Boston High School: Obi Obiora

D1 South: Brookline 84, Taunton 82 (2OT)

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
10:38
PM ET
TAUNTON, Mass. -– This time, Brookline got it right.

After losing their last regular-season game, 79-76 to Franklin in double overtime on February 17, the 11th-seeded Warriors did an about-face and outlasted sixth-seeded Taunton, 84-82, in double overtime Wednesday night in an MIAA Division I South first-round game.

“It’s funny because our last game was double overtime and we lost to Franklin,” Brookline coach Luke Day said. “So it’s nice to get this win here in even more important circumstances.

“We’ve had our ups and downs. But we’re pretty good when we play and we’ve got a chance going forward.”

Taunton (17-5) had a chance to “go forward” near the end of regulation.

Corey Green (17 points) gave Taunton a 65-62 lead with 17.1 seconds left in regulation. But Brookline (14-8) tied it when Elijah Rogers (29 points) converted a three-point play with 4.9 seconds left.

Brookline’s Tyler Patterson insured that the game with go to at least one extra session when, on the ensuing inbounds play, he stripped the ball from Taunton’s Gerald Cortijo (32 points).

Then, in the first extra session, Brookline’s Brett Levey converted one-of-two free throws to give his team a 75-72 lead with 7.5 seconds left. But Taunton’s Truly Kenku buried a 3-point shot at the buzzer to send the game into a second session.

After the teams fought through a trio of ties, the last at 82-82 on a pair of free throws by Obi Obiora (19 points), Brookline went ahead 84-82 on a driving layup by Rogers.

But Obiora left the proverbial door open when he missed both ends of a two-shot foul with 19.4 seconds left.

That left the Tigers with plenty of time to force a third OT. But it didn’t happen because Green’s potential game-tying shot was off-target as the final buzzer sounded.

Tough in the clutch: “We made some plays down the stretch,” Day said. “We were the one that was down going into the fourth quarter (Taunton led 51-48 after three periods). We had to make the comeback and push the game into overtime, originally.

“There was an element of survival but I was pretty pleased with some of the plays we made, also.”

Rogers made enough big plays to fill the Warriors’ gym.

Commencing with his three-point play that forced the first OT, the senior guard reeled off 12 consecutive Brookline points – including another three-point play that gave the Warriors a 74-71 lead with 1:29 left in that extra session.

“All game long, especially down the stretch, it’s either Rogers or Obi,” Day said. “We have other guys who can score. But it’s no secret where our bread is buttered. Both of those guys came up big tonight and that’s why we got the win.”

Flying above the radar: While Rogers and Obiora tend to grab the bulk of the headlines for Brookline, the same can’t be said about Jack Moyer.

Moyer, a junior guard, wedged his way into the headline for this game by scoring 14 points including 11 in the last 4:10 of the first half which ended with Brookline leading 39-30.

During this run, Moyer buried two of his overall 3-point shots. He also nailed another trey with 1:40 left in regulation that gave Brookline a 61-60 lead.

“We have a lot of good players and Jack’s one of them,” Day said. “He’s gotten better and better and has gotten more and more confident as the season’s gone on. He’s gone on stretches like that before.

“We were over at Newton North and he went on a stretch like that. He made a huge shot last week against Newton North. He’s been really, really effective for us all year.”

Brookline also received eight points from Patterson plus a 3-point basket from Levey which helped the Warriors grab an early lead.

“There have been several guys that have played roles for us over the course of the year,” Day said. “I’ve said before that Obi and Elijah is kind of where our bread is buttered. But that does not mean we’re a two-man show at all.”

Good point.

Comcast: Brookline, Franklin advance to boys final

February, 16, 2014
Feb 16
10:22
PM ET
WELLESLEY, Mass. -– Miles Morris scored just one point for the Brookline boys basketball team on Sunday afternoon in the first round of the IAABO Board 27 Comcast Classic, but no one played a bigger role for the Warriors as they cruised past Newton North, 50-40, to advance to Monday’s title game against Franklin.

The senior guard spent the game causing fits for Newton North star Tommy Mobley, limiting the explosive scorer to just 14 points.

“That’s not an easy thing to do because Mobley’s a tough cover,” said Brookline point guard Elijah Rogers. “He can shoot it and he can get to the line well. When we have Miles playing like that on defense, that’s when we’re at our best because everyone feeds off his energy.”

Added Brookline coach Luke Day: “We haven’t really changed the game plan against Tommy in three games. We basically put Miles on him, and we have a few other guys we sub occasionally. We just told him to keep hounding him. We’ve changed a few things we do on screens and we made one adjustment from the last game but nothing major.

"The other night, Mobley hit two or three 3’s right in Miles’ face, and tonight he didn’t make those. It’s a really slim difference in the game.”

Throughout the night, Brookline’s defenders limited the open looks for the high-powered Tigers. A team that traditionally piles up points from beyond the 3-point line, North connected on just four 3’s in the loss.

“It starts with Miles, but it really was a complete team effort,” said Day. “It wasn’t our best offensive night, but the defense was great tonight.”

With Morris handling Mobley and the impressive defensive effort they faced all over the floor, the Tigers weren’t able to mount much of an attack on the offensive end. Jack Boucher (10 points) was the only other North player with more than four points in the loss.

“We played a little bit tentative,” said North coach Paul Connolly. “I wasn’t happy with our effort happy in terms of our energy and in terms of how we played today. We held them to 50 points, I can live with that. We can be a pretty good defensive team. Teams try to take away Tommy, and they did it, and that was pretty much the game.”

Brookline’s offense was bottled up most of the game, but Elijah Rogers finally got into rhythm in the fourth, scoring eight of his game-high 17 points to put the game away in the rubber match for these two Bay State rivals.

The Warriors also got seven points, eight rebounds and six blocks from big man Obi Obiora and eight points and five rebounds from forward Tyler Patterson.

Foul play slows pace as Franklin claws past Belmont: As the clock clicked under seven minutes remaining in the other boys game, Belmont center Adam Kleckner fouled out of the game, and Franklin took advantage. With Kleckner out, the Panthers went on an 11-0 run and earned a 61-50 win to advance to the championship game.

That wasn’t the first instance in which a foul changed how things were played on the court, as 48 fouls were called in all during the contest. Both teams reached the double bonus in both halves, and 53 free throws were taken before the final horn sounded.

“Both offensively and defensively, it can be kind of hard to get into a flow with that many fouls,” said Franklin coach Dean O’Connor. “I’m not complaining, both teams just had to adjust. The thing is, you have to be able to play to however the game is being officiated. It didn’t have any impact on winning and losing, it just affected how we both had to play though. There wasn’t a lot of flow to this game, but we committed some very dumb fouls away from the basket that contributed to it.”

One of the only players seemingly not affected by the slow pace of play was Panthers senior captain Chris Rodgers. He poured in a game-high 21 points to go with six rebounds and four steals.

“He’s our best player and that’s kind of what he does,” said O’Connor. He’s great in the open floor and very tough to guard. He’s long for his height, so on the boards and getting to the rim, he can elevate over people.”

The Panthers (15-5) also got 11 points and eight rebounds from Pat O’Reilly and 10 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks from Marcus Giese in the win.

Matt Kerans paced the Marauders with 16 points and five rebounds, Kleckner finished with 11 points and Cole Bartels chipped in with nine points for Belmont, which takes on Newton North in the consolation game to kick off action on Monday.

Recap: No. 5 Newton North 68, Brookline 62

February, 8, 2014
Feb 8
1:11
AM ET
NEWTON, Mass.- Tommy Mobley was doing Tommy Mobley things Friday against Brookline, it just took him until the second half to start heating up.

The junior sharpshooter, known for his ability to score points in bunches, particularly from long range, was held to five points in the first half. Brookline’s defense made it a point of emphasis, like most teams do, to make life difficult for him as he tried to come off screens and set up for shots on the perimeter.

He exploded with 21 more points in the second half to help No. 5 Newton North come away with a 68-62 victory over rival Brookline.

“I don’t think I was getting more open looks in the second half, I think they were just falling in the second half,” Mobley said. “I think a lot of that is just mental, and it was the confidence we were getting from the defensive end from the team.”

Brookline (10-7) senior Miles Morris (6 points) drew the defensive assignment on Mobley for most of the game. When North (15-1) had the ball in the halfcourt, it attempted to set multiple screens to get its shooters the ball in space for potential open looks at the basket. Morris used his body well to make Mobley fight to get open and not allow him a free release on the wing.

“Tommy struggled a little in the first half, but he gets everyone’s attention,” said Newton North coach Paul Connolly. “Sometimes he tries to do too much, and we try to work with him on letting the game come to him. In the second half, he did that more. He let the game come to him, instead of going and getting it and trying to do this and trying to do that. If he lets it come to him, and he reads those screens, he can really shoot it.”

Brookline took a 30-25 lead into halftime. With 4:30 to go in the third, Mobley hit one of his five three-pointers to tie the game at 37. On the next Newton North possession, he got free for another long-range shot, this time to give his team the lead.

Brookline did not go away quietly however. It regained the lead and went into the fourth up three points. It held the lead for much of the quarter until Jack Boucher (15 points) hit a short jump shot to put North ahead.

As the clock wound down, Brookline was forced to foul to stop the clock. North continued to find ways to inbound the ball to Mobley, who was almost automatic from the free throw line. He was 9-of-10 on free throws in the second half and 11-of-12 for the game.

“We wanted to put our best athletes on the floor to defend him,” said Brookline coach Luke Day. “We wanted our kids to work their butts off and have him work his butt off to score. We did, and he did. He didn’t have a lot of wide open three’s tonight. He hit a couple that were like, ridiculous in terms of where we were defensively. You have to hand it to him, the kid is a great player He deserves all the success he has had, because he’s earned it.”

Tall Order: Brookline 6-foot-6 senior Obi Obiora is a difficult matchup for most teams in the state because both his height and skill in the post make him difficult to defend for most other bigs. Friday was no different. North’s Ezekial Fransisco was tasked with trying to outmuscle the Brookline big, but he still came away with 16 points and 12 rebounds.

On two occasions, Obiora was defending Fransisco in the post. As Fransisco turned to shoot the ball, Obiora’s arm was up to try to block the shot. While he did not make contact with the ball, his mere presence forced Frasisco to release the shot at a higher trajectory than he wanted to, which left the shot short of the net.

“Obi gave us the same game effort that he has given us all year long,” said Brookline coach Luke Day. “He works his tail off down there and is a real presence on both ends of the floor. I thought tonight, with Tyler Patterson being in foul trouble, we had to pull him out all the time so we never really got any rhythm with those two. When Tyler is playing well, it adds to what we can do in the post and it adds to Obi’s game. We could never really get anything going with them, so that was a really big component for us to miss.”

Even though Obiora finished the game with a double-double, Connolly was satisfied overall with the way his team defended in the post.

“He’s going to get his because he’s a big, strong presence,” he said. “He really presents himself on the interior. I was happy with what our guys did. With what they have in him, he really presents a great target and he really presents himself well. Our guys battled and took away passing angles. It didn’t matter who was guarding him or how we were guarding him, our guys really battled.”

Hard Feelings: This game was more than simply an early February tilt between two Bay State Conference teams. This is a bitter rivalry across all the schools’ sports, so each team knew to expect something extra out of the opponent Friday. Brookline also handed Newton North its only loss so far this season: 60-48 back on Jan., 10 so this was a revenge game for the Tigers.

“This is a real rivalry game,” said Connolly. “This is Andover-Central Catholic of this area, this is Franklin-Mansfield of the Hockomock. In the Bay State Conference, it’s Brookline-Newton North.”

The hostilities were not simply felt on the basketball court. School officials from both schools were on hand along the baseline to make sure each fan base did not get out of line. Upon exiting the gymnasium after the game, each student section was instructed to leave through its own exit on opposite corners of the gym to make sure neither interacted with the other.

“This is an ancient rivalry,” said Mobley. “Every year on Thanksgiving we play their football team. For a while now, probably 30-40 years, the basketball game has had the same exact hype, same rivalry. These are really tough games. We play better basketball against Brookline and Brookline plays better basketball against us. It’s a high level of play. I always look forward to these games, it’s a lot of fun.”

Roundtable: Midseason Boys Hoop All-State

January, 25, 2014
Jan 25
1:01
AM ET
Brendan C. Hall
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor


FIRST TEAM

G – Tyler Nelson, Sr., Central Catholic
He’s always been one of the state’s premier shooters, but his game has evolved this season as he continues to fight through box-and-one's. He has grown up quite a bit in terms of toughness.

G – Dizel Wright, Sr., Putnam
One of the state’s best on-ball defenders and the humble kid on an otherwise very vocal team, he sets the tone at both ends of the floor for the state’s undisputed No. 1 team.

F – Tyonne Malone, Soph., Putnam
One of several prep school transfers that arrived with plenty of hype, the 6-foot-3 slasher has been an integral force on the wing for the Beavers. Long with plenty of athleticism to get to the rim at will, there’s a lot of upside to be excited about.

F – David Murrell, Sr., Putnam
It’s an MMA fight at times trying to battle on the boards with the Beavers, and the returning All-State forward sets the tone for one of the state’s best rebounding teams.

C – Anthony Green, Sr., North Quincy
One of the best revelations of the 2013-14 season, the late-blooming 6-foot-9 center has showed marked improvement from where he was at this time a year ago. And the Red Raiders have been a large benefactor.

SECOND TEAM

G – Tommy Mobley, Jr., Newton North
Some folks would like to see him become more assertive on the glass, but there is no denying Mobley’s shooting ability. He might be the most automatic three-point marksman in Massachusetts.

G – Makai Ashton-Langford, Soph., St. Peter-Marian
If you haven’t seen him yet, you are missing out. He is the Guardians’ most talented lead guard since Naadir Tharpe, and has backed up the mound of hype behind his high-major potential in this first half of the season.

G – Aahmane Santos, Jr., Catholic Memorial
Santos returned from prep school a much more aggressive –- and visibly faster –- player. At times it seems like he is operating at a different speed than the other nine players on the floor, and that’s one of the bigger reasons why the Knights are averaging upwards of 86 points per game so far.

F – Asante Sandiford, Sr., New Mission
Franklin Pierce commit proved a lot to me with the way he battled one of the nation’s top big men, Karl Towns Jr., at the Shooting Touch Shootout. The Titans have been absolute piranhas on defense this season, with Sandiford at the forefront.

F – Tyree Robinson, Jr., Durfee
It’s been a few years since the Hilltoppers were this good, and I’m not sure how competitive they’d even be without landing this Notre Dame Prep transfer.

THIRD TEAM

G – Giulien Smith, Jr., Catholic Memorial
Like seemingly a half-dozen other Knights, Smith can shoot it. But it’s his ability to create his own shot that makes him and Aahmane Santos one of the most dangerous backcourts.

G – Rocky DeAndrade, Sr., Mansfield
The Hornets started the season down three starters to injury, yet they haven’t skipped a beat. Credit that to DeAndrade, who has become faster after a diligent offseason.

G – Elijah Rogers, Sr., Brookline
You can make the case for Rogers to be a lot higher on this list. The Warriors had a tough start to the season, but they may have hit their stride. When Rogers is on, it is a spectacle.

F – Gary Clark, Jr., Everett
Arguably the best two-way player on one of the state’s most tenacious defenses.

F – Fred "Bam" Rivers, Sr., New Mission
This might be the Titans' best squad since 2010-11, and as the nickname implies, this fearless, wide-bodied 6-foot-4 post is one of the primary reasons. There isn't a player in Massachusetts he's afraid to make uncomfortable. Oh, and he can step out and shoot it, too.

Coach of the Year: Kevin Barrett, North Quincy
A few other names here could fit the bill, such as Mansfield’s Mike Vaughan, Fitchburg’s Jack Scott or North Andover’s Paul Tanglis. But a year ago at this time, Anthony Green was a timid kid who moved gingerly and couldn’t stay on the court without getting fatigued or racking up fouls. Now, he’s become the Raiders’ own “Nerlens Lite”, and the biggest reason for their 11-0 start. And while we’re at it, raise your hand if you'd heard of Eftham Butka at this time last year (Don’t lie). Now, he’s the Raiders’ most dangerous scorer. All of this speaks to Barrett’s commitment to player development, a trait that sometimes feels like a lost art in today’s AAU-ficated grassroots culture. That shouldn’t be overlooked.

***

Chris Bradley
ESPN Boston correspondent


FIRST TEAM

G - Dizel Wright, Sr., Putnam
The most complete player on the state's most complete team. A built, athletic point guard who can guard a variety of positions and put up double-figure rebounding totals, Wright should be considered a serious contender for Mr. Basketball, as should these next four candidates.

G - Tommy Mobley, Jr., Newton North
The state's most lethal shooter has turned into one of it's best overall scorers. Mobley has lit some of the state's best teams up this year, averaging 20 points per game as Newton North has emerged as one of the best teams in Division 1.

G - Guilien Smith, Jr., Catholic Memorial
In terms of pure scoring ability, there may be no better player in the state than Smith. Smith has deep range on his three-point shot, the quickness to get to the hoop off the dribble, and now the upper body strength to finish. He's a big reason why CM is 12-1.

F - David Murrell, Sr., Putnam
Wright may be Putnam's best player, but Murrell is the glue guy for the state's number-one ranked team. Averaging double-figure points and rebounds, he makes for a superior duo with sophomore Tyonne Malone.

F - Anthony Green, Sr., North Quincy
North Quincy has been one of the state's most pleasant surprises this year, and their do-it-all 6-foot-9 center hes led them every step of the way. Several scholarship-level college programs and prep schools have shown interest in Green in recent weeks.

SECOND TEAM

G - Makai Ashton-Langford, Soph., St. Peter-Marian
His 26 point outbreak against St. John's on Friday night is just another reminder why the 6-foot sophomore is considered to be one of New England's best talents. Ashton-Langford has been the guy who makes the Guardians go this year, averaging 17 points a game.

G - Aamahne Santos, Jr., Catholic Memorial
Santos has had several games where he he never reached double-figure scoring totals, yet he seems to have as much of an impact on a game as any point guard in the state. A super athlete who is also lightning-quick with the ball in his hands, Santos is the key behind Catholic Memorial's high-powered offense.

G - Tyler Nelson, Sr. Central Catholic
Much was expected out of Nelson this year, and for the most part, he has delivered for 11th-ranked Central Catholic. The Fairfield University commit has been the main focus of opposing defenses all year long, yet still manages to hit shots at a high clip.

F - Tyonne Malone, Soph., Putnam
Malone struggled at first to find his fit in an extremely talented Putnam rotation, but he has emerged as one of their best reliable players the past few weeks in wins over Woodstock Academy (Conn.), Springfield Cathedral, Springfield Central, and Northampton. A gifted athlete at 6-foot-3, Malone is already on the radar of several mid-major and high-major Division 1 programs.

F - Tyree Robinson, Jr., Durfee
The transfer from Notre Dame Prep has immediately helped turn things around at Durfee -- a team starving for a playoff appearance after several years of relative anonymity. A standout 6-foot-4 athlete who plays AAU for the Boston Amateur Basketball Club (BABC), Robinson's rebounding motor and elite athleticism have made him well worth the price of admission.

THIRD TEAM

G - Elijah Rogers, Sr., Brookline
Rogers has been the catalyst all year long for Brookline, a team who is 7-3 and looking to build off of last year's playoff run. An athletic point who can also make plays for others, he has proven to be one of the top pure point guards in the state.

G - Erick Rosario, Jr., Lynn English
It has been on Rosario to do a lot of the heavy lifting offensively with counterpart Stevie Collins out injured. A quick, clever combo guard, Rosario has proven to be one of the state's best pure offensive threats--whether it's knocking down outside jumpers or finishing acrobatic lay-ups around the rim.

G - Ryan Boulter, Jr., Mansfield
The lone blemish on the Hornets' 12-1 record is Thursday's three-point loss to Hockomock foe Attleboro, and Boulter has been a big reason why. With star forward Brendan Hill out for the year, Boulter has manged to pick up a lot of the slack offensively for Mike Vaughan's Hornets.

F - Gary Clark, Jr., Everett
Everett has been one of the state's best teams, now at 10-0, and Clark's inside-out offensive attack has helped bring some balance to a high-scoring offense. Playing alongside a loaded Everett backcourt, Clark has excelled playing down low: rebounding at a high-rate and finishing shots in the paint.

F - Fred "Bam" Rivers, Sr., New Mission
Rivers may not look the part of a gifted athlete, but to his credit, he has proven just the opposite so far for Cory McCarthy's Titans. At 6-foot-4, Rivers has the foot speed to guard multiple positions, he has shown that he is one of the best rebounders in the state, and he can even stretch the defense with his feathery three-point touch.

Coach of the Year: Cory McCarthy, New Mission
With a few star players in Franklin Pierce-bound forward Asante Sandiford, sharpshooter Shaquan Murray, and do-it-all forward Fred "Bam" Rivers, McCarthy has been able to build around that trio with one of the state's deepest rotations and stingiest defenses -- giving up just 47 points a game. The 11-1 Titans are as tough an out as any team in the state and they appear to be the favorite statewide in Division 2 midway through the season. Catholic Memorial's Denis Tobin, St. John's Prep's John Dullea, and Mansfield's Mike Vaughan should all be in the conversation for this one, but at this point in the year nobody has gotten more out of their team than McCarthy.

***

John Botelho
ESPN Boston correspondent


FIRST TEAM

G - Dizel Wright, Sr., Springfield Putnam
He’s been the best player on the best team in the state all year, and only seems to be getting better.

G - Tommy Mobley, Jr., Newton North
The junior is the best shooter I’ve seen this year, or in recent memory for that matter. Everyone know the ball is going to end up in his hands and still no one seems to be able to stop him. Has a shot to reach 1,000 points this year with another deep tourney run for the Tigers.

G - Aamahne Santos, Jr., Catholic Memorial
The leader of an explosive CM offense that leads the state in points, Sanots has done a little bit of everything for the Knights. Known for his premier offense, his defense might be even better as he’s caused fits for Catholic Conference point guards all year.

F - Fred "Bam" Rivers, Sr., New Mission
He’s capable of scoring, rebounding, or playing solid defense on other bigs down low for No. 3 New Mission. Combining with Shaquan Murray and Asante Saniford, Rivers has helped make Mission the team to beat statewide in division two.

F - Ryan Boulter, Jr., Mansfield
Unbeaten Mansfield has looked unstoppable early on despite losing returning All-Stater Brendan Hill for the year to a knee injury, and Boulter might be the biggest reason why. The junior has led an explosive offense -- averaging more than 17.6 per game on a team with four guys in double figures

SECOND TEAM

G - Tyler Nelson, Sr., Central Catholic
Pushing him to the second team was one of the hardest calls to make, but I think it speaks more to the impressive guard play statewide this season than anything else. Nelson is one of the most dynamic players in the state, and a second half surge could push him onto the first team.

G - Rocky DeAndrade, Sr., Mansfield
Second for the No. 2 Hornets in scoring behind Boulter, DeAndrade is capable of taking over games and can score from anywhere. He’s poured in over 16 per game so far as the Hornets have cruised to an 11-0 mark.

G - Elijah Rogers, Sr., Brookline
The returning All-Stater has taken his game to another level this year, guiding an offense that can run with anyone. He went off for 28 points to hand Bay State rival Newton North it’s only loss, and finding a player in the state who elevates his game for big opponents would be a tough challenge.

F - David Murrell, Sr., Putnam
Returning All-Stater gives Putnam arguably the best 1-2 punch in the state with Wright, and is a major reason they’ve been atop the rankings all season. He was tremendous at the Hoop Hall Classic last week, netting 27 and grabbing 12 rebounds against rival Springfield Central before going off for 15 points and 15 rebounds against defending Connecticut Class L champ Woodstock.

C - Obi Obiora, Sr., Brookline
The big man averaged nearly a double-double a year ago, and looks like he’s headed for one this season. A total game changer on the defensive end, he’s also capable of taking some focus off of Rogers on offense.

THIRD TEAM

G - Jack Loughnane, Soph., BC High
His offensive game is an impressive one, and he’s among the best 3-point shooters in Eastern Mas. He’s the catalyst for the Eagles’ offense, and is a major reason they’re ranked No. 10 in the state.

G - Markus Neale, Sr., Dorchester
The Bears don’t have much in the way of height, but Neale plays taller than his 6-foot-2 frame would suggest. He’s a playmaker on both ends of the floor, can score from beyond the arc or by going to the hoop, fights for rebounds and bolsters an athletic Dorchester defense.

G - Ryan Roach, Sr., Cardinal Spellman
A Stonehill commit, Roache has been tasked with running a Cardinals offense that features several players who would be the “go-to” guy on a lot of teams. None of the Cardinals are averaging crazy point totals, but the team is unbeaten in league play. Their only losses have come against Mansfield, Franklin and No. 24 St. Bernard’s.

F - Matt Nicholson, Sr., Rockland
Tyler Gibson swallowed up a ton of the publicity for Rockland a year ago, but Nicholson gave the Bulldogs a second very good scoring option. This year, with Gibson and Bryan Tavares graduated, Nicholson has been tasked with being the guy for Rockland, and he’s delivered to the tune of 22 points and eight rebounds per game for the 7-3 Bulldogs.

C - Anthony Green, Sr., North Quincy
The 6-foot-9 big man for the unbeaten Red Raiders makes his biggest impact in something that isn’t quantifiable through statistics, as the number of possessions he changes on the defensive end is staggering. Coach Kevin Barrett said earlier this year that he was blocking seven shots per game during the tourney last year, and altering at least as many. That means he’s single-handedly effecting the outcome of more than 10 possessions per contest, and that doesn’t include the way the rest of the Red Raiders defense can play in the faces of their opponents, knowing he’s back there as a last line of defense.

Coach of the Year: Bo Ruggiero, Cohasset
An argument could be made for plenty of guys this year, and people like Cory McCarthy at New Mission and Mike Vaughn at Mansfield (being unbeaten despite losing Hill is pretty impressive) certainly deserve some consideration. That said, Ruggiero has put together one of his finest coaching performances, which is saying a lot when you consider he’s got more than 500 career wins on the sidelines. The Skippers graduated a 1,000 point scorer a year ago in Shane Haggerty, and lack a star to lean on this season. Guys like Chris Haggerty, Rocco Laugelle, Henry Brown and Joe Buckley have just come together to play good fundamental hoops. They’ve gone all in on defense, and are allowing a South Shore League best 39 points per game this year. At 10-0, they have to be considered among the favorites, if not the favorite, to capture the MIAA Div. 4 crown this year.

Final Thoughts from 2012-13, and looking ahead

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

***

A FLU SHOT HE'LL NEVER FORGET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

MORE THAN JUST 'WANTING IT MORE'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

RE-BIRTH OF THE RUN?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

INTERVIEWS OF THE YEAR

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



And now, the long category...



***

WILL JACK EVER COME BACK?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

HALL'S TOP 10 FOR 2013-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our MIAA All-State Boys Hoops Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

BEST OF THE REST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COACH OF THE YEAR
Mike McVeigh, North Andover

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

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

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

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

Brian Mukasa photo is courtesy of HockomockSports.com

D1 South: Brookline 63, Marshfield 46

March, 2, 2013
3/02/13
11:41
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MARSHFIELD, Mass. –- Elijah Rogers never lost his cool.

From the first steps onto the bus at Brookline High, where he napped on the ride down to Marshfield; to the first steps out of the basement-level locker room at Marshfield High, with Jay-Z and Chief Keef coming out of his headphones, telling his teammates tonight’s Division 1 South quarterfinal “Won’t be our last go-around”.

From the moment he was introduced to the crowd during starting lineup announcements, raising his arms emphatically to his student section; to his final walk off the court, given a standing ovation from the fans, the game well in hand.

[+] EnlargeElijah Rogers
Brendan Hall/ESPNBrookline point guard Elijah Rogers (21 points) was in complete control as the Warriors blew out Marshfield to move on to the D1 South semis for the first time since 2004.
In Thursday night’s surprise blowout of New Bedford, the 6-foot junior dominated the game without scoring, racking up just 10 points. Tonight he got untracked in a different manner, leading the way with 21 points and five rebounds as Brookline won over a hostile Rams crowd, leading by as much as 27 en route to a 63-46 victory.

But not once over these last two weeks –- going back to Feb. 18’s win over Catholic Memorial, when he racked up 18 points -– has the lead guard ever looked out of control.

So what’s gotten into him?

“I don’t know, man, I’m just hungry,” he said. “I’ve never been here [in the postseason] before, so this is something you’ve got to chase...I just come in here every day with a mindset [that] you’ve got to take what you can get and just win, man. There’s no guarantees. It’s one and done.”

Of course, it’s never as simple as just one player wanting it more. Just as he did Thursday, Rogers dictated tempo from start to finish, knowing when to hold and when to attack, and at times inspiring glowing narrative with his flair for the dramatic.

For starters, there was the fall-away buzzer-beater to end the first quarter, heaving a rainbow from NBA range as he fell backward onto the floor for a 12-7 lead.

The second quarter was where he put the game seemingly out of reach. He started things off with his second of four 3-pointers on the night, this one from the corner, then followed up with a windmill reverse layup through traffic for a 22-11 margin with 5:29 to go in the half.

Three minutes later, Rogers put the lead at 15 sparking two consecutive fast break baskets. On each one, he leaped high into the air, pivoted 180 degrees and glided up-court, first hitting Scott Cordner with a bounce pass deep to the blocks, then hitting Lake Berry (11 points) with an outlet pass for a 32-17 margin.

Up 38-20 at the half, Rogers put the game thoroughly in the Warriors’ hands with two show-stopping plays back to back. Gathering at the left wing in isolation, he drove to his left, took one dribble and dropped a euro-step, dragging his back foot as he floated the ball up high with his right, kissing the glass for a 48-22 lead. Coming back the other way, Rogers launched high into the air for an acrobatic block.

“Not a lot of guards get recruited for their rebounding, so I’ve got to show that I can rebound, because I’m a small guy,” said Rogers, who has light interest from a number of Division 1 programs, from Providence down to Central Connecticut State and the local Atlantic-10 and CAA schools in between. “I just always stay ball hungry. And then when I get the ball off the rebound, I don’t have to worry about the outlet because I already have it, and I got my guys running in transition and they trust me.”

This isn’t the first time Rogers has had tears like this -– early-season wins over Newton North and Needham come to mind -– but there’s a reason the Warriors entered the playoffs 12-8, with a No. 12 seeding. Inconsistency has plagued the Warriors for most of their 2012-13 campaign.

First-year Brookline coach Luke Day chalked it up to maturation.

“Kids develop at their own pace, they grow up, and I think he’s getting more comfortable with me, and what I want to do,” Day said. “He and I have clicked pretty good since the beginning. We haven’t always agreed, we’ve butted heads at times, but it’s always been respectful.

“I’m probably understanding how to use him better, and he’s understanding more of what I want him to do. The whole team is growing up, and you can see it right before your eyes.”

Seal and deliver: This much is for certain -- the Warriors are a much better defensive team than they were two months ago.

Brookline owned the glass tonight, unofficially holding a 44-18 margin in rebounds -- including 12 from 6-foot-6 junior Obi Obiora. Between Obiora, 6-foot-7 sophomore Mark Gasperini, 6-foot-3 junior wing Anthony Jennings and 6-foot-2 forwards Corner and Tyler Patterson, the Warriors hold a size advantage over most squads as well.

The key is putting it all together. The Warriors did a terrific job sealing around the basket, not getting caught out of position underneath, and demonstrating patience with pump-fakes and up-and-under's.

“We are clearly the team defensively that I thought we were going to be early on,” Day said. “We are really hard to play in the half-court right now, and that’s because they’ve learned some of the X’s and O’s things that I wanted them to learn about positioning, and they’re just putting the effort in on the ball.

“I mean tonight, we talk a lot about help side, but we didn’t need it tonight because we did such a good job on the ball tonight. You look at our defensive statistics in the last three games against three pretty good teams…And we’re not pressing, not gimmicking anybody, we’re just guarding people. It’s pretty good.”

Special season, special bond: Brookline moves on to Tuesday's Division 1 South semifinal at UMass-Boston's Clark Athletic Center, against Mansfield, seeded No. 1 in the South and ranked No. 1 in ESPNBoston.com's statewide poll since the beginning of February.

The last time Brookline made it this deep into the tournament was 2004, when Charlotte Bobcats forward Jeff Adrien was a senior. That 2004 team went on to the Division 1 state final, losing to Springfield Commerce 53-51 in a thriller, and concluded the most dominant three-year stretch in program history. From the 2001-02 to 2003-04 seasons, Brookline went 64-9, with two state final appearances, led by stars such as Adrien, Tim Jones, Justin Powell and Clayton Barlow-Wilcox.

Rogers knows all too well of the significance of that era. When he first moved into the area as a sixth-grader in 2006, he befriended Adrien -- then a sophomore at UConn -- during a pickup game at Boylston Park, a short distance from Brookline High. Rogers says he hasn't spoken to Adrien since last spring, when he made one of his annual appearances at the school to talk to students, but it's safe to say he idolizes the NBA veteran.

"He’s a good guy," Rogers said. "When I first moved here, I met him while he was at UConn. He taught me a lot, he told me about staying focused, and how it’s hard for a black kid to stay focused and take care what you’ve got to do, because it’s not easy for you. He’s a good role model that I look up to. I haven’t spoken to him in a while, but he’s one of my guys."

So what does it mean to be the first Brookline squad since the Adrien era to make it this far?

"It's real special, man. Real special," Rogers said. "[But] it's something that we can't stress over, we can't think too much about, we can't get caught up in the moment. We've got to be bigger than the moment, and just take it to the next game. We've got to get to that goal, try and win a state championship."

Brookline's Day: 'Really gratifying' win over NB

March, 1, 2013
3/01/13
2:05
AM ET
When Luke Day took over the Brookline High basketball job last spring, he said by Feb. 1 of this year the Warriors would be in good shape.

Looks like he was a month off.

There have been plenty of shocking upsets of higher magnitude thus far in the MIAA Basketball State Tournament, both boys and girls, but this one raises plenty an eyebrow for the sheer margin of victory. In a D1 South first round matchup tonight at New Bedford, the Warriors shot out to a 24-4 first quarter lead and never looked back, leading 43-14 at the half and coming away with a very impressive 73-44 victory.

"Our kids did a really good job of understanding what we wanted to do offensively and defensively," Day said. "We wanted to be organized offensively against their press, and we wanted to stay on the dribble defensively. Those two things ended up being the right calls."

How dominant was Brookline tonight? Six-foot-6 junior Obi Obiora, a dominant paint presence, was left on the bench for most of the first half due to a misunderstanding on fouls -- Day thought Obiora had picked up two fouls early, when he just had one. Yet it didn't even matter, as junior Anthony Jennings led the way with 22 points and junior point guard Elijah Rogers owned the floor at both ends.

The 5-foot-10 Rogers, arguably one of the MIAA's more enticing Class of 2014 prospects, finished with 10 points to go along with eight assists and seven rebounds. Tasked with defending the Whalers' leading scorer Rylin Collazo all night, he racked up seven steals on the defensive end too.

"He's had a few games like that, where he had just 10 points but was in total control of the game at both ends of the floor," Day said. "He understood the pacing, when to attack, when to pull out, where the ball needed to be. He covered Collazo the whole night and did a fantastic job on him. Elijah showed what he's capable of doing, and we just fed off it."

How high is Rogers' ceiling? Day doesn't hesitate to call him "a scholarship player, without question."

"People don't even know how smart he is, and I don’t even think he gets it sometimes," Day said. "He's learning to use his head more, I just think he's understanding how to control the game without scoring. He's understanding leadership, how kids look up to him.

"Like all of us, we all had our ups this year, but I'm really pleased with his progress. I feel really fortunate to coach him. I'll be watching him on TV some day."

The Warriors came into the tournament as a No. 12 seed at 12-8 and overall sporadic -- following up, say, a nice win over Newton North with some forgettable losses. But considering last week's win over Catholic Memorial; tonight's surprise blowout; and a nucleus of Rogers, Obiora, Jennings and Lake Berry that on paper is as good as any core in the South region, one has to wonder if things have finally clicked at the right time.

"To be fair, my first year I probably asked them to do some things they haven’t before," Day said. "It's one thing to ask kids who aren’t good and haven't had success. When have kids that have had success, maybe it's in AAU or whatnot, it takes a while for them to buy into it.

"Some of the things we want to do defensively and offensively -- movement, screening, things like that -- for a long time I saw them as trying to, wanting to, but they had some habits that needed to be broken. When you're doing something new, no matter how right it is, it doesn't work at first."

So while this was nice, considering Brookline's struggles in recent years, Day is far from satisified. When Day first arrived in the Bay State Conference, as a coach at Wellesley High, Brookline was in the midst of its most dominant stretch in school history, going 64-9 from 2001 to 2004 and making two Division 1 state final appearances over that same span. Those squads were led by stalwarts like Tim Jones, Justin Powell, Clayton Barlow-Wilcox, and current Charlotte Bobcats forward Jeff Adrien.

In a way, entering the playoffs should feel like the norm at Brookline, not the exception. And the surrounding community appears ready to embrace that.

"We had great support tonight down there [New Bedford] considering how far we were," Day said. "There's a lot of people in Brookline that want us to be good, that want to support us -- people in the school, in the community. To be able to deliver a win for them is really gratifying."

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