Boston High School: Chris Corin

North Providence (R.I.) looks for lucky No. 13

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28
7:51
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For people who are superstitious, 13 is an unlucky number.

That’s not the case with North Providence High boys’ basketball coach Paul Rizzo. If anything Rizzo along with his Cougars would embrace 13 just like they would a fast-break basket.

“We have a target on our backs,” said Rizzo whose team captured last season’s Division II championship for the second time in four years. “We’ve made the playoffs for 12 consecutive years. Usually you have a rebuilding stage every couple of years where you struggle. We’ve been able to overcome that.

“We’re one of the few teams in the state that has qualified for the playoffs 12 years in a row.”

Given the current standings it’s a virtual lock the Cougars will qualify for a 13th consecutive year.

Through Jan. 28, North Providence (12-1) overall is tied for first place with Narragansett with each team 9-0.

Rizzo is fortunate that last season’s team wasn’t devastated by graduation. In fact, eight Cougars are seniors this year: brothers Nick and Justin Marchand; Andrew Vallente; Brendan Walker, Chris Corin, Nick Geremia, Kevin Clynes and Brandon Johnson.

“(Senior co-captains) Chris Coren and Nick Geremia have done a great job,” said Rizzo. “All eight seniors have been playing since they were about eight. They have great camaraderie.

“The kids don’t get down. There isn’t any jealousy. They share the ball. If somebody’s open they shoot it or they’ll pass it (to the open player). It’s a special group of kids.”

Rizzo’s contention about his players sharing the ball is reflected in the Cougars’ stats, which show five players averaging in double figures: Geremia (15.0 ppg.), junior Matt Masso (12.0 ppg.), Corin (11.0; he scored 21 points against Barrington in the 2014 Division II state championship game), Nick Marchand (11.0 ppg.) and Johnson (11.0 ppg.).

Johnson’s uncle is Jamel Thomas who was a First Team All-Big East selection during his senior year at Providence College.

“Geremia is one of the better guards in the state in terms of two-way players,” said Rizzo. “He’s averaging 15 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists per game. He’s almost averaging a triple-double.

“Every time we face an opposing team he guards that team’s best offensive player.”

Geremia’s defensive proficiency mirrors that of the team as a whole. Through their first 13 games, the Cougars are holding opponents to a middling average of 51.7 ppg.

“Ever since I’ve been here we’ve been an up-tempo team,” said Rizzo, who’s in his 16th season as the Cougars head coach. “It’s a fun style to play. But I always expect my guys to play good defense. We probably average in the 70s (currently the Cougars are averaging 64.7 ppg.). It’s a fun brand of ball but I also expect you to play good, solid defense.

“I always give the kids a lot of freedom offensively. I trust them. I think they respect that. But I want them to come down and play good defense.”

The fact North Providence’s roster contains the aforementioned eight seniors makes Rizzo’s job much easier than otherwise might be the case.

“It’s so much easier when you have kids that want to be there,” he said. “They don’t have egos. I’ve had tremendous senior leadership over the years. It’s like having a second pair of eyes out there. If somebody’s down I tell them don’t be afraid to call them aside and talk to them.

“I can’t say enough about my senior leadership over the years. I’ve had some great senior leaders and I give a lot of responsibility to my seniors.”

But regardless of sport and the number of seniors – and high school boys being high school boys – Rizzo like all coaches must guard against his players being measured for a larger cap.

“Going into the season our goal is to try to get back to the state championship,” he said. “I tell the guys don’t get too comfortable.

“Against Exeter/West Greenwich we were down 8-0 right away and I called a timeout. I got on a couple of kids and we went on a 12-2 run.”

North Providence eventually won that game, 62-49.

“You have to guard against kids getting over-complacent. But that’s what I’m here for.”

Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey, plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y. he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.

North Providence (R.I.) hoop makes improbable run

March, 13, 2014
3/13/14
12:38
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Nobody could blame North Providence High basketball coach Paul Rizzo if he shed tears of sadness last June when 10 of the 14 boys on his 2012-13 team that finished 15-3 and lost to Shea in the Division II quarterfinals graduated.

Rhode IslandNow flash forward to last Sunday when Rizzo again was shedding tears - albeit tears of joy.

The fifth-seeded Cougars, for all intents and purposes, came out of nowhere and upset second-seeded Barrington, 55-51, for the Division II state championship.

“The boys we returned played sparingly (last season),” said Rizzo. “We had several brand-new starters like Ryan McCluskie (18 ppg.), Connor Nesbitt, Alex Wagoner and Nick Sollitto plus two kids who were on the junior varsity last year and filled in, Nick Geremia (14 ppg.) and Chris Corin (12 ppg., an average that included 21 points against Barrington in the championship game)."

“Every year our goal is to make the playoffs. I stay positive with the guys. Make the playoffs and try to get better during the year, jell at some time and hopefully make some type of run.”

Good point considering the Cougars’ 30-game home winning streak was broken on February 4 when they were mauled by Barrington, 66-45.

Before the Cougars knew what hit them they were mired in a three-game losing streak – the longest North Providence had endured in the past six seasons.

At that point the Cougars were faced with two options: Mail in the rest of their schedule or show some grit and slam the door on that losing streak.

“I told the kids that Barrington and West Warwick were the class of our division and the favorites to win,” said Rizzo. “I told them you can’t get down. That stretch was the toughest part of the season. Exeter/West Greenwich (61-59) really was a tough loss. But then we regrouped.

“The kids don’t know how to get down. They’re positive. They stayed the course and kept working. I told them let’s just get back to the basics.”

Indeed.

The Cougars closed out their regular season with a five-game winning streak.

Then in the Division II Tournament they pulled off three upsets, beating fourth-seeded Prout 49-48, top-seeded West Warwick 66-52 and, as mentioned, No. 2 Barrington.

As a result, North Providence (16-8) earned the ninth seed in the 16-team Open State Championship Tournament.

Granted, North Providence averaged a modest 53.2 points per game on offense. But on defense they lived up to their nickname and played ferociously while holding opponents to a mere 49.6 points per game.

“I stress every year you should never have a night off defensively,” said Rizzo. “If you’re not good on offense you should be on defense. You have to be a constant every night and play defense. The starters play defense and the others have accepted their roles.”

Ironically, Rizzo’s current team is in stark contrast from an offensive standpoint to other teams he’s had in the past.

“We’ve had some dynamite offensive teams but they would take the night off on defense and we would play games in the 80s,” he said. “Two years ago we had three 1000-point scorers (Austin VanBemmelen, Mike Ferrante and Rob Hazard) and we got to the Elite Eight before La Salle beat us at Alumni Hall.”

The Cougars captured the 2010-11 Division II state title – their first since the 1987-88 season.

“When it came to winning close games (this season), we had guys making key shots,” said Rizzo. “They played good, solid basketball. They made free throws late. They made stops on defense. It didn’t look like they had that deer-in-the-headlights look.

“It was amazing how they reacted to those situations.”

How the Cougars react on the biggest boys’ basketball stage in the state could be most interesting commencing with Thursday night’s Round-of-16 game against eighth-seeded and defending state champion Classical.

“Classical arguably has the best player in the state in Kealen Ives,” said Rizzo. “Classical is the defending state champ and the winner of our game probably will play the number one seed (La Salle who faces 16th-seeded Middletown in the Round of 16) so you have to be playing your best ball.

“Going back three months and to see where we are now, my feeling is let’s ride with it.”

Given what the unsung Cougars have accomplished to date, perhaps it could be a longer “ride” than could have been predicted at the start of the season.

Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y, he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.

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