago. I probably wasn’t supposed to get it, but I did. A lot of people recruited him out of middle school to go to different schools, but he ended up at Brighton with me. So I think that’s such a great blessing. I’m glad that I’ve been able to be a part of his life, and him a part of my life. He’s made me a stronger person and I hope that I was able to rub off on him. He led us to victory this entire season, including today.

"I definitely want to dedicate this to Jack O’Brien. He should be coaching. He should be coaching, and I have no idea why he’s not coaching in the state of Massachusetts. In my opinion, he is the best coach in the state of Massachusetts. He is, and not just because he won games. He changed the lives of so many of us young men at Charlestown during that time. We went on to go to college. We went on to be great men, fathers, husbands, and you know what? It’s because of what he helped us do from the inside out. He helped us to be great men.

"I’ll be honest with you, I coach and I took the coaching job because he’s not coaching. I couldn’t allow that to...When they said he couldn’t coach, or they wouldn’t allow him to coach for whatever reason, I said I’ve got to keep the legacy going. He’s healthy, he’s a 10 times better man, whatever lesson I guess he was supposed to learn. It’s a shame he’s not coaching, because he is all that and then some."

Wherever he has gone, O'Brien has had dramatic results, producing McDonald's All-Americans at Salem High and nationally-ranked squads at Charlestown. But he has remained out of coaching since his 11th-hour departure from Lynn English hours before the first practice of the 2006-07 season. His name has been linked to jobs throughout Eastern Mass. over the years, most notably Somerville in 2008, but it's unclear when he'll return to coaching.

Still, with 400-plus wins, six state titles, some of the Bay State's most captivating running teams of the last quarter-century, and his age (he just turned 55 last month), there remains faith that he will turn up somewhere. Just where is anyone's guess.

***

HALL'S TOP 10 FOR 2013-14

1. Mansfield
Hornets lost just one senior from their 2013 Division 1 state championship run and return the most talent of anyone in the state, including reigning Hockomock MVP Brendan Hill. A healthier Michael Hershman should bolster an already-deep lineup featuring Rocky DeAndrade, Michael Boen, Ryan Boulter, Kevin Conner and Kyle Wisniewski.

2. Lynn English
The returning backcourt of Freddy Hogan, Stevie Collins and Erick Rosario, along with wing Danny Lukanda, makes this team a preseason Top 5. Key will be the development of promising 6-foot-6 sophomore Johnny Hilaire, whose pogo-like leaping ability has begun to draw comparisons to former All-Stater Keandre Stanton.

3. St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
Pioneers return arguably the state’s best backcourt in Davon Jones and Adham Floyd, along with a dynamic frontcourt of T.J. Kelley, Drew Vittum and Charlie Murray. Next year gets interesting in D1 Central, with stalwarts such as Franklin, Westford and Acton-Boxborough joining the fray.

4. Central Catholic
A returning core of Tyler Nelson and Nick Cambio makes the Raiders one of the premier perimeter teams in Eastern Mass once again. Six-foot-6 junior Aaron Hall has big shoes to fill in the frontcourt, with the graduation of center Doug Gemmell.

5. Brookline
If all goes as planned and everyone returns, you’re looking at a coach’s dream. Elijah Rogers is a virtuoso at the point, and a supporting cast of Obi Obiora, Anthony Jennings, Tyler Patterson and Mark Gasperini makes them a formidable foe on size and skill alone.

6. Springfield Putnam
Beavers stand a legitimate chance at going back-to-back as D1 state champs as long as they can find an able replacement for graduating senior post KayJuan Bynum. By season’s end this was the best running team in the state –- who knows what another season of David Murrell, Dizel Wright, Jonathan Garcia, Ty Nichols and Ki-Shawn Monroe will bring?

7. Brighton
All signs point to Malik James having played his last game as a Bengal in the state championship game, but freshman Javaughn Edmonds shows promise to potentially fill the point guard role. Should All-State forward Nick Simpson return, you’re looking at a front line of Simpson and 6-foot-5 sophomore Jason Jones that is as good as any across Division 2.

8. Melrose
Scary as his junior season was, reigning Middlesex League MVP Frantdzy Pierrot could turn in an even more monstrous senior campaign in 2013-14 for the Red Raiders. With realignment shifting many teams in the North, and a quality stable of underclassmen led by freshman point guard Sherron Harris, next year is as good a time as any to strike.

9. Wakefield
Sophomore Bruce Brown is expected to return next season, and that alone makes the Warriors a favorite in D2 North. The question will be whether they can turn their early-season promise into deep playoff production, and whether they can get past the semifinal round.

10. Springfield Central
The Golden Eagles are not without talent, with one of the state's most promising big men in sophomore Chris Baldwin. The question will be if the guards and forwards can get on the same page, and we think after some growing pains this year, cousins Ju'uan and Cody Williams will make this team sharper coming off a disappointing Division 1 state title defense.

Others to watch: Acton-Boxborough, Andover, Braintree, Boston English, Catholic Memorial, Danvers, Haverhill, Holyoke, New Bedford, New Mission, Newton North, St. John’s Prep, Wachusett, Watertown

Our MIAA All-State Boys Hoops Team

March, 26, 2013
3/26/13
4:58
PM ET
THE SUPER TEAM

All-StateG – Malik James, Jr., Brighton
The 6-foot-1 point guard was named ESPN Boston’s “Mr. Basketball” last week after an explosive playoff campaign that saw him average 20 points in six games and deliver the Bengals the MIAA Division 2 state championship, their first state title in school history. James is expected to finish up his high school playing career at a prep school next season.

All-StateG – Darien Fernandez, Sr., Wareham
One of the state’s flashiest lead guards, the 5-foot-7 Fernandez once again took the South Coast Conference by storm with his no-look passes and rainbow jumpers. He averaged 23 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and five steals as the Vikings went unbeaten through the SCC for the second straight year, and returned to the D3 South title game for the third time in four seasons.

All-StateF – KayJuan Bynum, Sr., Springfield Putnam
The 6-foot-3 Bynum was a physical presence on the boards, leading the Beavers in rebounds in the MIAA Division 1 state title game as they downed Mansfield in an overtime thriller. For the season, Bynum led the Beavers in scoring (15.7 points), ranked second in steals (2.5) and rebounds (9.6), and shot 39 percent from three-point range (40-for-103). Bynum is headed to Southern Connecticut State in the fall, where he will play linebacker on the football team.

All-StateF – Chris Bardwell, Sr., North Andover
In one of the most remarkable transformations in years, the 6-foot-5 Bardwell went from a benchwarmer on Central Catholic as a junior last year, to MVP of the state’s most competitive league, the Merrimack Valley Conference, as a senior at North Andover. For the season, Bardwell averaged 21 points, nine rebounds and 1.5 blocks as the Knights reached their first Division 2 North title game in six seasons.

All-StateC – Tyler Gibson, Sr., Rockland
The 6-foot-6 senior lived up to the hype garnered after an explosive summer, leading the Bulldogs to a South Shore League title and D3 South semifinal appearance. He averaged 21.4 points, 15.3 rebounds, 4.8 blocks and 2.1 assists per game while seeing many a double-team. That includes at least eight games with 20 points and 20 rebounds. Gibson is signed with UMass-Lowell for next season.

BEST OF THE REST

All-StateRiyadh Asad, Sr. G, West Springfield
One of the most talented lead guards outside of the Eastern Mass. region, Asad led a deep and talented West Side backcourt to one of the top seeds in Division 1 West, where they lost to eventual state champion Putnam in the semifinals. For the season, he averaged 19.4 points per game.

All-StateJaleel Bell, Sr. G, Wayland
One of the most decorated players in school history, the 6-foot Bell leaves Wayland as a two-time Dual County League Small MVP, and three-time DCL Small champion. The four-year starter led the state in scoring average this season (27.4 points per game), and leaves Wayland with 1,244 career points.

All-StateZack Berman, Sr. G, Wachusett
The Mountaineers won respect around the state with a challenging non-conference slate, taking down squads such as Cambridge and Brockton, and leading the way was the 6-foot Berman. The two-time Mid-Wach A MVP and three-year captain averaged 14 points, six assists and four rebounds as the Mountaineers reached the semifinals of the Division 1 Central tournament.
All-StateJoel Berroa, Sr. F, Central Catholic
One of the state’s premier rebounders, the 6-foot-5 Berroa picked up the slack as injuries piled up for the Raiders, helping them to a second Division 1 North title in four seasons. He averaged 14.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks this season. Berroa is currently considering Northeast-10 interest as well as post-graduate options.

All-StateA.J. Brodeur, Soph. C, Algonquin
The 6-foot-8 Brodeur is one of the most promising young stars in Massachusetts, and played a big part in the Tomahawks capturing the No. 1 overall seed in Division 1 Central this season. He averaged 17.5 points, 14.4 rebounds, 8.5 blocks and 4.5 assists; that also includes four triple-doubles of points, rebounds and blocks. Brodeur is headed to NEPSAC powerhouse Northfield Mount Hermon next season.

All-StateStevie Collins, Soph. G, Lynn English
The Bulldogs were one of the state’s most fascinating teams to watch in the second half, and the 5-foot-9 Collins was the catalyst in their run. English’s run to its first D1 North Final since 2009 included a monster 38-point performance from Collins in the semifinals against Everett. For the season, Collins averaged 14.5 points and six assists per game.

All-StateBrendan Hill, Soph. F, Mansfield
Playing in the competitive Hockomock League, the 6-foot-5 Hill came away as the league’s MVP as just a sophomore, as the Hornets made their first Division 1 state final appearance in school history. He averaged 13.4 points and was the league’s leading rebounder. Hill is also a standout wide receiver on the Hornets’ football team.

All-StateFreddy Hogan, Jr. G, Lynn English
The Bulldogs’ most consistent player from the get-go, he averaged 20 points per game over the first 12 games of the season before English hit full throttle en route to the D1 North finals. For the season Hogan led the team in scoring (16.9 points), and also averaged six assists.

All-StateJameilen Jones, Sr. G, BC High
Another returning All-Stater, the 6-foot-3 Jones navigated the Eagles through a tough Catholic Conference en route to one of the top seeds in Division 1 South. For the season, Jones averaged 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists as the Eagles took a surprise first round exit in the playoffs. Jones will be pursuing post-graduate options for next season.

All-StateEric Martin, Sr. G, Danvers
One of several point guards making the list primarily for their distribution, the 6-foot Martin was the Northeastern Conference’s MVP this season after averaging 8.8 points, 7.2 assists and 3.7 steals per game. The two-time NEC All-Star led the Falcons to their second straight MIAA Division 3 state championship this season, and also has over 100 career goals for the Falcons’ soccer team, good enough for best all-time in the school.

All-StateTommy Mobley, Soph. G, Newton North
One of the state’s premier shooters made headlines throughout the season for his marksmanship, hitting 94 three-pointers and twice hitting nine in a game. He was named MVP of the Bay State Conference’s Carey division after averaging 18.4 points and five rebounds per game. He was also named to the All-Tournament Team of the Comcast IAABO Board 27 Classic.

All-StateBrian Mukasa, Jr. G, Sharon
The 6-foot Mukasa navigated the Eagles through a wide-open Division 2 South, losing to district champ Scituate in the semifinals. For the season, he was the Hockomock League’s leading scorer at 18.1 points per game, to go along with 4.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.9 steals.

All-StateDavid Murrell, Jr. F, Springfield Putnam
An athletic slasher, the 6-foot-3 Murrell was another defensive stalwart for a Beavers squad that earned their first MIAA Division 1 state championship in school history. For the season, he averaged 14.9 points and a team-best 10 rebounds, and also shot 53 percent from the field.

All-StateIsaiah Nelsen, Sr. F, North Andover
The 6-foot-6 post leaves North Andover as a two-time All-Star, and one of the program’s all-time leading scorers and rebounders. For his senior season he averaged 18.9 points, 10.1 rebounds and two blocks as the Knights made their first D2 North Final appearance since 2007. Nelsen is signed with St. Anselm College for next season.

All-StateTyler Nelson, Jr. G, Central Catholic
Another one of the state’s premier shooters, and one of several returning All-Staters, Nelson shot 41 percent from three-point range as the Raiders captured their second Division 1 North title in four seasons. For the season, he averaged 17.2 points and 4.7 assists, and shot 89 percent from the free throw line.

All-StateFrantdzy Pierrot, Jr. G, Melrose
The Red Raiders were the state’s final remaining unbeaten before they fell to state champ Brighton in the D2 North semifinals, and the 6-foot-3 Pierrot was the catalyst. He was named MVP of the Middlesex League after averaging 21 points, 11 rebounds and five assists; that number includes averages of 18 points, 10 rebounds and four steals in the playoffs, with an injured ankle. Pierrot is also a highly-regarded soccer player for Melrose during the fall.

All-StateKamari Robinson, Sr. F, Springfield Central
Another returning All-Stater, the 6-foot-5 Robinson slid over to the wing position after leading the Golden Eagles to a Division 1 state championship in 2012 as a power forward. The move produced dramatic results, as he averaged 20.8 points per game and was named the Western Mass. Player of the Year.

All-StateElijah Rogers, Jr. G, Brookline
The 6-foot Rogers controlled everything for the Warriors in surprise blowouts of New Bedford and Marshfield, en route to the program’s first Division 1 South semifinal appearance since 2004. For the season he averaged 14.9 points, 5.4 assists and 3.4 rebounds. Rogers has been receiving varied amounts of interest across Divisions 1 and 2.

All-StateNick Simpson, Jr., Brighton
In his first run through the Division 2 playoffs, the 6-foot-5 Simpson was instrumental, helping the Bengals earn some dramatic wins throughout the tournament. For the season, he averaged 25 points, eight rebounds and three assists as the Bengals won their first Division 2 state title in school history.

All-StateJustin White, Jr. F, Holyoke
Also a star quarterback for the football team, the 6-foot-3 White brought that toughness underneath to impressive results, as the Purple Knights reached the Division 1 West semifinals. For the season, White averaged 16.3 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
All-StateJoel Berroa, Central Catholic
As injuries to key frontcourt players continued to pile up, Berroa saddled up and took on the brunt of the duties down low, marking the best forwards and keeping them in check. He was one of the Merrimack Valley Conference’s leading rebounders (9.4 per game) as the Raiders reached their second Division 1 Eastern Mass. Final in four seasons.

COACH OF THE YEAR
Mike McVeigh, North Andover

Long a Cape Ann League stalwart, the Knights began their first season in the state’s best league, the Merrimack Valley Conference, and made their presence felt immediately by capturing a share of the MVC Large title. The Knights also reached their first Division 2 North final since 2007 in the process, putting a nice bow on what has been a storybook career for the long-time coach. After 31 years on the sideline, one of the truest class acts in the game is calling it a career, with an overall record of 497-176 and a playoff appearance in every season.

All-Defensive Team
Lucas Hammel, Sr. G, Central Catholic
Joel Berroa, Sr. F, Central Catholic
Prince Unaegbu, Sr. F, Brighton
Tyler Gibson, Sr. F/C, Rockland
Obi Obiora, Jr. C, Brookline

All-Shooters Team
Tommy Mobley, Soph. G, Newton North
Tyler Nelson, Sr. G, Central Catholic
Tim Dufficy, Sr. G, Whitinsville Christian
Tyler Desrosiers, Sr. G, Agawam
Daivon Edwards, Sr. G, Brighton

Justin White photo is courtesy of MassLive.com and the Springfield Republican

Brian Mukasa photo is courtesy of HockomockSports.com

McVeigh: 'Incredibly supportive' run at North Andover

March, 10, 2013
3/10/13
8:57
PM ET


LOWELL, Mass. -– A fierce a competitor on the sidelines, a family man off of the court. It seemed as if everybody at the Tsongas Center on Saturday had their own Mike McVeigh story to tell.

The North Andover coach announced after the Scarlet Knights’ loss to Brighton on Saturday afternoon that he would be retiring after 31 year at the helm for North Andover. It was a decision that McVeigh made in his own mind about two months ago, but it was one that left his players in tears, and those in attendance wrapped up in his "aw-shucks" personality and raw emotion that he was never afraid to share with his players and the media.

Derek Collins, one of North Andover’s senior captains who has played on the Knights’ varsity for four years, has gotten to know McVeigh like few other players have over the course of the coach’s long career. Collins came out of the locker room after the game in tears -- not only because he had just played his last high school games, but from what seemed to be his own reminiscing about his long and storied career under McVeigh at North Andover.

Collins quickly got hold of his emotions for his postgame interview, discussing his recovery from back surgery last year and the struggle that he faced in order to get back into playing shape afterwards. McVeigh was there when Collins was a freshman phenom, there when surgery put his career in jeopardy, and there on Wednesday after the Wakefield game to give his recovered senior a hug after perhaps the best game of his career.

“You’re the best,” McVeigh said to Collins on Wednesday night, wearing the grin of a proud mentor.

For all his gathered emotion, Collins couldn’t hold back on Saturday when asked about his reaction in the locker room to McVeigh’s retirement announcement.

“I don’t know what to think about that,” Collins said, with his jaw shaking at a loss for words. He exhaled, “I wish him the best with whatever he goes on doing. He’s had a great career through my four years and his whole career—as long as it’s been. He’s a great coach.”

McVeigh finished his career with 497 wins, but learned early in his career that he wanted to be defined by the impact he had on young men, and not so much on his career win total. He reflected on his transformation as a coach:

“I know coaches just say that, I knew [my win total] in my younger years, but man does that go. After 10 years, 12 years, and kids come back with good things, kids come back with tough things, and you want to support them. Your job changes, you appreciate different things as you get older.”

One thing that he appreciated the most was the loyalty of his former players to the current program. He said he got several text messages throughout the playoffs from former player from the classes of 1984, 1985, 1989, 1991, and so on.

“I can go right up the list,” he joked.

He said that he didn’t know what to expect this year. McVeigh knew he had a talented team, but he wasn’t sure how his team would fare in their first year in the Merrimack Valley Conference.

The MVC -- with stellar seasons from the Knights, Andover, Central Catholic, and Lowell -- was the state’s most competitive conference this year, and McVeigh’s team shared the league championship with Central Catholic. Chris Bardwell, a transfer from Central whom McVeigh admits he didn’t always get along with early in the season, led North Andover to a 19-4 regular season record and was named the MVP of the conference.

“You ask him, and I think the two of us have a very great relationship. I thought he started to come around to my coaching, and I took a couple breaths sometimes to allow him to be himself,” McVeigh said.

Bardwell, a 6-foot-5 forward with smooth post moves and a high motor, came to North Andover with a chip on his shoulder after spending the majority of his junior year at Central on the bench. Bardwell’s fiery personality took some adjusting-to for McVeigh, just as McVeigh’s zero tolerance policy forced Bardwell to calm his nerves at certain points.

“At first we really didn’t have a good relationship -- now, our relationship is off the charts,” Bardwell said.

The senior forward described the emotional scene in the locker room after the game.

“I just felt heartbroken, we all really wanted to win the state championship for him because he’s never won one," Bardwell said. "Right when he said that [he was retiring], everybody was heartbroken and emotional. We really wanted the state championship—we wanted everything for him.”

Captain Isaiah Nelsen, who will be playing hoops on scholarship next year at St. Anselm’s, seconded Bardwell’s comments.

“Unbelievable coach, better person. It was so much fun to be a part of the program that he has here. Seeing him outside of basketball, he’s a great person, I love seeing him and I’m going to miss him a lot,” Nelsen said.

Central Catholic coach Rick Nault also praised McVeigh for his illustrious career, but moreso for the way McVeigh always composed himself and garnered respect from players and opposing coaches. Nault said he enjoyed the season series going up against McVeigh, even if it was only for one year.

“If I could ever become like him in terms of his demeanor and the way he conducts himself, and how he represents his school -— that’s what I aim for," Nault said. "For him to be stepping down right now, I think he’s at peace with that, but I think it’s a sad thing for the rest of the basketball community.”

McVeigh expressed too, that he was truly at peace with his decision. On several occasions while answering questions after the game, he glanced over at his family. The last time he glanced, he smiled and made sure to mention the sacrifices and support that have come from his wife Jackie, his daughter Erin, and his son John.

“That group right over there, you can’t do this job for 31 years without a great family...You can’t do it [without them], and they were incredibly supportive.”

D2 North: Brighton 64, North Andover 59

March, 9, 2013
3/09/13
6:14
PM ET


LOWELL, Mass. -– Brighton is used to making second-half comebacks. On Saturday they added North Andover to the long list of teams who couldn’t close the them out, winning the Division 2 North championship game 64-59.

[+] EnlargeBrighton's Nick Simpson
Brendan Hall for ESPNBrighton's Nick Simpson (23 points, 15 rebounds) came alive for the Bengals as they earned their second straight D2 North title.
Nick Simpson (23 points, 15 rebounds) carried the Bengals’ offense for the vast majority of the game, especially in the first half when co-star Malik James was struggling to hit shots. James, who led the Bengals to the state championship game last year as a sophomore—shot just 1-for-10 from the field in the first half.

The Scarlet Knights were anchored in the first half by senior forward Chris Bardwell (16 points, 12 rebounds) and guard Derek Collins (16 points, 5 rebounds). In the first half alone, Bardwell had a double-double and had a huge presence in holding Brighton off the glass. Despite his efforts though, the Bengals were able to keep the game within striking distance at halftime, 34-27, thanks to a dominant team offensive rebounding performance.

“I’m really trying to get the guys to have a sense of urgency and realize that we can’t wait like sometimes you wait to get a feel, you want to feel a team out," Brighton coach Hugh Coleman said. "I’ve been stressing, since the playoffs started: get up, get after it, even from the opening tip, attack.”

James’ slump didn’t last long though, he kept driving into the paint in the third quarter—and that finally started to pay off, as he scored 10 of his 12 points in the third quarter. Thanks in part to James and Simpson attacking the rim, Bardwell spent a decent amount of time on the bench late in the third and in the fourth quarter.

“Malik was very frustrated because he felt like his jumper wasn’t going down, he tried to take a couple lay-ups that missed and I let him know to stay with it. Sometimes that’s the way the ball bounces, unfortunately,” Coleman said. “I wanted him to keep staying going to the basket, even though he didn’t get a few of the foul calls. And eventually it kind of gets going, so that’s what happens for him. And that’s big, because once that happens for him, then it opens stuff for Nick and Daivon.”

Edwards bounces back: Daivon Edwards almost didn’t make it to the Tsongas Center for the game because he had to take the SAT’s, but Coleman reiterated after the game that contact had been made with College Board, the administrator of the test, as well as the schools Edwards is applying to, to ensure that he could send in his SAT scores at a later date.

In return, Edwards had one of his best games of the season for the Bengals, nailing four three-pointers and forcing North Andover’s defense to constantly get a hand in his face and keep an eye on him. It was the type of game that Edwards needed, Coleman said, to re-gather his confidence going into the Eastern Mass. championship game.

“I have a lot of confidence in him," Coleman said. "Late in the season, he struggled. He wasn’t hitting anything, he wasn’t rebounding, he wasn’t playing defense -— so we had to take him out of a lot of games and not play him.

“But you know, I talked to him and I said ‘I know what you’re capable of, you’ve proven you can do it—stick with it’. Now the last few games, that stroke has been going—and it’s mean a lot for his confidence and that meant a lot for our team.”

Preparing for the worst, hoping for the best: Coleman is no stranger to North Andover’s talented lineup, they scrimmaged the Knights before the season and Coleman watched North Andover blow out a very talented Wakefield team earlier in the week. After seeing the Knights’ play in the semifinal match, Coleman was worried -- to say the least. He said the player that the Bengals prepared most for was Derek Collins, who drained 7 three-pointers in the win.

“[Collins] literally sparked his team, motivated his team. I’ll be honest, I kept saying ‘I don’t know what I’m gonna’ do with North Andover . They’re tough, I know they’re a well-coached team, they’re organized,” Coleman said, praising the Knights’ discipline and attention to detail, “They’re disciplined. And when I watched them at Wakefield, I could see it in their eyes that they were listening to their coach’s every word. That’s a dangerous team to play.”

Brighton rotated 10 players into the game on a consistent basis, and Coleman said that was done in particular to wear down Collins, who can get hot from three-point range on the drop of a dime. Collins, as mentioned, finished with 16 points, but had to work hard for his points and was harassed all afternoon by the Bengals’ on-ball defenders.

McVeigh announces retirement: A teary-eyed Mike McVeigh announced after the game that he would be retiring as head coach at North Andover after 31 years running the program. McVeigh said it was a decision that he made in his own mind two months ago, and one that, in a way, helped him enjoy the season and the team that will be the last he ever coaches.

“The feeling I’ve had for North Andover, for the players I’ve had for 31 years, all the assistant coaches, the booster program that we have in town, the school administration, the pep band -- you see it, and I think it’s pretty darn good here," McVeigh said. "The number of former players is so precious to me, a big part of my life.”

Captain Isaiah Nelsen (14 points) praised his coach after the game, hinting that while coming together and gelling as a team wasn’t easy, the Knights were motivated by their coach:

“If you told me in November that this team would be Co-MVC champs and make it to the finals at the Tsongas, I’d tell you that you
were crazy," he said. "Everyone made sacrifices, we sacrificed shots, and we did it for the better of the team.”

Explosive breakthrough for Bardwell at North Andover

March, 9, 2013
3/09/13
12:52
AM ET
He’s gone from bench-warmer to one of the MIAA’s biggest stars.

It’s been a long journey for Chris Bardwell, but with his North Andover squad playing on Saturday against Brighton for the Division 2 North title, his long road has seen some late success.

Bardwell was a little-used reserve on Central Catholic’s hoops team last year as a junior, a team that lost to Charlestown in the Division 1 North semi-final. After a similar type of season on the baseball diamond, for a team that went 10-10 and got bounced in the first round of the tournament, Bardwell and his father began talking about the decision to transfer.

“It was tough to make the decision to leave, one that I needed to put a lot of thought into,” he said. “I loved Central academically, but I thought I could have played more and could have gotten more of a chance.”

Last summer, Bardwell and his father ultimately made the decision for Chris to transfer to North Andover. Their hope was that Chris would have the opportunity to start for the Knight’s hoops team, as well as he and his high-80’s fastball be a regular in the baseball team’s starting rotation.

The move resulted in the biggest surprise story in the state this season—Bardwell and captain Isaiah Nelsen have combined to form one of the state’s best frontcourt duos. After a summer spent in the weightroom, going to open gyms with his North Andover teammates, and throwing bullpens to prepare for the spring, he reflected on what made him put the extra time in.

“It definitely motivated me. I thought to myself: ‘I’m transferring, why not motivate myself and make something of myself’,” Bardwell said. “Summer, it was all basketball. We just kept playing pickup, it was awesome, we always got after it.”

The biggest challenge though, was ensuring that chemistry was developed between longtime North Andover coach Mike McVeigh and his new forward with the fiery personality. McVeigh admits it was a struggle at the beginning.

“The 31-year coach and the new kid to the program, that was the thing in December. We had to learn a little about each other. I’ll tell you right now, we’re pretty good, but we’re not perfect in terms of agreeing with everything,” McVeigh joked, just before Bardwell slammed the hallway door open -— screaming and shouting in celebration of beating Wakefield and qualifying for the Division 2 North title game.

“It was really tough, I didn’t really know him as a person,” Bardwell said. “Over the year we found each other’s personalities. It was easier during practice and everything. Off the court too, us getting to know each other helped us.”

The Knights haven’t lost too often this season, with their only losses coming to archrival Andover (twice), Westford Academy, and to Central Catholic -— in Bardwell’s first game back in Lawrence at his old school.

“Yeah it was tough, but it was awesome at the same time. I saw all the people I know and used to go to school with,” he said.

Before going into the locker room to prepare for the game, he spent time talking to former classmates, shaking hands of parents, and taking in the place that he used to call home. He of course anticipated the ribbing and taunting he took from some in the Central cheering section.

“Oh yeah I was expecting that, but it helped me,” he said.

Chris was the only consistent player on the floor for the Knights that evening, finishing with 19 points and 12 rebounds in a losing effort. It came just three days after his best game of the season—a blowout win over Andover where he scored 34 points. After the Central game, his former coach, Rick Nault, praised Bardwell on his improvement.

“That kid kills us man, he really does. I love the kid, I really, really do. I wish he was here and I miss him dearly. He has turned into one of the best players in the state,” Nault said. “You’ve got to give him all the credit. I’m glad he’s having success, we don’t want him to have success against us, but he’s having a tremendous year.”

Bardwell paid thanks to Nault, acknowledging that Central’s coach motivated him and taught him how to work hard.

“We’re still good now, we still talk," Bardwell said of Nault. "He’s been a great guy and a great mentor for me. Coach Nault changed me as a player, he made me so much smarter playing the game.”

A little over a week after North Andover lost the game to Central, he was named Merrimack Valley Conference MVP after averaging around 20 points per game in the regular season. Bardwell, though, chose to shift the attention onto his team as a whole.

“I didn’t expect this to happen, but, except for Izzy [Isaiah Nelsen], I’ve been playing with these kids my whole life," he said. "I’ve been playing with all of them. For us to make it this far, and we’re going to keep going far, it’s just been awesome. Right when I started off here they accepted me and I know they wanted me to figure out my role, and I found my role.”

He’s been the guy who does the dirty work, who attacks the rim, and does his duty to make sure that North Andover never gets outrebounded. Sometimes, McVeigh said, Bardwell’s role even involves calming down his coach.

“He was very jumpy early [in the season] and I would have to get him to calm down, and last Sunday against Concord-Carlisle I think the one who was the jumpiest was me,” McVeigh said with a laugh. “And Bardwell’s calming me down! How do you like that for a transformation?”

His plan at this point is to attend a prep school next year where he can do a postgraduate year, mainly so that he can have the opportunity to take another year to sharpen his skills on the mound. Despite that though, don’t expect him to pick a favorite sport anytime soon.

“I’m looking forward for the snow to stop and I’m really looking forward for baseball," he said. "But I’m pumped right now that we’re this far. I really, really want to go to states.”

D2 North: North Andover 68, Wakefield 44

March, 7, 2013
3/07/13
12:41
AM ET


LAWRENCE, Mass. -– Not too long ago, Derek Collins couldn’t even touch his toes.

North Andover coach Mike McVeigh was impressed with Collins’ play last Sunday against Concord-Carlisle, so much so that the veteran coach went out of his way to compliment his senior guard before practice the next day.

“Man, you look stronger,” McVeigh said to Collins, hinting at how much he had improved since having back surgery last winter.

“Coach, I can touch my toes,” Collins happily announced.

[+] EnlargeNick Collins
Brendan Hall/ESPNBoston.comDerek Collins sank seven 3-pointers to lift North Andover to its first Division 2 North Final appearance since 2007
On Wednesday night, he took another step in the right direction, tallying 26 points on seven three-pointers, but more importantly, leading the Scarlet Knights (19-4) to a 68-44 win over Wakefield (15-6) in the Division 2 North semifinals.

“That’s the old Derek Collins right there,” teammate Chris Bardwell (14 points, nine rebounds) exclaimed after the game, going back to Collins’ younger days, “That’s him in eighth grade. He came out to play, he was firing. It’s awesome when you have someone like that who can shoot that good; it just takes pressure off of our offense.”

North Andover jumped out to a quick lead in the first half, Collins and Isaiah Nelsen (20 points, eight rebounds) hit back-to-back threes in the opening minutes to build momentum that Wakefield was unable to match. However, behind some hot-shooting from Wakefield senior Kendall Hamilton (18 points), North Andover held just a 31-23 halftime lead.

That’s when Collins got hot.

During a critical point in the game, North Andover game out of the third quarter gates with a sprint, led by Collins, who banged in four three-pointers in that one quarter alone. Just like that, the Knights held a 54-30 lead going into the fourth quarter —- a deficit that Wakefield was unable to even come close at chipping away at.

Following the statement victory, McVeigh embraced his star senior and joked about the Mohawk-style haircut that several players on the team got done for the playoffs.

“You’re the best,” he said to Collins, “and we’ve got to keep that haircut going.”

Brown stays quiet: Wakefield’s sophomore power guard Bruce Brown has been the catalyst of the offense all year, but tonight, he managed just 10 points on 3-for-11 shooting from the field. That was all part of the plan, Bardwell said.

“That was our whole gameplan, was stopping him," he explained. "Pretty much our whole gameplan was playing the 1-2-2 and playing off him—letting him shoot. Every time he took it to the hole, we just jammed him. We did awesome on him.”

Bardwell couldn’t quite escape Brown’s athleticism altogether though. Late in the fourth quarter Brown went up for a high-rising dunk in transition. Bardwell, looking to go for a block or force Brown to adjust his gather, could only joke about what happened next.

“Oh, that was awesome,” Bardwell said with a laugh. “Getting dunked on. Yeah, that wasn’t good. But whatever, I forget about it.”

Bardwell and Nelsen were also able to contain Wakefield forward Mikol Blake-Green down on the post. Blake-Green, one of the most aggressive forwards and fiercest competitors around, has terrorized opposing teams on the offensive glass all year. Like Brown though, he was quiet against North Andover, mustering just eight points.

“We respect Wakefield an awful lot, there’s nobody on our team, including the coach, who thought that was going to be the final score,” McVeigh said. “[Brown] draws contact with the best of them, but we just tried to use that spacing theory, we space and jam. It was okay, coaches have to say what they want, but the kids have to do it--and the kids did it for 32 minutes.”

Bring on the Bengals: North Andover will move on to face Brighton in the Division 2 North championship on Saturday afternoon. Before the beginning of the regular season, the two faced off in a scrimmage where the Knights outplayed Brighton for nearly the two hours.

McVeigh, though, is cautiously optimistic.

“Who filmed the Brighton/Aorth Andover scrimmage?” he asked rhetorically to an ESPNBoston.com reporter, with a dash of sarcasm.

Bengals star point guard Malik James filmed the scrimmage, of course. Brighton coach Hugh Coleman was disciplining James for being late to a practice, and the returning All-State point guard did not play for the majority of the scrimmage. McVeigh knows they didn’t get Brighton’s best shot.

“Obviously [suspending James] worked pretty well if you see the way he’s playing,” he said.

Fresh off one of the best performances of his career, Collins addressed his performance, but also North Andover’s business-like approach going into Saturday.

“My teammates found me open [tonight]—they found me in good spots and I was able to knock down some shots. It was just my teammates getting me the ball, really," he said. “Coach has been scouting the whole season, we’ll have a good gameplan and we’ll be ready.”

Recap: No. 5 North Andover 73, No. 11 Andover 50

February, 11, 2013
2/11/13
12:26
AM ET
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -- Outside the locker room at North Andover High's field house, where the No. 5 Scarlet Knights had just strung together a nice 73-50 defeat of border rival No. 11 Andover, coach Mike McVeigh was told by a reporter the stat line for senior Chris Bardwell, and he couldn't believe it.

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph," he muttered.

A few moments later, Bardwell appeared from the locker room, and McVeigh turned to him to ask: "Thirty-four, are you kidding me?"

"Wasn't keeping track," Bardwell grinned.

To which McVeigh quickly shot back, chuckling, "Yeah, you better not be."

It was a career-high and career-defining night for the 6-foot-5 senior, who transferred into NA from Central Catholic for his senior season and made his impact felt almost immediately. Tonight's effort -- 34 points, 14 rebounds, and a pair of pretty assists -- rectified that impact.

Good players know how to get to the rim, and Bardwell did exactly that in the first half, starting off 8-of-9 from the field and finishing shooting 66.6 percent from the floor (14-of-21), mostly coming on high-percentage bunnies around the rim or put-backs. Though there were some dazzling plays, like the one-handed underhand finish off a long Derek Collins lob in transition in the second quarter; or getting his own put-back off his own missed free throw; or one of the more good-karma put-backs of his season, positioning himself at the foul line for a long rebound and hucking it back at the rim one-handed.

But mostly, it was about finding open space in the paint and making the most of it -- "Our mentality was just to go all out," he said.

And all of that keeps NA (14-2, 13-1) in the hunt for the Merrimack Valley Conference's Large division title, in the Knights' first year of league membership. Headed into Tuesday's matchup with Central Catholic (14-3, 11-1), the two teams are tied for first, with one loss each in the league (Central to NA on Jan. 29, NA to Andover on Jan. 18).

"I didn't want to lose," Bardwell said. "I know on the line [tonight] was the MVC title. I know us coming into the MVC in our first year and winning the MVC title [would be] outrageous. It's never happened before, a team coming in and winning, so...I was just ready to play. We were all ready to play. We played smart. We were just awesome as a team, everything."

Leading 35-26 at the half, the Knights came out firing on all cylinders from long distance to start the third, outscoring the Golden Warriors (12-5) by a wide margin, 24-8. That included five 3-pointers, including a back-to-back-to-back swing by Derek Collins (11 points) and Brett Daley that put the Knights up 50-31 with 2:42 to go in the frame.

Also helping the cause was a dominant presence on the boards. Just as they were in last week's historic upset of Central Catholic, the Knights were everywhere on rebounds. With margin for error, the Knights unofficially held a 42-16 advantage on rebounds, including a 17-2 edge in the second quarter, thanks to the presence of St. Anselm-bound 6-foot-5 senior Isaiah Nelsen (14 points, 10 rebounds).

That's quite the turnaround from the previous two meetings this year. In their first meeting on Dec. 20, in the first round of the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament, the Warriors prevailed 76-63 in overtime. The second time around, on Jan. 18, Andover won 64-52 in regulation.

"There's nothing ever easy about Andover," McVeigh said. "We can't do anything about the first two, all we could do is try to grab one of the three, and that's what the kids did."

Andover was led in scoring by senior Chris Dunn (14 points), who started with three 3-pointers to open the first quarter. The Warriors also got 10 points from Jack Konevich, and nine each from Sam Dowden and David Giribaldi.

Lob City Lite: Late in the third quarter, NA junior forward Casey Walsh heaved up an alley-oop pass from the left wing that found Bardwell on the weak-side post, running for a dramatic lay-in and drawing a foul in the process for a three-point play. McVeigh turned to a reporter seated near the scorer's table and cracked, "You're smiling, but I'm not."

It's not McVeigh's preferred method, but tonight the Knights excelled at the lob, mostly when used as an outlet pass to trigger a fast break. The game opened with a breakaway two-handed slam from Nelsen, firing up the home crowd. In the first 4:20 of the game, the Knights scored three times off deep lobs in the fast break, with either Nelsen or Bardwell crashing down the lane for an easy layup.

"I'm telling you, we're a fast break team," Bardwell said. "They were running a 1-3-1...We'd just bring it up, pass middle, pass to the side, and they just found me. It worked beautifully."

Sentimental visit: Bardwell's visit Tuesday night to Central Catholic's famed Memorial Gymnasium will be his first since he last suited up for the Raiders a year ago. Bardwell had nothing but good things to say about Central, and credits coach Rick Nault (who was in attendance tonight) for helping his development as a rebounder.

But make no mistake, Tuesday night is going to be a big night not just for Bardwell, but for the NA program itself. On Jan. 29, the Knights upset Central in dramatic fashion, rallying from an 18-point deficit midway through the third quarter to earn the program's first win over the Raiders since 1986. Another win over Central on Tuesday would sweep the season series, and put the Knights in pole position for the MVC Large title -- a spot few predicted coming into the season for the Knights, in their first year since moving from the Cape Ann League.

"I'm coming into that game roaring," Bardwell said. "It's going to be unbelievable. We're all pumped up. I'm going to come in with the same enthusiasm I came into with this game, and it's going to be awesome. It's going to be probably the best experience of my life. And we're ready."

And the expected capacity crowd? Bardwell thinks, "It's gonna be insane."

Does he expect that crowd to be riding him?

"All game," he laughed. "I was talking to this kid, he said they've already got chants ready. They're gonna rock."

Scrimmage Slants: Brighton vs. North Andover

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
10:12
PM ET
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -– Brighton and North Andover scrimmaged on Sunday afternoon in a battle between two of the top Division 2 teams in the state. Both teams proved why they could start the year high in our MIAA Top 25 poll.

A few notes and observations:

Nelsen the key for NA: North Andover will go as far this year as senior forward Isaiah Nelsen, a St. Anselm signee, will take them this year. The 6-foot-6 Nelsen is one of the best big men in the state, but his athleticism and offensive versatility are what make him stand out. Nelsen is going to be a nightmare for opposing defenses this year, because of how well he runs the floor and how deep his range is on his outside shot. On several occasions he showed that he can score off the dribble, but he was also unstoppable around the rim, where he had no problem finishing through contact.

Simpson ready to star: Junior guard Malik James gets a lot of the headlines for Brighton, and understandably so, but 6-foot-4 forward Nick Simpson showed to have a great nose for the ball and an impressive offensive repertoire. Simpson knocked down several three-pointers, but also gave the Bengals the type of consistent presence that they’re going to need in order to make a long run in Division 2. Keep an eye on Prince Unaegbu as well; he’s going to be one of the best rebounders in the deep Boston City League this year.

Bardwell, Collins provide support: Isaiah Nelsen isn’t the only dual post threat that North Andover has in the lineup. Senior Chris Bardwell, a transfer from Central Catholic, will provide a great complimentary role to Nelsen this year. Bardwell can score using a variety of moves on the low block, but like Nelsen, he runs the floor exceptionally well for a big man. With the type of athletic forwards that the Knights have, they’re going to be able to score on the fast break, or off a set in the half court.

Derek Collins, who missed the majority of last season because of back surgery, showed why he will be one of the most dangerous shooters in the state. He came out with a bang to start off the scrimmage, nailing two three-pointers in the opening minutes to help the Knights develop an early lead.

The day's signature play involved both of these players. Off a turnover in transition, Collins heaved a long bounce pass 50 feet down the court to Bardwell, who quickly dropped the ball behind him for the trailer to score an easy layup.

Shooting woes for James: There's a lot of buzz around James as one of the most promising talents to be seen in the MIAA this year, after the scoring combo guard led Brighton to the Division 2 state finals last March. James sat out the first half today for skipping a practice earlier in the week, and because of that he had a hard time getting anything going offensively once he got into the game. He was one of the better scorers in Eastern Mass. last year, especially off the dribble, so despite his not hitting shots today against North Andover, expectations of the type of season he has the potential to have shouldn’t waver.

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