Boston High School: Raymond Nunez

Recap: Lawrence 69, Methuen 58

December, 21, 2012
LAWRENCE, Mass. -- It took three quarters, but Lawrence found the right mix of effort and execution needed to put away Methuen tonight, 69-58, in the opening round of the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament.

For the first three quarters, no Lawrence (4-0) lead was greater than six points. Going into the fourth up 46-42, the team ratcheted up its defensive pressure and overall tenacity to outscore Methuen (0-4) 23-16 to pull away and show what it is capable of when clicking on all cylinders.

“I thought the kids were playing hard, and that’s one of the things I’m stressing to the team, that we need to be the hardest working team when we go out there,” said Lawrence coach Raymond Nunez. “In regards to executing, we have a long way to go, especially on the defensive end.”

Methuen was kept in the game in large part because of its outside shooting. When Lawrence went up by four or six points early and appeared to be set to pull away, someone would hit a three-pointer to cut the deficit back down.

Lawrence did most of its damage around the basket, where Tre’von Farley and Roberto Speing each had a double-double. Speing was more active on the boards (16 points, 14 rebounds) while Farley (14 points, 10 rebounds) filled up his stat line in the latter half of the game.

“We really didn’t play together as a team,” said Farley. “We didn’t really play as one. This is a team that we should really be up against and if we play defense, that we should be able to put away. We were really slacking on the defensive end. We have to get better defensively.”

Lawrence will play in the semi-finals of the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament on Dec. 27 against the winner of the Pinkerton Academy-Greater Lawrence game, which will take place Friday.

Double Trouble: Not to say that any player is more important than another, but Lawrence’s success will depend on how Speing and Farley perform in games. When they are being fed the ball in the post or attacking the rim off the dribble, that is when the team has its most success. As the season rolls on, and with the team lacking a consistent long-range shooting threat, their consistency in the paint will be imperative if the team wants to make noise in the Merrimack Valley Conference.

That creates open space for teammates elsewhere if the defense collapses on them, they can draw fouls on the opposing big men, or they can make the most of second chance opportunities on the offensive glass.

“I think we need to do a better job of getting it to them in the post,” said Nunez. “We work our big guys day in and day out and the way you reward them is feed them in the post. I think we had an advantage down low, but we just struggled feeding them in the post. It’s going to come with time though.”

Putting either on the free throw line is also not a winning strategy for the opposition. Both Speing and Farley are above average free throw shooters for players their size. Tonight, they went a combined 8-of-11 from the line.

“We work off each other,” said Farley. “If Roberto’s on one side, we know just to box out and if the ball is going up, we just try to get hungry and go for the rebound. That’s just our main goal: to rebound. That’s our job.”

Trying to Find a Balance: Like most teams early in the season, Lawrence has had difficulty finding consistency on both ends of the floor. That was most evident Thursday, when coaches were yelling for the players to communicate on defense. For three quarters, there were breakdowns in the interior, which allowed players like Tim Galloway-Burke (14 points, 6 rebounds) and Jamal Rene (4 points, 8 rebounds) to occasionally muscle and maneuver their way around the paint.

That changed in the fourth, when the Lawrence players started showing up in hustle plays, where they were not in the first three quarters. Players were diving for balls on the ground, chasing balls and preventing them from going out of bounds, and attacking defensively, whereas earlier in the game, players were shying away from those.

Putting it all together: When a team’s biggest issue is effort, how can it become less of a problem? Is it something that can be taken care of in practice? Does the coaching staff have to pick up its demands on its players? Or is it just a matter of a team growing together and developing chemistry to make it easier to play together?

That is something a team like Lawrence will have to find out soon. There is no doubt the talent is there to be a dangerous team, but can it manifest that talent into a cohesive unit that can compete as it gets deeper into the season?

“It’s going to be a matter of us stressing it in practice,” said Nunez. “We have to get back into practice and just work at it. Then we have to rely on our three seniors coming back (Farley, Denny Gonzalez, and Esmelin Romero). I think those three guys can make a big impact on the defensive end, and also just in a leadership aspect. Just having that experience, I think they can help our young guys that are inexperienced with that.”

Nunez: 'My goal is to take it to the next level'

June, 1, 2012
Earlier this week, Paul Neal saw his tenure as head basketball coach at Lawrence High come to an end, after leading the Lancers through some of their most successful years in program history over the last decade and half. Neal has been promoted from assistant principal to principal.

Neal coached the Lancers to their first-ever Division 1 North title in 2005, and led them to another final in 2011 as a No. 15 seed. He was also named USA Today's Coach of the Year for his efforts in the community following the tragic shooting and paralysis of star point guard Hector Paniagua just two weeks after winning the North title in 2005.

A successor was quickly named in assistant coach Raymond Nunez, and the energetic new head coach has a lot on his mind. Nunez spoke to tonight about the new job and his plans for the program going forward.

How it went down: "Coach Neal had been talking for the last couple years about moving on. He had always mentioned that he'd like me to move into his position and continue the job he's done at lawrence. But I guess I was somewhat surprised that it all happened so quickly."

Reaction to being named head coach: "I was kind of surprised that I received the call from Mr. Riley, the overseer of the Lawrence school system. My reaction is that I'm gonna go ahead and try to fulfill the shoes of a person who dedicated 14-15 years of his life to helping so many kids in the city of Lawrence -- not just basketball wise, but as people, as students, and then thirdly as athletes. That's gonna require a lot of energy, time, pasison, hard work and commitment on my part."

What he's learned from Paul Neal: "If there's anything I've learned from Coach Neal, it's that passion he had for the youth of Lawrence. I learned a great deal from him regarding the ability to communnicate with kids when it came to being student-athletes with character, challenging them both as a student and on the basketball court. In every way possible he tried to give it the best, to bring out the best of the players, and I want to replicate that again. He gave so much of what he had to the kids."

What Neal meant to him as a mentor: "Definitely a lot. I learned so much from him as a mentor, and not just basketball wise. What I've learned from him, mostly helping out kids by looking for the solution, not just the problems. Players for whatever situation they may be in, there's always a solution for everyhting, whether on the basketball court, in the classroom, or in life. I'm just trying to enhance what he's brought to the city of Lawrence."

On how much of the Lawrence job involves being an ambassador:
"I think about 95 percent, that was his role. He's put the basketball progam on map for the city of Lawrence, and you don't need to be a fan of basketball to understand the work he's done for the youth of Lawrence. It trickles down to everyone in city. If you see kids coming on to the basketball court, that's gonna bring pride to the community.

"The other thing he brought in that I feel is important to me a coach as well, he put emphasis as well on taking the next step -- building more character players, as people basically. Having the student-athlete understand that being a great person should be their goal, not just in school or on the basketball court, but in general. Then once you do that, I feel that piece of the student in the classroom understands that part of the student is gonna be important helping them get to the next level -- college. I'd like to see more kids go on to college, and Coach Neal has had tutoring, study hours, he constantly communicated with teachers and assisted students. My goal is to take it to the next level. That'll be high expectations on my part.

"Lastly, the basketball piece. When you have great character, and you have the academics in your mind, it will translate on to the court. Again, most of the youth in Lawrence want to play basketball, utilize that as chance to understand being a good person and great student means everything.

"Coach Neal already said this, but for the next coming years to have success this whole thing isn't gonna be an 'I' thin. Not a 'We' thing. It's not gonna be just me, it's gonna be with great assistance from the community, and then also the student-athlete themself, then the community within the Lawrence Public Schools system. It's going to be a team effort from everyone. That's my vision going into this."

Coaching style: "I have a similar philosophy to what he [Neal] as taught me on basketball sense. We need to be workers, we need to have commitment, work ethic and determination. We have athletes, but not always basketball players, and I'm commited to improving our skill as basketball players. I'm not trying to change much of our style that Coach Neal has implemented on offense. Most of us have athletic ability, so we're looking for an up-and-down tempo offensively.

"I'm a defensive-minded person as well, I would say that's my coaching mentality, so we're looking to put pressure on the ball and go into a fast-paced offense from there. We're mostly man, again with the trap that Coach Neal has utilized over the years as well. And it's going to be a marathon playing our style, so we need to be well-conditioned."

On the talent coming back: "There was about 11 or 12 guys that are gonna be moving on this year, and about three returning players, so again we'll be inexperienced just as the past few years, so we'll def need to commit ourselves and have devoted work ethic, just be determined to improve.

"[Sophomore forward] Roberto [Speing], he's got big shoes to fil. We're not gonna have Tre'Von [Farley] or Franklin [Martinez], so offensively he's gonna have to take on a bigger role. It'll all depend on what he does in the offseason. We need him to go ahead and be able to knock down 15-footers, get to the free throw line and knock them down, get off the dribble, get offensive rebounds, and be a great defensive player. He has the potential to develop on the offensive end, but it's gonna be up to his commitment and work ethic on his part."

What the Lawrence program means to the city: "It just means...It brings great pride to the city of Lawrence when they see a successful group of guys on the basketball court. But again, what we hope to see as well is that they the see assets of their work ethic in the classrooom and their development as young gentlemen. Any positive story in the city of Lawrence means a great deal to the youth and to the general community. I give all the thanks in the world to to Coach Neal. He's been in it for the last 13-14 years, he's set that bar high. It'll be tough to match.

Div. 1 Boys: Lawrence 80, St. John's Prep 69

February, 28, 2012

LAWRENCE, Mass. -- Paul Neal slouched on a bench outside the Lawrence High gymnasium, the Lancers head coach exhaling deeply after a hard-fought Division 1 North First Round battle with St. John's Prep that took on a frenetic pace. Then his wide-eyed, unsung sophomore walked by, and Neal extended his left hand for a low-five.

"Great charge, brother," Neal said softly, but with authority. "That sealed the game."

Anyone who's watched Lawrence this year is familiar with the Lancers' affinity for the run-and-gun, and against set plays. So it shouldn't come as a whole heck of a surprise that the kid driving the stake into this 80-69 win over Prep was 6-foot-4 sophomore forward Roberto Speing's crunch-time work on the glass.

Speing had four defensive boards in the fourth quarter, all of them coming in the final two minutes as the Eagles (13-8) tried to rally with a number of attempts from deep. The icing on the cake, though, was taking his third charge of the game with 1:01 left and the Lancers (15-5) leading 75-65, sliding in front of Prep's Tyler Dooley as he crashed into the lane from his right.

"I had to take it," Speing laughed. "Coach Raymond [assistant Raymond Nunez] told me I had to take three charges today, and that's what I did. That was my third one."

Neal recalled a late-night conversation with Speing earlier this season, urging him to continue working hard on the glass -- continue to "dominate the last four or five minutes with rebounding," as he put it -- in spite of the lack of attention from the public. Eventually, Neal told him, people will take notice.

Tonight might have been an eye-opener for some. On the big stage, in front of an enthusiastic capacity home crowd, Speing finished with 10 rebounds -- six in the final frame.

"I think he's finally starting to understand that," Neal said. "He's starting to get recognized. I said, 'Listen, you're the Dennis Rodman of this team. You're the guy that can put a stop on people, and seal the defense'. Tonight, I think he was the man. He rebounded when we needed rebounds."

On the offensive end, meanwhile, it was senior guard Yadoris Arias (31 points, seven rebounds) leading the way with an explosive outburst, which included a 4-of-7 effort from three-point range.

But his most crucial possession was a heady one late in the game. Charging upcourt on a fast break off a long rebound, Arias drifted to the left corner, took a kick-out pass, hesitated for a moment and then pump-faked his defender. Arias drove baseline, took a foul on his way up to a reverse layup, and hit the free throw to complete a three-point play and go up 75-65 with 1:25 left.

"It gave us a lot of momentum, it felt great," Arias said. "Bunch of young guys on the court, they're hyped, they're bringing me up. So it's just a good play."

Stumbling, he continued, "I dunno, it just feels good right now, man. I'm speechless right now. It feels good."

Seniors Franklin Martinez (nine rebounds) and Leonny Burgos both added 14 points, and senior Tre'Von Farley 11, in the winning effort for Lawrence. Prep senior Steve Haladyna finished his stellar career on a good note, finishing with 21 points and 12 rebounds.

Need for Speed: Lawrence pushed up the tempo significantly in the second quarter, leading to an 11-2 run to open, and overall it yielded some pretty favorable results. Defenders up top began strafing upcourt as soon as Prep shot went up, leading to long outlet passes. After baskets, the ballcarrier either took a long outlet on the run or brought the ball over halfcourt quickly.

That led to a number of good looks from the perimeter. Lawrence was 5-for-5 from three-point range for the quarter, three of them coming from Arias. But when Neal motioned for the troops to slow it down a bit with under three to go in the first half, the Eagles quickly mounted themselves right back into the game. Haladyna took an entry pass from freshman Marcos Echevarria and kissed a hook shot off the glass; that was followed by a tip-in and backdoor layup from Owen Marchetti.

Prep cut the lead to 41-37 at the half, but Lawrence turned up the speed again in the second half, leading 61-54 after three and never relinquishing control.

"We're not an offensive set team," Neal said. "We've got athletes, and we want to make guys keep up with us. I think execution-wise, [in the] halfcourt St. John's Prep is a much better team -- and most teams we're going to play, you know what I mean? But if we can get guys that we know can run and jump and get the game up and down, I think it favors us."

Playin' Like Jaylen: Folks around Lawrence are still talking about the Lancers' run to last year's Division 1 North final at TD Garden, after entering the tournament a No. 15 seed. Fueling that run was Jaylen Alicea, who played his way into an ESPN Boston All-State nod after averaging 30 points in five tournament games.

Arias considers Alicea a close friend, and displays many of the same characteristics -- same haircut, same chin-strap beard that's long in the chin area, similar-looking tattoos. Arias wore No. 12 last season, but has switched to Alicea's number.

"He was like a brother to me," Arias said. "When we were younger, he always had 12 and I always had 15. He left last I just wanted to keep the number going and represent it well."

With 31 points tonight, Arias is off to a good start in following the momentum Alicea built in last year's tournament.

"He's playing on a mission, because I think he was in the shadows of Jaylen for years," Neal said. "They're different kinds of players, but some things are similar and they're good buddies. So I think it's his time to show he can play without those guys and still accomplish stuff as a team. There's some drive in him from that era, too."

Up Next: The No. 7 seed Lancers await the winner of Thursday night's contest between No. 2 Acton-Boxborough and No. 15 Methuen, with the game likely to be played over the weekend. A-B is the heavy favorite, but Neal said for preparation purposes "I spend a lot of time focusing on us, and then do a few simple changes."

"We want to run, and everybody knows that," Neal said. "And if you can stop that, well, good luck. We're going to try to come at you, no matter who we're playing."