Boston High School: Kayjuan Bynum

Shepard changing culture at Putnam

April, 1, 2013
Putnam basketball Brendan Hall/ESPNBoston.comDivision 1 state champion Putnam has emerged as a powerhouse, in part because of the way coach William Shepard constantly challenged his players off the court.

It was Friday, March 8, and inside the walls of the brand-new Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy, the boys’ basketball team was still practicing. The Beavers were preparing to venture into unfamiliar territory. It had been 19 years since Putnam basketball had played this long into the season. The following night, the Beavers would square off with the defending state champions -- a rival school less than a mile down Roosevelt Avenue -- Springfield Central.

The Golden Eagles were expected to play for the Division 1 Western Mass. title that Saturday night while the Beavers still had its fair share of doubters, yet none of them were in that gymnasium that Friday.

Putnam head coach William Shepard talked to his team each day after practice, though, he tweaked the postgame speech a bit that day. Each member of the team read a line from Marva Collins’ poem “The Creed.”

“It applied to basketball,” Putnam senior forward Kayjuan Bynum said. “But it also applied to life.”

The poem represented the new culture of Putnam basketball, one that Shepard brought into the school four years ago when he decided to leave his head coaching job at Springfield Technical Community College, a position he held for a decade.

“High school is the place I wanted to be at from the start,” Shepard said. “I knew there could be great things to be accomplished. I always knew there was talent here.”

Shepard made the transition to high school ball to tap into the talent at an earlier age and develop these gifted players into discipline young men. When he began at Putnam, he set the expectations high, never lowering them until the goals were met. Four short years later, Putnam will add its first state title banner. More importantly, Shepard is challenging these student-athletes to apply the hard work and success they’ve achieved on the hardwood to the classroom and the community. There is one particular line of Collins’ poem that underscores how Shepard is changing the perception of Putnam basketball and the city of Springfield.
Society will draw a circle that shuts me out, but my superior thoughts will draw me in. I was born to win if I do not spend too much time trying to fail.

The bus ride to UMass-Amherst for the Western Mass. title game was loose, according to the players. They were listening to music, joking, but when they walked into Curry Hicks Cage, they had the opportunity to dethrone Central as the city/sectional power.

A year earlier, Putnam earned the No. 2 seed to Central, only to be bounced in the quarterfinals. The top two seeds remained the same this season with Central receiving the top spot for a tougher schedule. Sharing the same street puts Putnam in the figurative and literal shadow of Central, where the history of on-court success includes three state titles while producing NBA talent in Travis Best. Despite the 20-1 record, Putnam was still doubted for much of the season.

“It really got me mad when they thought we were Division 2,” junior guard Dizel Wright said, referring to one of the criticisms the team heard during the season.

The shifting of the powers started to begin when David Murrell launched a half-court shot, and, as the buzzer sounded to end the third quarter, Murrell’s heave banked in, putting Putnam up nine.

“I let it go and I was like ‘We got this.’” Murrell said. “We got to take over now.”

From there, Putnam cruised to its first sectional final, 61-45, and the school’s first ever boys’ basketball title. Putnam was still the underdog in the state semifinals where the Beavers beat Milford. 52-39.

That trend continued in the state final against Mansfield. And it wasn’t until Ty Nichols hit a pair of free throws in overtime, as the Beavers held on for a 50-48 win, before Shepard’s mission became a reality.

Shepard, who was born and raised in Springfield, understands this wasn’t the only time his players had been counted out.
Failure is just as easy to combat as success is to obtain. … I have the right to fail, but I do not have the right to take other people with me.

Every day after practice, Shepard talked to his team, less about basketball and more about life and how the choices they make.

“I’ve told them, you’ve overcome adversity already,” Shepard said. “Basketball is the easy part.”

Shepard refers to his players dealing with the pressures of a city with many temptations and as a court officer in Springfield for 14 years. He has seen countless teenagers walk in and out of courtrooms for whatever reasons over the years, whether it is drugs, gangs, etc.

“We talk about a lot of life issues,” Shepard said. “It’s just not being a follower. To be honest some of their friends are selling drugs, not doing the right thing. They have a choice.”

“It’s easier for anyone to get caught up in that life,” Bynum added. “We use basketball as a sanctuary. We don’t need a gang family. We are each other’s family.

“No one needs to be out there when you can be in here with us, having fun, practicing, winning state championships.”

Through his time at Putnam, Shepard has become a role model and a father figure to those who needed the influence of a male role model in their life. Shepard is like his players, born and raised in Springfield. He won the Lahovich Award (awarded to the region’s top player) when he was in high school before starring in college at Western Connecticut State.

In his post-practice speeches, Shepard tells his players to not become followers, and challenges his team to be successful outside of the basketball court and in the classroom. Putnam serves as the city’s trade school, although, its six rotation players – Bynum, Murrell, Wright, Nichols, Jonathan Garcia, and Kishawn Monroe – all plan on attending four-year colleges. Within the first two years of his coaching tenure at Putnam, Shepard began to attract the attention of the city’s top players. Those, who had a passion for the game and were willing to be a part of something bigger then themselves.

“I had watched them play Northampton in 2011,” sophomore Jonathan Garcia said. “I remember I came to watch them and saw Putnam pull out a close one.

“I actually had to beg my mom to let me go to school here. She wanted me to go to Central.”

No longer was Central the place where all the talent in Springfield went. Putnam offered a solid education along with a trade in addition to what Shepard had to offer as a basketball coach. That’s exactly what Shepard and Putnam provided kids in 2012-2013.
Time and chance come to us all. I can be either hesitant or courageous. I can swiftly stand up and shout: "This is my time and my place. I will accept the challenge."

Ty Nichols stepped to the free throw line with the score tied, 48-48, in overtime of the state championship. He buried the pair of free throws, but coincidentally, the sophomore standing on the free throw line was the one that wanted to quit the team during his first season with Putnam.

“He wanted to quit,” Shepard said. “I have to give credit to his mother. She brought him into practice that day.”

Nichols, a transfer from Chicopee Comprehensive High School, admits it took some time for him to get used to the brand of basketball Putnam was building.

“Earlier in the year I wasn’t used to playing with these guys a lot,” Nichols said. “I was used to getting the ball, scoring more. I had to get used to passing the ball, so I had to adapt to how they were doing things at Putnam.”

Nichols, who transitioned into the sixth-man role this season for Putnam, will be one of the key players returning to next season’s team along with Murrell, Wright, Garcia and Monroe. After four years and with a new $114 million the perception of Putnam have been altered in the city of Springfield.

“Putnam is the place to be here,” Shepard said.

Thursday afternoon the team was getting their state championship rings sized. Bynum, a senior is done playing high school basketball as he is on his way to Southern Connecticut State to play football. He’s still pulled aside by Shepard as the two have a conversation in the school’s cafeteria. Times have changed at Putnam and with Shepard in the mix, it only serves as a positive for the team and provides a guiding influence to the city’s youth.

Final Thoughts from 2012-13, and looking ahead

March, 27, 2013
Some final thoughts as we put a close on the 2012-13 high school basketball season...



After committing to Vanderbilt last August, Lynn English's Ben Bowden told 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.



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, 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.



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.



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

And now, the long category...



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

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.


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.

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.

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 and the Springfield Republican

Brian Mukasa photo is courtesy of

D1 Boys Final: Putnam 50, Mansfield 48 (OT)

March, 17, 2013

WORCESTER, Mass. –- Putnam sophomore Ty Nichols stepped to the line and calmly sank both of his free throws with just 7.5 seconds left in overtime.

Those two simple free throws ended as the difference in a wild, thrilling game, giving Putnam a 50-48 win over Mansfield and the Beaver’s their first ever D1 State Championship.

“I stepped to the line and my team had confidence in me,” Nichols said. “My coaches had confidence in me. I’ve been hitting free throws all year and I just took them as regular free throws and they went in.”

Mansfield’s Rocky DeAndrade sprinted up the court, but his jumper was short and Putnam celebrated their first state title in school history.

“It definitely feels great,” Putnam’s Kayjuan Bynum said. “We expected to be here, we expected to play our hearts out and try to come out with a state championship, which we did.”

The Beavers looked like they were ready to win in regulation, up 40-33 with just over 2 minutes left in the fourth quarter, but Mansfield’s Michael Boen came up with a big offensive board and put back while being fouled. His free throw pulled the Hornets within 4. Both teams traded empty trips before Boen hit a corner three to pull within one at 40-39 with 35.7 seconds left.

After Bynum sank two free throws to put Putnam up 42-39, Mansfield’s Ryan Boulter was fouled while shooting a three with just 5.5 seconds left. The sophomore sank all three shots and Putnam wasn’t able to get a shot off before the buzzer.

In overtime, Bynum sank two free throws only to have Boulter answer with a three to give Mansfield a 45-44 lead. Two more free throws from Bynum followed by a layup from Nichols put Putnam up 48-45.

Mansfield answered yet again, this time with 19.9 seconds left when Boulter again drained a three.

But as time ticked away in overtime, it was Nichols’ drive to the basket that drew the foul that ended as the difference.

Mansfield was just 6-of-29 from downtown, but had 19 turnovers, due in large part to a tough Putnam defense.

“At halftime, we spoke about not having hit our stride yet defensively,” Putnam head coach William Shepard said. “We’ve held teams to single digit scoring in a quarter consistently all year. When they came out and held them to 7 points in the third quarter, I could see our guys take a collective breath and say ‘OK, we can do this.’”

Bynum finished with a game-high 15 points, including a perfect 8-8 performance from the free throw line in the fourth quarter and overtime. Boulter finished with 14 for Mansfield, nine of which came in the fourth quarter and overtime.

“Hats off to Putnam with their defensive effort,” Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan said. “They did a great job, they took things away.”

Putnam finished the season 24-1 with their first ever D1 State Championship. Mansfield finishes 25-3.

“I almost cried, but I stopped myself from crying,” Nichols said. “This feels good, Putnam’s first state championship, this feels good.”

Although both Putnam and Mansfield will be losing key seniors to graduation, it’s not out of the question that either team could make a return trip next season.

The 2013 D1 State Champions will only lose one starter, Bynum, and will graduate three others. Mansfield will lose five seniors, but none bigger than senior captain Greg Romanko.

For the Beavers, Dizel Wright and David Murrell (13 and 11 points respectively) will look to lead Putnam to a return trip. Sophomore starters Jonathan Garcia and Ki-shawn Monroe will join classmate Ty Nichols again next year.

The Hornets return a solid core, with sophomores Brendan Hill, the reigning Hockomock League MVP, and Ryan Boulter joining a slew of juniors –- Michael Boen, Kyle Wisnieski, Rocky DeAndrade, Kevin Conner, and Michael Hershman -– ready to take over the reigns of this team.

“This is going to sting for a few days,” Vaugahan said. ”After we wake up in a couple of days, we can make this motivation for next season to get back here. As we said, this isn’t easy. We hope we have an opportunity to represent the South again next year.

"It’s not an easy road and there are a lot of good teams coming back next year. We’re going to show up three days after Thanksgiving and get ready to do this all over again."

Tale of the Tape: Mansfield vs. Putnam

March, 14, 2013
PM ET online sports producer Jay King and I break down each of the three MIAA boys basketball State Championships taking place Saturday at the DCU Center in Worcester. I'll be providing Eastern Mass. perspective, while Jay handles Western Mass.



School: Mansfield
Record: 25-2
Region: South

How efficient is Mansfield? During Saturday’s Division 1 South Final, one North Quincy fan mused that the Hornets might as well be the Illuminati –- and the humorous observation has since taken on a life of its own, with fans printing up "Illuminati" shirts in preparation for Saturday’s state final. The Hornets have become one of Massachusetts’ most consistent programs under Mike Vaughan, and a big component of that is their perimeter play.

Led by an array of marksmen, the Hornets are one of the state’s best shooting teams. The piece de resistance may have been on March 6, when they shot 77 percent from the floor in the first half of their D1 South semifinal with Brookline – including an unreal 9-for-11 from three-point range. Sophomore forward Brendan Hill, the Hockomock League MVP, is the player with the most upside, beginning to build scholarship interest for both football and basketball.

-- Brendan Hall

Key Players
Brendan Hill, 6-5 Soph. F (13.4 points per game) – Fleet-footed point forward is the Hornets’ leading rebounder, the MVP of the competitive Hockomock League, and at times demonstrates Zen-like vision in the open court.
Rocky DeAndrade, 5-10 Jr. G (10.8 points) – Even-keeled point guard has been the unsung hero of the tournament, keeping the offense flowing cleanly and providing some nice on-ball defense. Averaging 10.8 points per game.
Michael Boen, 6-2 Soph. F – Nephew of Brockton head coach Bob Boen has made some big shots in this postseason run.
Kevin Conner, 6-3 Jr. F – Promising wing could finally be realizing his potential late in these playoffs, after leading the Hornets in scoring in the Eastern Mass. Final.
Greg Romanko, 6-3 Sr. F (10.4 points) – The lone senior in the starting lineup, and one of several skilled outside shooters.
Kyle Wisniewski, 6-0 Jr. G – Also the quarterback during football season, has been one of the most reliable defenders, marking Central Catholic superstar Tyler Nelson in the EMass Final and holding him to zero first-half points.
Ryan Boulter, 6-3 Soph. F (11.2 points) – One of several marksmen providing spark off the bench.

Road through the playoffs
South First Round: beat Newton South, 72-56
South Quarterfinal: beat Franklin, 57-48 (OT)
South Semifinal: beat Brookline, 68-50
South Final: beat North Quincy, 57-45
Eastern Mass. Final: beat Central Catholic, 55-50


School: Putnam
Record: 23-1
Region: West

At full strength, the only time Putnam has been anything but No. 1 in Western Mass this season came when the sectional tournament seedings were announced. The Beavers were given No. 2 behind Central, which said more about Central’s strength of schedule than anything else. Based on play, nobody’s been close to Putnam all season long.

Sure, West Springfield ruined Putnam’s quest for an undefeated season on Feb. 12. But that came with athletic wing Dizel Wright injured and out of the lineup. At full strength, the Beavers have blitzed everybody. Twenty-one of their 23 wins have come by double figures. The other two were by nine points apiece. They’ve won four postseason games by an average of 17.3 points, meaning they have now outscored their opponents by 23.1 points per game (including the regular season). Putnam trounced Division II state finalist South Hadley by 23 points in early January and smashed defending state champion Central by 16 points in the Western Mass. final.

How has Putnam been so dominant en route to their first sectional title and appearance in the state championship game? Defense, togetherness, unselfishness and a starting five that calls itself a brotherhood. The Beavers aren’t tall, but they always seem to win the rebounding battle. They aren’t the best shooting team, but they can make shots. They’ve never advanced so far into the state tournament, but they certainly act like they’ve been there before.

One major key to beating Putnam: taking care of the basketball. The Beavers aren’t a half-court juggernaut, but they force turnovers and use a team-wide passing ability to quickly turn small leads into huge ones.

-- Jay King

Key players:
KayJuan Bynum, 6-3 Sr. F (16.2 points) – Both Putnam’s glue and its best scorer, Bynum looks older than the average senior and plays the same way. He leads the team with 39 made 3-pointers, but also uses his strength to deal inside. After scoring 15 points in the state semifinals, he said he felt he played one of his worst games. As good as he’s been all season, he might even have been right.
David Murrell, 6-3 Jr. F (15 points) – An inside-outside threat like Bynum, Murrell uses heart and know-how to add a few inches to his game. The junior was quiet with only nine points in the state semifinals, but had 16 second-half points to down Central in the Western Mass. final.
Dizel Wright, 6-1 Jr. G (12.6 points) – One of the better athletes in Western Mass., with length and quickness to go with a defensive tenacity. Great in transition and tough on the glass, Wright had an unfathomable eight offensive rebounds in the state semifinal win against Milford. “Dizel basically – every assignment we’ve given him this year, he’s come close to meeting the task or he has met the task. He’s exceptional at his assignment,” said Putnam coach William Shepard. “He just thrives defensively. He loves when we put him on another team’s best man.”
Jonathan Garcia, 6-0 Soph. G (8.5 points) – Garcia’s understated elegance on the court might go unseen by the casual observer, but he’s as big a reason for Putnam’s strong defense as any. The king of deflected passes, the wiry guard seems to be involved in every play, in one fashion or another. Like everyone else in the Putnam starting five, Garcia’s a plus-passer.

Road through the playoffs:
West Round 2: beat Cathedral, 71-53
West Semifinals: beat West Springfield, 64-42
West Final: beat Central, 61-45
State Semifinals: beat Milford, 52-39

D1 Central/West: Putnam 52, Milford 39

March, 13, 2013

WORCESTER, Mass. -- Putnam, on the heels of winning its first-ever boys’ Division 1 Western Mass. championship, continued its historic season with a 52-39 win over Central Mass. champ Milford in the state semifinal at the DCU Center in Worcester on Wednesday night.

Putnam (23-1) did the way its done it all year, with rebounding and defense. The Beavers outrebounded the Scarlet Hawks 36-16, 16-7 on the offensive glass and forced 18 turnovers, earning a trip to the state final to play Mansfield on Saturday.

The Beavers held a one-point advantage over Milford (20-4) in the third quarter. Putnam up the defensive intensity and rallied off 10 straight points to head into the fourth quarter with a 42-31 lead. Putnam had switched from its typical man-to-man defense to a 1-3-1, which slowed down the Milford offense, which had scored the first six points off the half to take a one-point advantage.

“It kind of confused them for a while,” Putnam head coach William Shepard said. “It took away their energy. When we went into the zone, they got a little stagnant and didn’t really know what to do. Then they started to settle for jump shots.”

Milford hung tough and cut the lead to six several times in the fourth quarter, off threes from Aaron Anniballi and Christopher Brown. Putnam countered by pushing the tempo. David Murrell hit a free throw after getting fouled, Jonathan Garcia came away with a breakaway lay-in and Kayjuan Bynum turned pressure into a transition layup, upping the lead to 11 with under a minute to go.

“That team; the quickness, you can’t match that,” Anniballi said. “You can’t practice for that.”

“We played teams that quick, but we haven’t played teams that quick with that kind of chemistry.” added Mike Tiltlebaum. “We’ve played good teams where we’d break them a part. Mentally we’re tough. That chemistry and their quickness got us in the end."

Putnam led early in the game, 20-9, but when Garcia went to the bench with his second foul, the Scarlet Hawks went on an 11-0 run and used a 2-3 zone to limit the Beaver offense, yet the Beavers regrouped and entered intermission with a 27-22 lead.

Putnam was led by Dizel Wright’s 17 points and 12 rebounds (eight offensive). Bynum added 15 and 13 while Murrell and Garcia added nine each. All Milford players were held to single digits with David Mercier lead the Scarlet Hawks with nine points.

Putnam's size is irrelevant: Putnam went up against the heralded front line of Kamari Robinson and Chris Baldwin in the Western Mass. final and out worked Springfield Central’s duo to take down its city rival.

No one who played for Putnam on Tuesday night stood more than 6-foot-3. Milford started 6-foot-7 David Mercier and 6-foot-5 Michael Tracy. From the start of the game Putnam was the aggressive on the glass and it showed when 5-foot-10 Dizel Wright hauled in 12 rebounds (eight offensive).

Bynum led the team with 13 boards, but seven of Wright’s first eight rebounds were offensive and helped the Beavers head into the locker room with a five-point edge.

“I like to control the ball and see where the ball is going,” Wright said. “I try to pace myself. Timing is key.”

The Beavers defense on the perimeter has continued to be great and when they went to a 1-3-1 zone in the third quarter it stopped Milford from scoring while Putnam scored 10 unanswered.

“Their 1-3-1 zone is really good, and they’re really quick to the ball,” Anniballi said. “They leak out too so you have to be prepared for that. The zone hit us hard.”

Milford’s best offensive success of the night came when Jonathan Garcia picked up his second foul under a minute to go in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Milford went on an 11-0 run, but when Garcia came back on the floor he blocked shots on consecutive plays, deflected multiple passes and steals.

“Jonathan is one of our mainstays defensively,” Shepard said. “Something’s a little different when Jon Jon isn’t in the game.”

Milford’s season comes to an end: Like Putnam, Milford was a hard working team, overlooked for the majority of the season and often picked against during the postseason. As the clock hit triple zeros and the handshakes were finished senior captain Mike Titlebaum led the team over to the fan section where for minutes after the game hugs and thank yous were exchanged after an incredible season.

“They are one of my favorite groups,” Milford head coach Steve Manguso said. “They’re good friends, there’s good chemistry, good leadership. They’ve been a blast. It’s been a great experience.”

Like Putnam, Milford came off an emotional win on Sunday at WPI, dethroning five-time Central Mass. champion, St. John’s Shrewsbury 56-54.

“Our first reaction is obviously sad,” Anniballi said. “We look back at all the things we did in the tournament, throughout the whole season, and throughout of all high school; it’s unreal.”

Titlebaum referred to watching Milford lose to St. John’s in the 2007 sectional final, sparking a dream all of them had to return the favor to the Pioneers if they ever had the chance.

“We lost, but the dream came true,” said Titlebaum. “It was awesome.”

Following the three captains shared the media room with Putnam players David Murrell, Kayjuan Bynum and head coach Will Shepard. They stopped their interviews to wish them luck and congratulate them as they walked out the door.

“I wish we were going to practice tomorrow,” said Manguso. “But there aren’t too many teams practicing right now.”

Other scores from Worcester: For the second consecutive year, Western Mass. swept Central Mass. in the boys’ state semifinals. Tuesday night Smith Academy beat Littleton 72-56 in the D3 semifinal, followed by South Hadley topped St. Bernard’s 63-48 in the D2 semifinal.

Roosevelt Ave. rivalry renewed in D1 West Final

March, 8, 2013
The Western Mass. Division 1 boys' basketball final resembles more of a city title matchup between Springfield rivals Putnam Vocational and the defending state champion, Central.

The two schools -- separated by a little more than a mile -- have each played 22 games, but have yet to share the hardwood until Saturday's championship bout at Curry Hicks Cage, on the campus of UMass Amherst.

When the Beavers topped West Springfield, and the Golden Eagles outlasted Holyoke in Wednesday's semifinals in Springfield, it set the stage for the biggest question in the region to be answered -- Who is better, Central or Putnam?

"I've been wanting to play them all year," Central captain Kamari Robinson said on Thursday.

At different points this season, each has been regarded as the top team in the area. It with Central's No. 1 preseason ranking in's statewide poll, then transitioning to Putnam's local dominance, not dropping a game until Feb. 12 -- a loss to West Side with a shorthanded lineup.

"Both (teams) are talking," Robinson said. "We're going to talk of course, but we both have respect for each other."

That respect has developed long before the season began in November. It started in the city of Springfield, with players like Robinson and Putnam guard Dizel Wright sharing a travel team while playing with and against Beavers junior forward David Murrell over the years.

Yet for 32 minutes, Springfield bragging rights are one the line, something both city schools realize and would like to hold over the other one for the next calendar year.

Putnam played the first of two seminfinals at American International College Wednesday night and took the rubber match against West Side, cruising to a 64-42 win. After the win, when asked who the Beavers wanted to win the next game, Murrell made it clear.

"Hopefully Central," Murrell said after pouring in a game-high 22 points and 11 rebounds. "Everybody is saying that we can't beat anybody, hopefully we can prove to Central that we can win Western Mass."

Murrell and senior forward Kayjuan Bynum (16 points, 14 boards) have frontline that, although undersized, can battle with Central's 6-foot-5 Robinson and 6-foot-8 Chris Baldwin.

Match that with the team's willingness to defend, especially on the perimeter, it could end Central's reign over Western Mass. The forwards for Putnam and Central will battle inside, but the guard play is still critical, as it usually is in Western Mass. Central replaced three of four rotation guards from last season's championship run.

Putnam is young but long on the perimeter, with sophomores Jonathan Garcia and reserve guard Ty Nichols. Wright will likely be placed on Central's Cornelius Tyson, the hero of the 2012 state title win over Brockton with 16 points of four 3-pointers, all in the second half.

Putnam opened a new school this fall, and since William Shepard took over the program four seasons ago, he has begun to usher in a new basketball power in the birthplace of basketball.

Central has won two of the last four Western Mass. titles, and has been the home to of the finest players to come through the state. Ten-year NBA veteran Travis Best comes immediately to mind; ironically, his most memorable high school performance came in a 1991 win over Putnam, in which Best scoreed 81 points in a 143-85 victory -- records that stand to this day.

Putnam's success is shadowed in comparison, reaching the sectional final for the first time since 1984.

The Beavers have displayed they don't shy away from a big game, with the best example being Wednesday's win over West Side. The two split the regular season games, though, in both occasions neither team was at full strength. In the semifinals both teams had their best squads on the floor and Putnam proved to be the superior team.

"They play hard, all 32 minutes," Robinson said.

Putnam is looking to shift the powers in Springfield city ball and has that chance Saturday. The question will inevitably be answered. Is Central add to its tradition and remain the city's top team or will Putnam silence the doubters and officially take the top spot in Western Mass.

"It'll be good to play them and see who's really No. 1," Bynum said.

D1 West: Putnam 64, West Side 42

March, 6, 2013
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. –- Putnam Vocational went on a 16-6 run beginning midway through the third quarter and into the first few minutes of the fourth to not only create, distance, but cruise to a 64-42 win over West Springfield Wednesday night at American International College in Springfield.

In the rubber match, Putnam (21-1) continually kept West Side (21-3) from climbing back into the game. Following a Riyadh Asad putback that cut the lead to single digits, 39-31, the Beavers rallied off six straight to end the third quarter with a 14-point edge.

In, the fourth Putnam added to the run and stretched the lead to 51-33 with contributions from several players. Putnam got the lead up to as high as 27 in the fourth.

“That’s where we pick it up,” Putnam junior David Murrell said. “That’s our quarter, the fourth quarter.”

Although the offensive surge lifted Putnam into its first sectional final since the 1980s, it was the defense that sparked the win.

“Defense,” senior forward KayJuan Bynum said. “We love defense.”

Dizel Wright and Jonathan Garcia were able to contain the perimeter for Putnam while Bynum and Murrell controlled the boards. Bynum and Murrell grabbed 25 rebounds between the two of them, aided by Chris Lipscomb’s foul trouble. Wright and Garcia held Asad and Paul Bessette to 13 points combined. Andy McNulty was the only player to score in double figures for West Side with 16.

As a team, Putnam kept the three-point shooting Terriers to only four triples on the night -– all in the first half.

“We [held West Side] to a nine-point first quarter and an eight point third quarter,” Shepard said. “That in itself showed that we bought into it defensively.”

The Beavers started off the game 12-3 and held a single-digit lead for much of the first half. Dewey King connected on a three to get West Side within four, only to have Bynum and Tavis Frazier hit back-to-back threes upping the lead to 10. West Side cut it to six later in the second quarter, but Putnam countered with a Ki-Shawn Monroe three.

“Dizel thrives defensively,” Shepard said. “He loves when we put him on the other team’s best man.”

“Jon Jon (Garcia) has been the most consistent defender we’ve had all year,” added the fourth-year head coach. “He does all the little things.”

Murrell ended with 21 points and 11 boards. Bynum added 16 and 14.

For the third time in as many seasons West Side is eliminated in the semifinals. The Terriers three losses came to only Putnam and Springfield Central. Putnam will play the Central Saturday at Curry Hicks Cage at UMass Amherst.

Putnam wins rubber match: On Jan. 25, West Side was without Bessette and like Wednesday Lipscomb was saddled with fouls and Putnam won at home 59-43. West Side returned the favor on Feb. 12, which was senior night for the Terriers. Lipscomb drilled a corner three to give West Side a 52-50 lead. West Side would hold on to win 54-50.

In that loss, Putnam’s lone shortcoming this season, Dizel Wright dressed but did not play.

“In the first time he (Bessette) wasn’t there,” Shepard said. “And when they beat us, we eren’t at full strength. Both teams we’re at full strength and we were really looking forward to this game.

On Wednesday, both teams were at full strength and Beavers and Putnam avenged last night’s loss.

"It was nice to beat West Springfield, after they beat us,'' Bynum said. "That was a good win over a good team.''

Versatility meets size, tradition: West Side threw on a full court press in the fourth, in attempt to get back into the game. But Putnam’s balance, including forward Bynum and Murrell being able to handle the ball, turned the press into a fastbreak.

Putnam is an unselfish team and one through five commit to the defensive side of the ball, which has helped the Beavers to a 21-1 record so far this season.

“It’s communicating with each other, believing in each other and just being their for each other,” Shepard said. “And that’s what we’ve done consistently this year.”

Putnam will need one more great defensive effort if they want to top the defending state champs, Springfield Central. The Golden Eagles have won two Western Mass. titles since 2009, while Putnam hasn’t made a sectional final since 1984.

“Everyone says we can’t beat anybody,” Murrell said. “Hopefully we can prove it to Central and beat Western Mass.”

Central features 6-foot-8 Chris Baldwin and 6-foot-5 Kamari Robinson on the frontline, standing over Putnam’s 6-foot-2 Murrell and 6-foot-3 Bynum as the starting forwards.

Putnam’s duo grabbed 25 boards in Wednesday’s win, but how will they fare against the state’s biggest frontcourts?

The answer could come from the perimeter. Garcia, Wright, and reserve guard Ty Nichols add create length and size, holding the talented West Side backcourt in check in the semifinals. Asad, Bessette, and McNulty combined for 29 points -– 16 coming from McNulty.

Putnam and Central are separated by just 1.2 miles and meet at the Cage for bragging rights.

“This is what you get when you play together for three years,” Bynum said. “We’re no longer a team we’re family.”

Roundtable: Midseason All-State, Superlatives

January, 25, 2013
At the midpoint of the MIAA basketball season, we've asked our panel of experts to submit their picks for ESPN Boston All-State, as well as Mr. and Miss Basketball along with a number of superlatives:


Brendan Hall
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor

All-State Super Team
G – Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic
G – Darien Fernandez, Sr., Wareham
G – Jameilen Jones, Sr., BC High
G/F – Kamari Robinson, Sr., Springfield Central
F/C – Tyler Gibson, Sr., Rockland

Second Team
G – Jaylen Blakely, Sr., Brockton
G – Nick McKenna, Sr., Danvers
F – Nick Cambio, Jr., Central Catholic
F – Brendan Hill, Soph., Mansfield
F – Isaiah Nelsen, Sr., North Andover

Third Team
G – Riyadh Asad, Sr., West Springfield
G – Juwan Gooding, Soph., New Mission
F - Sam Dowden, Sr., Andover
C - Dakari Wornum, Sr., Dorchester
C – Chris Baldwin, Soph., Springfield Central

Girls Super Team
G - Infiniti Thomas-Waheed, Jr., Newton North
G - Donnaizha Fountain, Sr., Cambridge
F - Olivia Healy, Sr., Reading
F - Caitlyn Abela, Sr., Oliver Ames
C - Molly Reagan, Soph., Braintree

Mr. Basketball Finalists
Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic – WINNER
Darien Fernandez, Sr., Wareham
Jameilen Jones, Sr., BC High
Tyler Gibson, Sr., Rockland
Kamari Robinson, Sr., Springfield Central

Defensive Player of the Year – Drew Healy, Lowell
Coach of the Year – John Walsh, Danvers
Best Shooter – Tyler Nelson, Central Catholic
Biggest surprise (player) – Dakari Wornum, Dorchester
Biggest surprise (team) – St. Peter-Marian
Most underrated (player) – David Stewart, Madison Park
Most underrated (team) – Melrose

G – Tyree Weston, Soph., New Bedford
G – Marcus Middleton, Sr., Stoughton
F – Isshiah Coleman, Sr., New Mission
F – Prince Unaegbu, Sr., Brighton
C – Drew Healy, Sr., Lowell

Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic
Tommy Mobley, Soph., Newton North
Daivon Edwards, Sr., Brighton
Giulien Smith, Soph., Catholic Memorial
Ben Judson, Soph., St. John's Prep

Second half sleepers to watch

The Bears are a streaky team, but also a gritty one, as shown in their 58-57 loss to East Boston on Wednesday. Dakari Wornum has been one of the breakout stars of the first half of the season, but a number of athletic shooters -- including Jeduan Langston, Khalil Newson, Ceejae Agnew-Carter and Dean Lee -- can make this team explode at any moment. The expected return of 6-foot-7 junior D'Bryant Coraprez should bolser the frontcourt too.

We knew junior point guard Brian Mukasa (18.8 points per game) was good, and we though he had potential to be this good, but we had questions about the Eagles' supporting cast. Jimmy Fritzon (14.2 points per game) has some answers.

Hawks are my favorite to win the Dual County League's Large division, in a year of parity across the board. Keep an eye on Mike Gelineau, one of the area's more underrated shooters.

Most expected Wareham to run away with the South Coast Conference (again), but guess who's sitting at 11-2 and 8-1 in the league? The Cardinals are allowing a league-best 46 points per game, and face Wareham on Wednesday for a first-place battle in the SCC. Keep an eye on 6-foot-8 senior center Matt Plante.


Chris Bradley
ESPN Boston correspondent

All-State Super Team
G - Darien Fernandez, Sr., Wareham
G - Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic
F - Jameilen Jones, Sr., BC High
F - Kamari Robinson, Sr., Springfield Central
C - Tyler Gibson, Sr., Rockland

Second Team
G - Jaylen Blakely, Sr., Brockton
G - Riyadh Asad, Sr., West Springfield
F - Nick Simpson, Sr., Brighton
F - Nick Cambio, Sr., Central Catholic
F - Brendan Hill, Soph., Mansfield

Third Team
G - Nick McKenna, Sr., Danvers
G - Rod Milton, Sr., Worcester South
F - Sam Dowden, Sr., Andover
F - Isaiah Nelsen, Sr., North Andover
C - Chris Baldwin, Soph., Springfield Central

Girls Super Team
G - Kayla Burton, Sr., Newton South
G/F - Donnaizha Fountain, Sr., Cambridge
G/F - Olivia Healy, Sr., Reading
F - Morgan Lumb, Sr., North Andover
C - Molly Reagan, Soph., Braintree

Mr. Basketball Finalists
Tyler Nelson, Central Catholic - WINNER
Darien Fernandez, Wareham
Jameilen Jones, BC High
Tyler Gibson, Rockland
Kamari Robinson, Springfield Central

Defensive Player of the Year - Isshiah Coleman, New Mission
Coach of the Year - Sean Connolly, St. John’s Prep
Best Shooter - Tyler Nelson, Central Catholic
Biggest Surprise (Team) – Wachusett
Biggest Surprise (Player) – KayJuan Bynum, Springfield Putnam
Most Underrated (Player) – Sam Dowden, Andover
Most Underrated (Team) – Dorchester

G - Marcus Middleton, Sr., Stoughton
G/F - Nate Anderson, Sr., New Mission
F - Isshiah Coleman, Sr., New Mission
C - Alex Cooper, Sr., Wachusett
C - Drew Healy, Sr., Lowell

Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic
Tim Dufficy, Sr., Whitinsville Christian
Tommy Mobley, Soph., Newton North
Zack Berman, Sr., Wachusett
Jaylen Blakely, Sr., Brockton

Second-half sleepers:

If Connor Merinder is back in time for the tournament, then consider Andover a favorite in Division 1 North. Central Catholic has clearly separated themselves from BC High, St. John’s Prep, Lowell, and Andover so far, but if Andover gets a healthy, productive Merinder back, they will make a run to the Division 1 North final. The Golden Warriors have gone 10-2 thus far without the 6-foot-5 forward, who is considered one of the MIAA’s best in a loaded 2015 class. Sam Dowden has done a great job of leading Andover so far, but getting a healthy Merinder makes them a legitimate contender to be at the DCU Center come March.

Worcester South
South became the first team to finally knock off previously undefeated Wachusett in Central Mass. The Cononels, who with the win moved to 8-2, did so without junior point guard Kasheen Cunningham, one of the area’s best outside shooters. South has the best scorer in Central Mass. in Rod Milton, a strong young big man in Khalil Bryan-Robinson, and a constant threat from outside in Cunningham—with Central Mass. Division 1 as up in the air as it has been in years, look for South to make a run to the Division 1 finals at WPI.


Ryan Kilian
Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Mass. Prep Stars (

Boys Super Team
G - Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic
G - Jameilen Jones, Sr., BC High
G - Malik James, Jr., Brighton
F - Brendan Hill, Soph., Mansfield
C - Chris Baldwin, Soph., Springfield Central

Girls Super Team
G - Morgan Lumb, Sr., North Andover
G/F - Alana Gilmer, Soph., Archbishop Williams
G/F - Donnaizha Fountain, Sr., Cambridge
F - Olivia Healy, Sr., Reading
C - Molly Reagan, Soph., Braintree

Mr. Basketball
Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic

Miss Basketball
Olivia Healy, Sr., Reading

Defensive Player of the Year
Boys: Kendall Hamilton, Sr., Wakefield
Girls: Infiniti Thomas-Waheed, Jr., Newton North

Coach of the Year
Boys: Mike Kasprzak, Melrose
Girls: John McNamara, Pentucket

Best Shooter
Boys: Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic
Girls: Morgan Lumb, Sr., North Andover

Biggest Surprise
Boys: Frantzdy Pierrot, Jr., Melrose
Girls: Molly Bent, Soph., Barnstable

Most Underrated Player
Boys: Doug Gemmell, Sr., Central Catholic
Girls: Tess Noguiera, Sr., Pentucket

Most Underrated Team
Boys: Melrose
Girls: Ipswich

Second Half Sleepers

Boys: Wakefield – They have been hanging in the wings with a few losses and have battled some injuries but with a healthy Bruce Brown and continued improved play of Kendall Hamilton, Mikol Blake-Green and others they should be back in the title hunt by the end of the regular season.

Girls: Westford Academy – Westford Academy has played a very difficult schedule, losing to Bishop Feehan, Wachusett and Billerica by a combined five points. They have wins over Lincoln-Sudbury and Arlington Catholic as resume boosters and can play with any team in the state. Juniors Sam Hyslip and Hannah Hackley lead the Grey Ghosts in most statistical categories.


Rob Sarmiento
Founder and Editor, Beantown Hoops (

First Team
G - Jameilen Jones, Sr., BC High
G - Darien Fernandez, Sr., Wareham
F - Sam Dowden, Sr., Andover
F - Tyler Gibson, Sr., Rockland
F - Doug Gemmell, Sr., Central Catholic

Second Team
G - Jaleel Bell, Sr., Wayland
G - Jaylen Blakely, Sr., Brockton
G - Malik James, Jr., Brighton
G - Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic
F - Isaiah Nelsen, Sr., North Andover

Third Team
G - Giulien Smith, Soph., Catholic Memorial
G - Juwan Gooding, Soph., New Mission
G/F - Bruce Brown, Soph., Wakefield
F - Brendan Hill, Soph., Mansfield
F - Nate Anderson, Sr., New Mission

Girls Super Team
G/F - Donnaizha Fountain, Sr., Cambridge
G/F - Olivia Healy, Sr., Reading
G/F - Molly Bent, Soph., Barnstable
G/F - Morgan Lumb, Sr., North Andover
F - Sarah Hope, Sr., Medway

Mr. Basketball - Jameilen Jones, BC High
Miss Basketball - Olivia Healy, Reading
Coach of the Year - Mark Antonelli, Somerville
Best Shooter - Tyler Nelson, Central Catholic
Biggest Surprise (player) - Molly Bent, Barnstable (Girls)
Biggest Surprise (team) - North Reading
Most Underrated (player) - Jaleel Bell, Wayland
Most Underrated (team) - Melrose

Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic
Sam Dowden, Sr., Andover
Sam Bohmiller, Sr., Franklin
Tommy Mobely, Soph., Newton North
Mike Gelineau, Sr., Waltham

Second Half Sleepers

Boys: Franklin - Well-coached and playing in a tough conference will make them battle ready come playoff time. Plus, they have a player who can make threes in bunches with Bohmiller.

Girls: Arlington Catholic - Seem to always make a run and their style of play is tough to prepare for. They are young in some key positions, but first half of the season experience will show during the playoffs.

Mr. Football Watch: Week 7

October, 15, 2012
Here is the ESPN Boston Mr. Football Watch list for Week 7 of the high school season. As always, stats can be sent to editors Brendan Hall ( and/or Scott Barboza (


Drew Belcher, Jr. QB, Reading
Threw for a pair of touchdown passes in the Rockets' 40-7 win over Lexington.

Vincent Burton, Sr. RB, Blue Hills
After surpassing 4,000 career yards a week ago, Burton joined the 500 career point club on Friday with 251 yards and four touchdowns in the Warriors' win over Southeastern.

Brian Dunlap, Soph. WR, Natick
Got going in a different way in the Red Hawks' 42-23 win over Weymouth on Friday. He had just one catch for 16 yards, but carried the ball five times for 107 yards and a score, and added a 38-yard pick-six in the fourth quarter.

Cam Farnham, Sr. WR/KR, Andover
Returned his second kickoff to the house in the Golden Warriors' 42-14 win over Lawrence, this one for 90 yards, giving him seven total touchdowns and nearly 750 all-purpose yards on the season.

Brendan Flaherty, Sr. RB, Beverly
Ran for 234 yards and two touchdowns in the Panthers' 30-14 win over Masconomet.

Troy Flutie, Jr. QB, Natick
Turned in a menacing night for the Red Hawks in their 42-23 defeat of Weymouth. He was 10-of-14 passing for 171 yards and two scores; on the ground, he carried 22 times for 215 yards and two more scores.

Marshall McCarthy, Sr. LB, Duxbury
Totaled 14 tackles and three sacks in the Dragons' 14-6 win over Pembroke.

Alex Moore, Sr. RB/S, St. John's Prep
Carried eight times for 83 yards and two touchdowns, and added a third touchdown on a 54-yard reception, in a 49-8 win over St. John's of Shrewsbury.

Nick Peabody, Sr. QB, Barnstable
In the Red Raiders' 35-6 win over Dartmouth, was 14 of 29 passing for 241 yards and two touchdowns, and ran in a third score.

C.J. Scarpa, Sr. QB, Andover
Threw for 112 yards and two scores on 4-of-5 passing in limited action in a 42-14 win over Lawrence.

Jonathan Thomas, Jr. RB, St. John's Prep
Ran for 238 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries, including a 68-yard scamper, in the Eagles' 49-8 rout of St. John's (Shrewsbury).

Jakarrie Washington, Sr. ATH, Everett
Carried 12 times for 87 yards and three scores, and added an interception, in the Crimson Tide's 24-7 win over Xaverian.

Quron Wright, Sr. RB, Holy Name
In the Naps' 40-20 win over Milford, carried 19 times for 147 yards and four scores.


Max Athy, Sr. RB/LB, Hollison
Ran for 202 yards and two scores on 14 carries in the Panthers' 49-7 thrashing of Ashland.

Zach Bartak, Sr. QB, Greenfield
He's a quarterback by trade, with nice passing stats (778 yards, 10 TD) but the powerful runner actually leads Western Mass. in rushing (878 yards, 11 TD). Against Mohawk Trail last weekend, he completed 8-of-17 passes for 87 yards and two touchdowns, and added 15 carries for 243 yards and a third score.

Kayjuan Bynum, Sr. QB/LB, Springfield Putnam
Completed 15 of 26 passes for 218 yards and four touchdowns in a 50-8 win over Springfield Cathedral. He currently leads Western Mass. in passing yards (1,209) and leads his team in tackles.

Terrel Correia, Sr. TE, Nantucket
The Whalers tossed a 50-yard Hail Mary pass with time expired, and the 6-foot-7 UMass commit came down with it, for a thrilling 20-14 win over West Bridgewater.

Babila Fonkem, Sr. ATH, Abington
Served a number of roles for the Green Wave in their 40-21 win over Carver, rushing for a touchdown, returning a kick 78 yards for a second score, and making two interceptions on defense.

Tedaro France, Sr. WR, Barnstable
Caught four passes for 128 yards and a score in the Red Raiders' 35-6 defeat of Dartmouth.

Matt Phelan, Sr. QB, Northbridge
In the Rams' 44-6 thrashing of Nipmuc, was 13-of-18 passing for 204 yards and two touchdowns, hauled in a 34-yard touchdown reception, and added 39 yards and a fourth score on the ground on 13 carries.

Spencer Tyler, Jr. QB, Dennis-Yarmouth
Threw for 152 yards and a touchdown, and added 143 yards and two scores on the ground, in the Dolphins' 36-12 thumping of Marshfield.

Mr. Football Watch: Week 6

October, 8, 2012

Drew Belcher, Jr. QB, Reading
Called his own number for the winning touchdown with less than a minute left, as the Rockets rallied past Burlington, 22-15.

Brian Dunlap, Soph. WR, Natick
Caught six passes for 121 yards and two scores in the Red Hawks’ 42-7 rout of Dedham.

Troy Flutie, Jr. QB, Natick
In the Red Hawks’ 42-7 romp of Dedham, completed 12 of 16 passes for four touchdowns, and added 41 yards rushing with a score.

Jon Hurvitz, Sr. RB, Duxbury
Reached the end zone twice, the second time putting the Dragons ahead for good, in a 20-16 thriller over Xaverian.

Marshall McCarthy, Sr. LB, Duxbury
Recorded 13 tackles and two sacks, both for forced fumbles, in the Dragons’ 20-16 win over Xaverian.

Alex Moore, Sr. RB, St. John’s Prep
Racked up over 200 yards from scrimmage and all three of the Eagles’ scores in a 20-7 win over Bridgewater-Raynham, rushing for 159 yards and two TDs, and three catches for 73 yards and a third score.

Nick Peabody, Sr. QB, Barnstable
Threw for three touchdowns in the Red Raiders’ 19-14 win over New Bedford, bringing his season total to 18 touchdown passes.

C.J. Scarpa, Sr. QB, Andover
In the Golden Warriors’ wild 51-42 win over Tewksbury, completed 17 of 24 passes for 382 yards and three touchdowns.

Jakarrie Washington, Sr. WR, Everett
Scored five times for the Crimson Tide (three rushing, two receiving) as they avoided a scare against Cambridge, 51-30.

Quron Wright, Sr. RB, Holy Name
Had his lowest total of the season in a 38-20 loss to Doherty, but still went over 100 yards (18 carries, 105 yards, 2 TD) and crossed the 1,000-yard barrier. He needs 370 yards to break the school’s all-time rushing yardage record.


Andrew Benson, Sr. QB, East Bridgewater
In the Vikings’ 39-26 win over Hull, carried 17 times for 296 yards and four touchdowns, and added a 20-yard touchdown through the air.

Chance Brady, Jr. RB, Haverhill
Ran for 204 yards and two scores in the Hillies’ 30-23 thriller over Chelmsford.

Jaleel Brown, Jr. RB, Springfield Putnam
With feature back Wayne Lowery leaving the game with an ankle injury, Brown came through with 165 yards rushing and three scores to help the Beavers in a 40-19 win over Chicopee Comp.

Kayjuan Bynum, Sr. QB/LB, Springfield Putnam
Racked up 299 passing yards and three touchdowns, to go along with nine tackles, in the Beavers’ 40-19 win over Chicopee Comp. Through five games, Bynum leads the team in tackles (46) and forced fumbles (four).

Andrew Deloury, Sr. WR, Andover
Caught seven passes for a ridiculous 226 yards and three scores in the Golden Warriors’ 51-42 win over Tewksbury.

Brendan Flaherty, Sr. RB, Beverly
Became the school's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns with his 47th score in a 49-0 blanking of Peabody

David Maaghul, Jr. QB, Cambridge
Had an impressive showing in the Falcons’ 51-30 loss to Everett, throwing for 274 yards and four touchdowns. On the season, he already has over 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns passes.

Justin Mount, Sr. ATH, Westford
In the Grey Ghosts’ 42-7 win over Newton South, carried three times for 60 yards and two scores, and added 24 receiving yards.

Matt Phelan, Sr. QB, Northbridge
In the Rams’ 28-21 win over Grafton, completed 9-of-17 passes for 176 yards and three touchdowns, and added 79 yards rushing on 16 carries.

Jimmy Sullivan, Jr. QB, Nauset
In the Warriors’ 28-20 win over Scituate, completed all five of his pass attempts for 121 yards and two scores, and added 88 yards rushing.

Juwan Williams, Sr. ATH, Springfield Central
Filled in marvelously for his cousin at quarterback, in the Golden Eagles’ 40-7 rout of East Longmeadow. Through the air, he was 4-of-5 passing with 114 yards and two touchdowns; on the ground, he carried 10 times for 94 yards and two more scores.

Recap: No. 14 Central 21, No. 23 Putnam 8

September, 8, 2012
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -– They call him ‘Honey Badger’ because of his knack to make big plays when it matters the most. And on Friday night, that’s exactly what he did.

Unlike LSU’s version, Springfield Central’s DaQuon Clemons isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The junior running back and defensive back made a number of big plays to propel his team to a huge season-opening victory over intra-city rival Springfield Putnam at Burte Field, but none bigger than the one he made in the fourth quarter.

With the Golden Eagles trailing 8-6 early in the fourth quarter, the Beavers faced 3rd and 7 on their own 42 yard line. Putnam quarterback Kayjuan Bynum then dropped back in the pocket and fired a pass well short of his intended receiver. That’s when Clemons made the play of the night.

The pass found Clemons for the easy interception, but the defensive back wasn’t finished. He looked up and saw plenty of open field. With blockers helping him along the way, Clemons raced downfield, trucked a Putnam player to the ground and jogged in to paydirt to give his team a lead they would never relinquish. Central went on to prevail, 21-8.

“DaQuon Clemons is a playmaker,” Central head coach Valdamar Brower said. “This was his first game that he actually started, so hopefully he can keep it going. Hopefully he makes that contagious and just likes to make plays. That would be great for us.

“He’s the good ‘Honey Badger.’”

Dynamic backfield emerges: It’s not easy replacing a 2,000-yard rusher in any backfield. Just ask Central, which was forced to move on from the Sacoy Malone era on Friday night.

Central, however, was well-prepared, and tried its best to replicate his outstanding production from a year ago. Both Clemons and senior Aaron Owens carried the load against Putnam and were very effective.

Clemons opened up the scoring in the first quarter with an impressive run. The junior found a seam on the left side, broke a couple of tackles and dove at the pylon, getting just enough of the ball over the goal line to give Central a 6-0 lead.

But while the play was big and certainly gave the Golden Eagles a boost, it was really the only rush in the first half that netted a lot of yardage as the Beavers snuffed out a number of runs in the Central backfield. Brower acknowledged it took some fine-tuning at halftime in order to put together a big second half, and specifically, fourth quarter.

“I have to thank Coach Williams and the hogs,” Brower said. “Coach Williams, the offensive line coach, the hogs are the offensive linemen. Some things didn’t happen right in the first half. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot a couple times, but they stuck with it and kept grinding.”

They especially stuck with it late in the fourth quarter. On the next play after the interception returned for the touchdown, Central forced a fumble and recovered to give itself the ball back at around midfield.

That’s when Owens went to work. Junior quarterback Cody Williams continued to feed the rock to his 5-foot-9, 195-pound back, who made the most of his opportunities, netting positive yardage and bowling over Putnam defenders play after play. His 13-yard touchdown with just minutes remaining officially sealed the deal on an impressive victory.

Penalties, mistakes haunt Putnam: As could be expected in an opening game, both teams played extremely sloppy football, and both teams made plenty of mistakes that they wouldn’t normally make near the end of the season.

But unfortunately for the Beavers, who were unable to take advantage from their dominance in time possession, their mistakes were ultimately the costing factor in a forgettable opening night loss.

Putnam was whistled for nine penalties, including five false starts on Friday night. One of those false starts was called in spite of Bynum’s touchdown pass to Tavis Frazer that gave the Beavers the lead going into halftime, but it wasn’t enough.

A messy game, which included a play in which Bynum tossed it back to junior Wayne Lowery, who then made an ill-advised throw that resulted in a 54-yard interception return for Central, gave the Golden Eagles a short field time and time again. And Central did a good job in not wasting those opportunities.

“We just kept executing, kept fighting,” Brower said. “The kids had the fire in their eyes the whole game.”

Central moves on to Everett: Last year in the season-opener, Central fell short to its intra-city rivals, which set up a meeting with top-ranked Everett, which also resulted in a loss.

While the Golden Eagles did end up finding a way to reach the Division 1 West Super Bowl despite starting 0-2, they’ll be happy to have a win under their belt going into their rematch with No. 1 Everett next week.

Williams knows his team needs to play better if they’re going to knock off the top-ranked team in the state next week.

“We’re definitely not at our best,” he said. “We obviously need to get better on defense. Our defense was on the field way too long. But we’re going to take care of it in practice and we’re going to be ready for Everett come Friday.

ESPN Boston Week 1 football picks

September, 6, 2012
The Skinny: Leominster has never beaten the Crimson Tide since this series began in 2002, but the Blue Devils have usually been a tough out. In 2009, the teams played to a 14-6 Tide win. The last two meetings, the Blue Devils got under the Tide’s skin early before Everett’s talent took over. But Leominster is brimming with excitement, its proud football culture awakened again following their first Super Bowl championship in a decade last fall. Everett, meanwhile, seems to be settled at every position but quarterback – and with a line averaging over 315 pounds, that will suffice. If Leominster is to pull off the upset, they’ll have to a find a way to contain electric wideouts Jakarrie Washington and Jalen Felix.

Scott Barboza: Leominster turns it into a game, but still too many horses in the stable for Everett despite the questions. Everett, 27-20.

Brendan Hall: It’s going to be a majestic crowd at Doyle, and some readers will undoubtedly conclude I’m biased towards Leominster because their defensive coordinator coached me 10 years ago at Oakmont. But I’m not. Even I’m not foolish enough to pick against the Tide in this one. Everett, 24-13.

The Skinny: Injuries were an overarching theme of the preseason and both of these teams were affected. Bad news for BC High is Luke Catarius is out with a hairline ankle fracture, but Brockton should have Micah Morel in the lineup for their Week 1 challenge. We’ll get a look at the reigning Div. 1 Super Bowl champions new-look offense with Brendan Craven under center and Brandon Owens in the backfield while the Boxers will be sporting a Georgia Tech-inspired scheme with Auggie Roberts back at quarterback.

Barboza: A Jackson Bockhurst field goal will be the difference. BC High, 17-14.

Hall: Things unraveled for Brockton pretty quickly in last year’s meeting in Dorchester. The Boxers are fighting an uphill battle again this year, but at least it will be respectable. BC High, 28-14.

The Skinny: With the schools sitting less than a mile from each other along Roosevelt Ave., the season-opening battle between these rival schools has become must-see as of late. Putnam won this contest last season, kick-starting an historic 2011 season that ended with their fifth Super Bowl title in eight seasons. Central will be looking for revenge, but it’s not easy replacing 2,000-yard rusher in Sacoy Malone. Putnam, meanwhile, turns to a plethora of new faces to replace record-setting running back Melquawn Pinkney, including quarterback Kayjuan Bynum and running back Wayne Lowery.

Barboza: I came away very impressed from talking to Central QB Cody Williams last year at Gillette. He blossoms into the real deal this year. Central, 21-16.

Hall: I like the direction Central is headed in over the long run, but Putnam is still Roosevelt Ave (See what I did there?). Putnam, 7-6.

The Skinny: Big Red will have its hands full opening night with their challenger from just across the state line. The Rams feature a high-octane attack led by reigning Gatorade Player of the Year running back Josh Morris and senior quarterback Anthony Francis. The key to this one will be in the trenches where North’s offensive line led by Eric Beckwith and Sean Peters could have the advantage.

Barboza: This Rams team is very talented, but North holds on – just barely. North, 28-26.

Hall: Josh Morris and Co. have been dying for that elusive win over a Massachusetts squad, and I think they finally get it here. La Salle, 17-13.

The Skinny: Self-admittedly, we don’t know as much about Dover as we do KP, but we can be some what certain what the Warriors will be showing them on defense. And, of course, that’s a variety of different looks and blitz and coverage schemes. Dover, which sits just outside of ESPN Boston correspondent Marc Thaler’s Granite State Top 10 poll, will also have to contend with KP quarterback John Dillon, who will enjoy a greater role directing the offense in his second year as starter.

Barboza: KP’s “Psycho” package gives Hockomock League teams fits, nevermind an offense that hasn’t seen it. KP, 28-8.

Hall: Knowing little about Dover outside of what our loyal New Hampshire correspondents tell us, I’m going to trust their convictions on this one and say it will be close. But I’m still going with the team closer to Boston. KP, 20-10.

The Skinny: The Middies have been a bit of a bugaboo for St. John's Prep in recent years and some around Danvers feel Dracut has simply posed a matchup problem for the Eagles with its spread attack. Good news for Prep is that their secondary, with Lucas Bavaro, Gerry Kahari, Alex Moore and Johnny Thomas, has matured into a strength of the team. Dracut senior linebacker Zach Bassett could be the key to the game, trying to slow down Prep's running attack.

Barboza: Looking for a defensive struggle here. Prep, 14-7.

Hall: Classic trap game for The Prep, against a classic trap opponent that’s had their number in recent years. Dracut, 10-6.

The Skinny: North Andover's season starts with a Walsh at quarterback, but of another name. Brendan Walsh's younger brother Casey takes the helm of the Scarlet Knights' offense. It also marks North Andover's first Merrimack Valley Conference game. The Golden Warriors will counter with a high-flying attack that impressed during this summer's Northeast 7v7 passing tournament. Quarterback C.J. Scarpa has plenty of targets including Cam Farnham and Will Heikkinen.

Hall: I know it’s a familiar rival that’s been on the schedule for years, but North Andover is still in for a whole new ball game. And since it’s now officially an MVC game, there will be no less than 172 points scored and 1,000 yards of offense. Andover, 35-30.

Barboza: Ditto. Andover, 31-20.

The Skinny: Last year at this time, Catholic Memorial entered Marshfield’s stadium with plenty of hype, behind three Division 1 FBS commits and a No. 4 preseason ranking in’s poll. They promptly got shut out by the Rams, 24-0, fueling their ensuing seven-game win streak. The Knights will no doubt be looking to exact revenge, and they’ll look to Preseason All-State defensive end Peter Ngobidi to stifle the Rams’ vaunted run game.

Barboza: Ngobidi is a dominant force and asserts his will here. CM, 7-0.

Hall: The Knights got embarrassed last year in Marsh Vegas, and I expect them to exact revenge here. CM, 16-13.

The Skinny: For all of Holy Name’s success under Mike Pucko, the Naps have never beaten St. John’s during his tenure. Could that change on Saturday? Holy Name turns to one of the state’s most elusive scatbacks in Quron Wright, and will hope for a big day. St. John’s has already hit the injury bug, with incumbent QB Connor Kurtz (knee) out for the season, but RB Shadrach Abrokwah is a nice fit for their hurry-up scheme, and is poised for a breakout senior season.

Hall: If the Naps are ever to beat St. John’s, this has to be the year. Holy Name, 9-8.

Barboza: Hate to do this to the Naps, sorry. St. John's, 22-21.

The Skinny: B-R is itching to get over the hump after dropping its season-opener to the Dragons the past two seasons. The Trojans have some terrific talent between the tackles, led by Joey MacInnis, to pave for a big afternoon for junior tailback Arcel Armstead. Duxbury graduated one of its most talented classes ever from the 2011 Super Bowl champion squad, but still has plenty of talent left over to keep the state’s longest active win streak (26) going. Look for guard Rob Kosharek, linebacker Marshall McCarthy and running back Jon Hurvitz to have big days.

Barboza: Now that Dan Buron's nephew Andrew (former Duxbury standout) has graduated, expect the Trojans to get back to their winning ways. B-R, 14-10.

Hall: After graduating one of the program’s most talented classes ever, Marshall the Missile gets the full spotlight. And he usually gives the fans their money’s worth. Duxbury, 14-10.

The Skinny: C-C heads into its non-league tilt with the heavy NEC/CAL Tier 2 favorite already limping, losing its star running back Tim Badgley (ACL tear) for the season. If the Patriots are to repeat last year’s Super Bowl championship success, sophomore quarterback Will Blumenberg will have to grow up quickly. Meanwhile, Beverly features one of the North Shore’s most feared rushing attacks with the three-pronged approach of Kenny Pierce, Brendan Flaherty and Dom Abate.

Barboza: ETA on when the Kenny Pierce hashtag gets rolling again? We're looking at you James Coffey. Beverly, 27-14.

Hall: I’m excited to see what Will Blumenberg can do for the Patriots, but the Panthers just have too much in the tank to be stopped in this one. Beverly, 28-7.

New faces, same old No. 23 Putnam

August, 22, 2012
How do you move on from a legendary head coach like Lou Malvezzi, and keep the Putnam machine rolling?

You go internal and promote an enthusiastic, energetic mind like William Watson, who’s in his first head job after serving in various coordinator positions under Malvezzi the previous 13 seasons.

And how do you replace 2,889 rushing yards and 43 touchdowns?

[+] EnlargePutnam Football
Brendan Hall/ESPN BostonPutnam's (L to R) Tavis Frazier, Rishawn Harris, Wayne Lowery and Kayjuan Bynum will look to lead the Beavers to their fourth Western Mass. Super Bowl in six seasons.
You don’t. You simply smile, and you move on to the next one.

Melquawn Pinkney put Putnam football on the map last fall with his mind-boggling rushing totals, in the process breaking the two most sacred state single-season rushing records held by one of the greatest running backs ever in Massachusetts high school history, Holyoke’s Cedric Washington. Five times the elusive Pinkney went over 250 yards; that included a record 421 against Agawam, and 341 in the Beavers’ 48-6 win over rival Commerce for the Division 2 Western Mass. Super Bowl title, their third championship in five seasons.

Dynamic junior Wayne Lowery is the favorite to take the reigns as Putnam’s lead back this year, and he demonstrates some of the same one-cut, fleet-footed instincts of Pinkney last year, and Lavaughnte Love before him. But Watson notes that junior Milton Crawford will be right on his tail pushing for the job -– just as Pinkney’s magical season nearly never was, on account of some competition.

“A lot of people don’t know that Melquawn was in a dogfight last year at running back,” Watson said. “Jordan Almore had it, but he got hurt the first game after five carries, 36 yards and a touchdown. They were going back and forth at the position.”

Still, it’s hard to ignore the way the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Lowery’s flashes his speed. He showcases some of that speed at camps this summer, taking home hardware in the inaugural Super 7 Showcase in Springfield last month. While a little more powerful than Pinkney, Watson thinks Lowery has similar vision.

“Wayne seems to have those instincts,” Watson said. “Read those holes and make the right decision. He’s not dancing out there. He makes the cut, trusts it and hits the hole full-speed. We haven’t been able to put the pads on yet…I know he has the speed, he’s a fast kid, and I know he has the power because of what he does in the weight room. The tools are there.”

In terms of work ethic, Lowery won over his teammates this offseason with his dedication and no-nonsense demeanor.

“He doesn’t flex on the field,” said senior wide receiver Rishawn Harris. “He pushes everybody else, he doesn’t like walking around, telling everyone about himself, he listens as much as possible.

“He has a lot of confidence, that’s good though, [but] he's very humble also. He’s not cocky, he doesn’t go around bragging about his stats, he just likes to get on field get it done.”

Elsewhere in the backfield, senior Kayjuan Bynum moves from tight end to quarterback, and has put on muscle to his 6-foot-2 frame over the offseason, bulking up to 210 pounds from 190. Bynum took a greater focus on leg power in the offseason, harnessed his speed during spring track, and won’t be afraid to swing his newer, bigger frame around.

“There’s a lot less contact in practice,” he says of the transition. “You have to kind of know everyone a little more. As a tight end, you’re worried about blocking assignments, now you’ve got to worry about what everyone on the defense will do.”

As a dual-threat quarterback, Watson likes the options Bynum presents.

“He’s a good athlete. I expect him to run well,” Watson said. “He’s a good size kid. If he can get to the second level he’s not gonna be an easy task, at his size, to bring down. He’s got good size and he’s physical, he’s tough. He knows how to protect the football, make sure not to turn it over. We will ask for a lot of things out of him in the run game as well.”

2011: 12-1, won Western Mass. Division 2 Super Bowl
Coach: William Watson (First year)
Key Returnees: Kayjuan Bynum, Sr. QB/LB 6-2, 210 lbs.; Rishawn Harris, Sr. WR/DB, 5-10, 175 lbs.; Tavis Frazier, Sr. WR/S, 5-9, 170 lbs.; Wayne Lowery, Jr. RB/DB, 5-9, 175 lbs.; Jonathan Burris, Sr. OL/DL, 6-1, 365; Lincoln Edwards, Sr. OL/DL, 5-11, 285
Strengths: Skill positions, team speed, size.
Weaknesses: Inexperience.
Outlook: Watson inherits a slew of fresh faces that will have to grow up fast if they are to defend their D2 WMass title. With Bynum moving to quarterback from tight end, the Beavers have a true dual-threat quarterback that can allow for a more balanced offensive attack. Expect Bynum, who also plays linebacker, to throw his weight around. The most talented group may be the secondary, where Lowery is locked into one cornerback spot and the trio of Jaleel Brown, Mecca Gonzalez and Eddy White will battle for the other one. Frazier and Harris will assume the safety spots, flexing between the free and strong positions as the Beavers like to play two-high. And if the target isn’t already on their back, the Beavers practice in the same park as archrival Springfield Central. The two schools are less than a mile apart, and they annually open up the season against one another. Putnam won last season’s contest to kick-start their Super Bowl run.

WMass stars shine at Super 7 Showcase

July, 21, 2012
Cody WilliamsBen Larsen for ESPNBoston.comSpringfield Central junior quarterback Cody Williams was named the top offensive player at the Super 7 Showcase in Wilbraham.
WILBRAHAM -- The knock on Western Massachusetts football is that, despite the number of athletes in and around Springfield, they typically don’t get to experience the in-season matchups that warrant serious looks from NCAA Division I football programs.

That may change following the region’s terrific showing at the Super 7 Showcase Saturday, held by Elite Athlete Development at Wilbraham & Monson Academy.

Featuring many top-level recruits from Connecticut and New York, the top players from the Springfield area had the opportunity to compete against competition that’s on another level compared to what they’ll see during the high school football season. A quick glimpse at the post-camp awards will prove that they certainly didn’t waste the opportunity.

In fact, some of the names likely to make headlines this fall, dominated the camp and showed they can play with other top northeast recruits.

Springfiel Central’s Aaron Owens took home the camp’s Most Valuable Player Award. The incoming senior, who was used in various capacities for the Golden Eagles last season, showed an ability to stay with the camp’s receiving corps, which included Manchester (Conn.) tight end Andrew Isaacs and Tottenville (NY) wide receiver Malique Belfort --- who combine to boast 12 Division I offers.

Owens was also in perfect timing with Central quarterback Cody Williams, who took home hardware as the showcase’s Top Offensive Player.

All told in addition to Owens’ and Williams’ honors, Springfield players garnered four top positional awards. Central’s Shawn Lockett won top offensive lineman while Sha’ki Holines of Commerce took home the top defensive lineman award. Commerce’s Hasan Graham was the No. 1 linebacker and Rishawn Harris of Putnam won the event’s top defensive back award.

Holines made news earlier this summer with a verbal commitment to UMass. Given his showings at camps similar to the Super 7 Showcase, he’s bound to get even more interest and offers leading up to signing day.

UConn is the latest school to offer the 6-foot-3, 265-pound defensive lineman/linebacker.

He received the camp’s top defensive lineman award for his ability to dominate the 1-on-1 positional drills.

Holines has also received attention from the University of Maine.
Holines was instrumental in the Red Raiders’ turnaround and run to the Division II Western Mass. Super Bowl last season. He recorded 132 tackles with six sacks and four fumbles recovered.

Two of the more talked-about players from the Super 7 Showcase were from the Nutmeg State.

Arkeel Newsome, an incoming junior at Ansonia, took home the top running back award. Given his 2011 accomplishments, it’s easy to see why.

The shifty back ran for an eye-popping 3,763 yards and scored 62 touchdowns as Ansonia went 14-0 en route to the Class M state title.

Newsome already has offers from UConn and UMass and that list is likely to grow.

Isaiah Wright, who’ll be just a sophomore this fall at Holy Cross in Waterbury, made a number of great plays at the wide receiver position.

Two players from Staten Island were as impressive as any duo at the Super 7 Showcase.

Belfort, the 6-foot-4, 170-pounder from Tottenville, took home the camp’s top wide receiver honor. He was equally effective on deep balls as he was going across the middle. His unique combination of height and speed made it hard for defenders all day long.

Belfort is mulling offers from numerous BCS schools, including Arizona State, Boston College, UConn, Illinois, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Virginia.

Naby Sylla hails from nearby Port Richmond High School and was equally impressive on the defensive side of the ball. The 5-foot-8 cornerback earned the camp’s top defensive player award and showed great speed and instincts in one-on-one drills and the 7-on-7 portion of the event.

Sylla has interest from UConn, West Virginia, Albany and Syracuse.

The camp awarded numerous honors following the camp. The complete list is as follows:

Camp MVP: Aaron Owens RB/DB, Central (MA)
Top Offensive Player: Cody Williams QB, Cental (MA)
Top Defensive Player: Naby Sylla CB, Port Richmond (NY)

Offensive Line
2nd Place: Ismael Figueroa, Springfield Central (MA)
1st Place: Shawn Lockett, Springfield Central (MA)

Defensive Line
2nd Place: George Blake, East Longmeadow (MA)
1st Place: Sha’ki Holines, Commerce (MA)

Tight End
2nd Place: Raishawn Finney, Ansonia (CT)
1st Place: Andrew Isaacs, Manchester (CT)

3rd Place: Blake Rise, Stafford (CT)
2nd Place: Kayjuan Bynum, Putnam (MA)
1st Place: JaQuan McKnight, Ansonia (CT)

Wide Receiver
5th Place: Mecca Gonzalez, Putnam (MA)
4th Place: Isaiah Wright, Holy Cross (CT)
3rd Place: Tavis Frasier, Putnam (MA)
2nd Place: Sam Blake, East Longmeadow (CT)
1st Place: Malique Belfort, Tottenhill (NY)

Running back
2nd Place: Wayne Lowery, Putnam (MA)
1st Place: Arkeel Newsome, Ansonia (CT)

2nd Place: Kyle Soja, Chicopee Comp (MA)
1st Place: Hasan Graham, Commerce (MA)

Defensive Back
3rd Place: Devontae Sewell, Commerce (MA)
2nd Place: Terrell Huff, Windsor (CT)
1st Place: Rishawn Harris, Putnam (MA)