Boston High School: Rockland

Marshfield's Cataldo leads South in romp of All-Star Classic

March, 22, 2014
Mar 22
11:56
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WORCESTER, Mass. -- Team members of Saturday's 5th annual Aleppo Shriners/Mass. State Hockey Coaches Association All-Star Classic show up knowing little about the strengths and weakness of their fellow linemates. Having not practiced together, the only thing to do is learn on the fly.

The South stars were the quick learners, as all of its lines meshed brilliantly en route to a one-sided 7-1 triumph at the DCU Center.

"You don't really see an all star game finish 7-1," said South and Braintree head coach David Fasano. "It's usually 8-7 or 9-8. But all of our goaltenders played great. We were putting lines together an hour before the game so to come out and move the puck around the way we did was pretty incredible. There was some very good play making out there. There is no system in place so to speak and the goaltenders know they are going to see a lot of shots so to their credit they made some great stops. The way our kids were moving the puck around they looked like they had been playing together for a very long time."

After racing out to a 4-1 lead after the first period, this game was never in doubt. Despite facing 43 shots, South's three goaltenders (St. John's of Shrewsbury’s Mario Pizzeri, Framingham's Al Lynch and Brookline's Jake Paul) were outstanding between the pipes.

"We got an early goal on them and I think that sort of set the momentum for us," said Pizzeri, who will play at Assumption College next year. "This was certainly a fun way to go out and a great way to end my high school career."

Offensively, Marshfield forward David Cataldo led the attack as he found the back of net twice. His rebound goal coming at 6:46 of the opening period set the gears in motion for the South squad. Three minutes later, Braintree's Nick Ward made it a two-goal affair after taking a diagonal pass from Trevor O'Brien and beating Springfield Cathedral goaltender John Liquori low glove side.

Wachusett Regional's Marc Happy, taking a well-executed behind the net feed from Jim Currier, ripped a one-timer past Pizzeri to bring his team to within a goal at 10:21 but that is as close as the North stars would get.

"I'm disappointed in regards to the final outcome but this is truly a great event and the fact that it is helping a great cause with Shriners Hospitals," said North and Winchester forward Brendan Greene.

Just 32 seconds after Happy's score, Duxbury's Nick Marrocco, standing in front of the crease, back-handed a shot by Liquori to give South back its two-goal advantage.

Things seemed to snowball from there. With less than three minutes remaining in the period, Cataldo, off a well-timed pass from Robbie Souza, ripped a shot into the back of the net from the left slot to send South into the first intermission leading by three goals.

"Surprisingly we had some very good chemistry among all of us despite having never played together," Cataldo said. "All of the lines seemed to be clicking today. You are going to develop chemistry with all of these kids coming to this game. All of them can play hockey, they can adjust and they learn to play with other kids very quickly. That is why they are here.

“It's cool to play with all of these guys because you read about them during the season."

Early in the middle frame, South picked up right where it left off to end the first. Just 2:21 into the period, Archbishop Williams forward Mike Sorenti, taking a pass from Xaverian's Antonio Marini down low, skated across the front of the crease and patiently waited for St. Mary's of Lynn goalie Bailey MacBurnie to commit before sending a shot beyond the senior's out-stretched right leg pad to make it 5-1.

With North seeing its opportunities being stoned regularly, South continued to maintain its offensive charge. Xaverian's Ricky Smith padded the lead to five at 13:56 with a laser from 20 feet out that MacBurnie never saw.

"It was fun to go out there and play with a bunch of new guys," said South defenseman and St. John's (Shrewsbury) standout Bryan Nelson. "A lot of the guys I knew from playing with or against in squirts and pee-wees. It was nice to see them and catch up on things with them. This felt more like a summer tournament game. It was a lot of fun."

To its credit, North wasn't about to go down easily during the final period. Opening up the offense a bit more, they sent 19 shots toward Paul but none got past him. Meanwhile, Dartmouth's Joseph Correia added to North's misery by tallying an unassisted goal at 13:10. South also finished with 43 shots.

"The real surprise in all of this is the one goal by them on the other end," Fasano said. "That is unheard of in these types of games whether it be high school, college or the NHL. Usually those kinds of games have some pretty-big numbers. This was a lot of fun to be apart of and was a great show put on by both the Shriners and the Worcester Sharks."

Long, storied hoop history shapes Rockland pride

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
3:02
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ROCKLAND, Mass. -- Like any high school gym, the one at Rockland High is adorned with banners detailing the
school's athletic achievements. The boys basketball one hanging adjacent to mid-court begins to tell the story of why much was expected of the Bulldogs this season.

The 26 league titles listed on the banner are a glimpse at the program's sustained success, and that winning tradition meant Rockland's sights were set high as ever this season, even if this could've been an easy year to temper their lofty goals.

Tyler Gibson, a freshman for Bentley University, graduated last spring from Rockland as perhaps the most decorated player in school history. He averaged more than 21 points and 15 rebounds per game. Gibson anchored a stingy Rockland defense, blocking nearly five shots per contest.

After leading the Bulldogs to a South Shore League title, the post season honors poured in; he was selected SSL MVP, was tabbed for ESPN Boston's All-Defensive and Super Teams. His impressive resume added an exclamation point in the form of being named the 2012-2013 Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year.

Rockland also graduated stand-out point guard Bryan Tavares, a two-time league all star who is in the middle of a post-grad year at Lee Academy (Maine).

If losing two starters of that caliber wasn't tough enough, the Bulldogs were dealt an unexpected blow before their season even began. Junior Joey Reardon, a key to last year's defense nearly as important as Gibson, was lost for the year on Thanksgiving day. Playing quarterback for the Dogs' football team, he separated his shoulder, tearing his labrum in the process. Just like that, Rockland was tasked with replacing it's best on-ball defender in recent memory.

Three pistons of the engine gone, but Rockland continued to motor on this season, going 15-5 and even improving their league record by one game despite finishing second to Cohasset.

"We don't the word rebuild in this program," said Bulldogs coach Fred Damon. "We use the word reload. We get new people in and we know we have a job to do.

Historically the Bulldogs have held true to that, and when they host Dennis-Yarmouth to open the South Sectional on Tuesday night, it will mark the 43rd time in 46 ears that Rockland has qualified for the tournament.

Legendary coach Bob Fisher crafted the impressive winning tradition and Steve Sangster and Tom Bailey kept it alive during a few years away from the sidelines for the Hall of Famer. For the last 10 years, Damon -- coach for 137 wins in that time -- has overseen the continued success of Rockland basketball.

Just how has Rockland withstood the test of time, the changing of the coaching guard and the inevitable replacing of high school athletes?

One reason is simply the culture that the winning tradition has created throughout the program and the town.

"The history here means growing up in town, you better know about Rockland basketball," said Damon. "Everybody who plays here knows what's come before them and knows what is expected around here."

For this year's version of the Bulldogs, they grew up watching one of Rockland's most impressive decades. The Dogs rattled off nine straight league titles from 1997-2004. For many of the players, Joe Coppens, one of just five 1,000-point scorers in school history, be a me more than just a basketball player when he led the way during a state championship run in 2004.

"I went to every game during the state championship year, and that just made me want to play here," said senior captain Matt Nicholson, who has averaged better than 20 points per game this year. "Joe was my role model growing up. He rolled his ankle in the state title game and still scored 30 that night. After that game, I dreamed of wearing a Bulldogs uniform."

Long before Nicholson idolized Coppens, his hero had heroes of his own.

"Growing up in Rockland, sports in general were huge, but especially basketball and football," said Coppens, who's now an assistant at Brandeis. "Back then, we looked at the varsity athletes like they were celebrities. I couldn't wait to be on that team and to be one of those guys."

The town itself -- an old mill town that saw jobs shift away from the factories, when cheap labor was procured overseas -- is another reason the Bulldogs have been one of the prominent programs on the South Shore generation after generation.

"It's a hard-working, blue collar town and you have a lot of hard-working, blue collar people in it," Coppens said. "Fortunately or unfortunately, however you want to look at it, those same people are the ones coaching the youth programs and high school programs. In Rockland you grow up with coaches who aren't afraid to get in your face and be honest with you. You were either tough, or you became tough."

Added Damon: "This is the way it's always been and this is the way things go here. When our guys are not doing what we want them to do, they're going to hear it, but when they are doing what we expect, they'll hear that as well. It's the only way to get better."

Players like Gerard Saucier -- a guard built in the mold of Dustin Pedroia -- are proof that you can overcome not being the biggest or fastest players on the floor.

"Wearing this uniform is the best thing that's ever happened to me," Saucier said. "Growing up, I was never a top notch player, so I was never even sure I'd play here. We're usually not the most talented, but we have the biggest heart in the state and we take a lot of pride in playing the way we do."

At 5-foot-8 with limited scoring ability, Saucier has turned himself into a tougher than nails defensive player. The epitome of a Rockland player, was elected a captain for this season.

The result of the way Rockland does this is bunch of tough kids similar to Saucier, who welcome a demolition derby style of play, something that makes them especially difficult to play against.

"You expect hard-nosed defense and you expect a physical game any time you see Rockland," said Wareham coach Kevin Brogioli, whose Vikings have regularly squared off with Rockland in the tournament, including a back-and-forth rumble in the semifinals a year ago.

"Whenever we play Rockland, we would prefer the game being more up and down than getting into a half court slugfest because that's not our best style of play," Brogioli added. "They will make it a physical game. You know with them you're in for a rock fight, a dog fight, a real physical battle. You have to be ready, and if you're not, you're going to get crushed."

Recap: Rockland 65, Cohasset 63 (OT)

February, 15, 2014
Feb 15
11:09
PM ET
ROCKLAND, Mass. -– With the scored tied and the last seconds of overtime ticking away against Cohasset, Rockland’s Matt Nicholson unleashed a potentially game-winning 3-pointer in front of a packed gym on Saturday afternoon.

The ball came down squarely on the rim, the result being a long rebound back out toward foul line. With the miss, it looked for sure that the Bulldogs would be headed to a second overtime in their final South Shore League contest of the year.

Sophomore John Furr had other ideas.

“I was out looking for a three-pointer on the right wing, and when I saw the shot going off the rim I knew it was heading toward a gap where no one was on the floor,” Furr said. “I just got there, grabbed the rebound and wanted to get a shot up and hoped it would drop.”

In one motion, Furr took off from behind the free throw line, caught the rebound and sent the ball back toward the basket before he landed. The ball arced high off the backboard, clanged off the front of the rim straight up in the air, came down on the back of the rim, and slowly rolled in, giving the Bulldogs a 65-63 win that caused the capacity crowd to rush the floor in celebration.

“I was prepared for double overtime, but I knew Matty shot that with enough time that we might be able to do something,” said Rockland coach Fred Damon. “I saw Johnny coming in from wing. I said ‘just get in and get one chance.’ We’ve been telling the kids all year if they get that chance to put that shot off the glass, because if you try to finesse it, it goes off the back rim and falls out.”

Before Furr’s game-winner could be possible, the Bulldogs (15-4) needed some late-game heroics just to force overtime.

Trailing by five with under two minutes to go, Rockland used a 3-pointer from Furr, who had a game-high 19 points, to cut the lead to two. Cohasset drew a foul on the ensuing possession, but connected on just one of two free throws.

On the other end, Rockland couldn’t get an open look at a potential game-tying 3-pointer, and instead worked the ball down low to Ian McDonald, who used a strong post up-and-under move to lay the ball and cut the lead to one.

Rockland was unable to come up with a steal on the inbounds pass, but quickly fouled. The Skippers (17-1) again went 1-for-2 at the line, leaving the Bulldogs trailing by two.

After a Rockland timeout, the Bulldogs set up their offense and worked the ball around looking for an open shot. As the clock ticked under five, Joe Kimball fired a pass to Andrew Frazer in the corner, just in front of the 3-point line.

Frazer went up with a jump shot, let it fly and saw it snap through the twine to the tie the game.

Nicholson ensured they’d head to overtime when he picked off Cohasset’s Christian Laettner-style heave attempt in a manner that would make Ed Reed proud.

“The last two minutes says a lot about this team,” said Damon. “We were down five, and we came back against a good team like that. You could feel the momentum change there.”

Skippers sailing despite loss: Despite being dealt its first loss, Cohasset looked like a team primed to wreak havoc in the D4 South Sectional Tournament. That was especially true in overtime, when Rockland rode the end of regulation to a quick five point lead in OT.

The Skippers pulled closer at the free throw line, just to see Rockland expand its lead up to six points with 1:01 left. On the very next possession up the floor, before the offense even got set, Chris Haggerty unfurled a deep 3-pointer to cut the deficit to just three.

A defensive stop gave Cohasset the ball with 35 seconds left.

Cohasset moved the ball around the perimeter, finally landing in the hands of defensive-minded Joe Buckley, who let a fade-away 3-pointer go near the corner. His shot ripped through the net to tie the score with just 15 seconds remaining in overtime.

“That’s why they were undefeated,” said Damon. “That team doesn’t quit. They just keep coming, and have a lot of different guys who can make big shots.”

That’s something Skippers coach Bo Ruggeiro is very proud of, especially when considering that Cohasset graduated 1,000 point scorer Shane Haggerty, as well as SSL All-Star point guard Christian Davis last year.

“Considering what we lost, I’ll take a 17-0 start. Now we’re 17-1, but we have sole ownership of the SSL title,” Ruggeiro said. “I’m really proud of these guys to come into an atmosphere like this, and play well out here today.”

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.

Recap: Abington 23, Rockland 7

October, 20, 2013
10/20/13
1:06
AM ET
ABINGTON, Mass. – Any rumors of demise on the gridiron at Abington High this fall have been greatly exaggerated.

No, the Green Wave weren’t exactly written off after seeing two of their star players go down with season-ending injuries in their Week 1 loss to Duxbury –- they hung in until the final drive that night, of course -– but there were certainly questions abound as to how they’d progress moving forward.

Six weeks later, the Green Wave have won five straight and secured a share of the South Shore League title, after spoiling border rival Rockland’s Homecoming with a 23-7 win at Rockland Veterans Memorial Stadium.

“I credit my coaching staff and I credit my kids,” Abington coach Jim Kelliher said. “We don’t have one of the very best backs in Eastern Massachusetts, with [Matt] Kilmain, and we lost our second-best guy on the first play of the season. We gotta roll up our sleeves, and just dig in, and we’ve got to work and make sure we come ready to play together on a Friday or Saturday.

“That’s what our coaching staff has really done a good job of. We’ve lost two big guys, and they were two very good gosh darn players.”

The Green Wave (5-1) used nearly a half-dozen ball-carriers to eke out yardage, as well as some deep throws from quarterback Brian Dwyer (7-of-9, 101 yards; 5 carries, 22 yards) to get out to an early lead. They took a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter when Al Freeman (21 caries, 77 yards, 2 TD) pulled around the left on a sweep and scampered in from 15 yards out. That score completed a quick four-play, 65-yard drive that featured some shifty open-field maneuvering from sophomore Shawn Donovan (12 carries, 115 yards).

Rockland responded immediately, with Justin Nguyen returning the ensuing kickoff 74 yards to the house, but the Green Wave came right back to make it a two-possession game once again. Following an onside kick recovery at midfield, Abington marched 53 yards in nine plays, capping it with Freeman's second touchdown, a two-yard plunge through the right side.

But the story of this game was the turnovers. Abington finished with a plus-four differential on the afternoon, twice recovering fumbles in its own red zone to thwart scoring opportunities for the Bulldogs (4-2).

The second recovery, snatched at the one-foot line by Josh Riordan, may have been the backbreaker. Off the turnover, the Green Wave ground out a 12-play, 85-yard drive that ate more than eight minutes off the clock. Donovan completed the drive with a 32-yard field goal, and by the time the Bulldogs had the ball again, they were facing a three-possession deficit with 3:56 to go.

Aidan Cawley sealed it in the end for Abington, thwarting Rockland's final two drives with interceptions deep downfield.

"They certainly are gonna feel good about that," Kelliher said. "I tell the kids defensively, if you can live for another defensive play, then something can happen. Even though they were driving -- they drove on us a couple of times -- I always say if you make them work for every single inch, something may happen. Maybe we're going to get that linebacker to tip the ball, or get an interception, maybe we're going to make a hit that causes a fumble, but stay with it, keep coming after them. They did, and we got those."

ABINGTON 23, ROCKLAND 7

AB 7 13 0 3 --- 23
RO 0 7 0 0 --- 7


First Quarter
A – Steve Manning 7 run (Shawn Donovan kick) 1:51

Second Quarter
A – Al Freeman 15 run (Donovan kick) 8:19
R – Justin Nguyen 74 kickoff return (Joe Reardon kick) 8:06
A – Freeman 2 run (kick failed) 3:23

Fourth Quarter
A – Donovan 32 field goal 3:58

Walpole's Arsenault wins inaugural Shot For Life Challenge

August, 4, 2013
8/04/13
10:19
AM ET


HANOVER, Mass. –- Even Mike Slonina was impressed.

More than two years since the 20-year old Watertown resident hoisted jumpers for 24 consecutive hours and created A Shot For Life Foundation (ASFL) -– a non-profit dedicated to funding brain cancer research at Mass General Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital -– the former Catholic Memorial School varsity basketball manager was awestruck by his surroundings.

As he stood in the middle of the eight basketball courts that comprise the University Sports Complex in Hanover –- site of Saturday afternoon’s inaugural “A Shot For Life Challenge” – the rising junior from Quinnipiac University pronounced, “The amount of shooting talent in this room is . . . it’s tough to match. And the fact that they’re all doing this, really, to make a good impact on the world, outside of basketball, is awesome. All these kids deserve a ton of credit for this.”

When the two-hour exhibition – which challenged 11 competitors to 20-minute intervals of specific shot types, including mid-range jumpers, free throws and three-pointers – concluded between the Commonwealth’s top marksmen, Scott Arsenault, who will be a senior at Walpole High this fall, was crowned the “Best Shooter in Massachusetts.”

With a large crowd of friends and family looking on, the Rebels two-guard knocked down 90.6 percent of his attempts to better runner-up Shiraz Mumtaz of Brookline High, who finished at an 81.8 percent clip. Newton North’s Tommy Mobley placed third with a shooting percentage of 79.2.

Arsenault, who led throughout, also received a trophy and will have his number retired at future ASLF events.

“I was just trying to hit as many as I could in a row,” he said. “I knew I was going to get tired because it was for two hours. So, I made sure to stay disciplined and not break my form.”

Drawing visions of Jimmy Chitwood -– the lean, smooth-shooting sniper from the film Hoosiers -– Arsenault battled through the final half-hour despite “feeling [his] leg kind of giving out.”

Such physical ailments were commonplace amongst a field that included Ben Judson (St. John’s Prep), Sam Bohmiller (Franklin), Nick McKenna (Danvers), Jake Foote (Duxbury), Ryan Roach (Cardinal Spellman), Mike Nelson (Bishop Feehan), and Tyler Gibson (Rockland), the Massachusetts’ Gatorade Player of the Year who will play at Bentley University next season. Vinny Clifford (Danvers) was a late scratch after injuring his knee during a recent pickup game.

“Extremely tired,” said Mobley in the competition’s immediate aftermath. “I think my right arm is significantly stronger than my left arm now.”

Judson acknowledged similar symptoms.

“It was definitely tough,” said the Plaitstow, NH product. “My arms and legs were so tired halfway through, but I just had to keep pushing.”

Said Bohmiller, who will play at Babson College next season, “My arms are heavy and I’m pretty tired, but I had a lot of fun.”

Despite their collective fatigue, there was a general sense of elation that each competitor had pushed themselves to their physical limits for a worthwhile cause.

And though many were aware that what they had accomplished –- regardless of their final stats -– was significant, they also knew it paled in comparison to Slonina’s 24-hour shooting marathon.

“It seems impossible to do that,” Mobley said of shooting for a full day. “I’m right now very exhausted. I’m probably going to sleep the whole car ride home. And when I get home, I may take a shower and sleep some more. He shot for 12 times longer than I did, so, I mean, doing that 11 more times, back-to-back, I can’t even imagine what it must mean. It’s incredible that he was willing to work that hard for the cause; it’s incredible that there are people out there with that much passion to help others.”

Echoed Bohmiller, “No way, I don’t know how he [did] it . . . Props to him for 24 hours. That’s something special.”
Still, Slonina knows that for now his shooting days are over. He’s traded in his sneakers for wingtips as he focuses on expanding ASFL and its marquee event each year.

“For A Shot For Life to grow in the way that I want it to grow,” he said, “A Shot For Life can’t be synonymous with Mike Slonina. It just can’t be. A Shot For Life needs to outgrow me in that sense. I [received] a big outpouring of support for the 24 hours; that’s great and I appreciated all of it. But I want A Shot For Life to grow to the size of Livestrong. I want A Shot For Life to be nationwide. If it’s about one kid shooting over and over, it can’t do that. The face has to change.”

With Saturday’s one-day event already topping $10,000 in proceeds, Slonina understands that there is more money to collect and donate and additional events to plan.

“Raising money is the part that counts,” he said. “We raised $10,000 without any corporate help whatsoever. In my mind, I think, we can easily turn that into $50,000. That’s with no corporate sponsorship; that’s a really good sign.”

As for the structure of next year’s event, Slonina said, “We’re definitely having a dunk contest, I can guarantee that. We’re almost going to turn it into an NBA All-Star Saturday where they have the skills competition, three-point shootout and dunk contest. That’s what this event will eventually evolve into.”

While Slonina will no longer be doing the shooting, it’s undeniable that the legacy he created and the standard he set with his courageous effort in April 2011 will endure.

Paul Lazdowski can be followed on Twitter: @plazdow

High expectations for A Shot For Life Challenge

July, 23, 2013
7/23/13
2:42
PM ET
WEST ROXBURY, Mass. -– Mike Slonina has always found solace and strength on the court. In 2010, when he learned that his mother had been diagnosed with brain cancer, the Watertown resident went straight to the Waltham YMCA and shot jumpers for four hours, while trying to process the news. Gratefully, the initial diagnosis turned out to be incorrect and he became determined to try and prevent others from suffering from the hopelessness that he felt that afternoon.

It turned out that basketball would provide more than just a coping mechanism, it also became the method by which Slonina, then a senior at Catholic Memorial High School, would try and fight back.

“I’m one of those people that, when something goes wrong, I feel like I have to do something,” he recently reflected. “The thing with cancer is that it makes you feel helpless and that’s what makes me so mad. I just wanted to give that hope back and show people that you can make a difference.”

He formed a non-profit foundation, trained for several months, and, on April 9, 2011, took to the Ronald S. Perry gymnasium court and shot jumpers for 24 hours straight. That day, A Shot For Life Foundation (ASFL) raised more than just awareness about brain cancer; it also raised nearly $30,000 for Mass General Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital.

Two years later, as a rising junior at Quinnipiac University, Slonina has organized another competitive event to further his organization’s mission of funding cancer research.

On Saturday, August 3, at the University Sports Complex in Hanover, 11 of the best shooters in Massachusetts high school basketball -- including Rockland's Tyler Gibson, the state's Gatorade Player of the Year -- will fire jumps shots for two straight hours. The winner of the “A Shot For Life Challenge” (to be determined by field goal percentage) will not only be crowned the “Best Shooter in Massachusetts,” but will also have his number retired for all future ASFL events.

“I think it’s great because you hear so many terrible things happening in youth sports today and here are 11 really tremendous basketball players unselfishly using their talents for a good cause,” said Slonina last week during a break in a youth camp that he is helping to run at his alma mater. “It was so great seeing that many young kids embracing it and realizing the good that they can do with basketball.”

His own basketball career was cut short in seventh grade by a nerve problem in his ankle, which it was later determined was caused by a bone being in the wrong place, but the game remained a huge part of his life. Slonina was the team manager for the CM team that won the 2008 MIAA Division 2 state championship and, when he needed an outlet for his desire to give back, basketball (and his great jump shot) was a natural fit.

He showed up at CM every morning at 6:30 a.m. to shoot, would lift during lunch periods, and then shoot for hours again after school. He demonstrated the same determination off the court, going door-to-door to raise funds for the event. While Slonina admits that ASFL is not yet raising the type of money that will make a huge difference, he firmly believes that every penny counts. He also believes that this is just the beginning for his foundation.

He explained, “That’s what everyone needs to grasp. On a bigger scale, that’s what I was trying to do with the 24-hour thing. People kept saying, ‘But, you’re only one person.’ It only takes one person.”

Following his feat, Slonina’s life changed and the profile of A Shot For Life was at its highest point. He hopes that the foundation, which he loves, can reach that potential again through the August competition and that the players will feel honored to be taking part in the event. There is no question that Slonina is already eyeing the future and placing high expectations on himself and the foundation.

“I want to be the Nike of non-profits,” he said with total sincerity and a contagious enthusiasm for what the future holds for ASFL. The inaugural “A Shot For Life Challenge” is still more than two weeks away, but Slonina is already thinking of ways to make it bigger and better in 2014. He exclaimed, “I can tell you right now that next year is going to have a dunk contest!”

Since his record-breaking effort, Slonina and A Shot For Life have inspired countless people and he can recount numerous examples of people that have shared stories that, he says, nearly bring him to tears. An example was a comment from one of his former teammates from the 2008 state title-winning team, who came back to rebound for him that day.

“[One of the players], who was a senior when I was a freshman, told me, ‘You don’t know how many people you just inspired.’ I look up to him, so him saying that...It just means so much to me,” marveled Slonina. “I don’t want to say a cliché, but it means the world to me.”

After several other tries to put into words just what it meant to read the letters and emails that he received after the 2011 event or to have people tell him how about how he affected their lives, Slonina simply shook his head and laughed, “This is the first time I’ve been speechless in an interview. I don’t know how to word it. It’s awesome.”

The “A Shot For Life Challenge” will take place on Saturday, August 3 at the University Sports Complex in Hanover beginning at 1 p.m. The 11 shooters are: Ben Judson, St. John’s Prep; Sam Bohmiller, Franklin; Tommy Mobley, Newton North; Nick McKenna, Danvers; Jake Foote, Duxbury; Ryan Roach, Cardinal Spellman; Vinny Clifford, Danvers; Scott Arsenault, Walpole; Mike Nelson, Bishop Feehan; Shiraz Mumtaz, Brookline; and Tyler Gibson, Rockland.

To donate to the A Shot For Life Challenge, CLICK HERE.

Gibson granted release from UML, commits to Bentley

June, 25, 2013
6/25/13
4:14
PM ET
UMass-Lowell spokesperson Chris O'Donnell confirmed to ESPNBoston.com that incoming basketball recruit Tyler Gibson of Rockland High was granted a release from his scholarship to the River Hawks' program yesterday morning.

Following his release, Gibson, Massachusetts' Gatorade Player of the Year for 2013, gave a verbal commitment to Bentley University. He visited the Waltham campus on Sunday, then yesterday visited Merrimack College before making his pledge.

"I feel Bentley would be the best place to succeed," Gibson said. "No disrespect to Merrimack, I just think this is the best choice for my family."

The 6-foot-6 Gibson put in a monster senior season for Rockland, averaging 21.4 points, 15.3 rebounds and 4.8 blocks as the Bulldogs reached the MIAA Division 3 South semifinals. He was named the state's Gatorade Player of the Year and also earned a spot on ESPN Boston's annual MIAA All-State Team. He's also a prolific track and field star, winning a state championship in the high jump earlier this month.

Gibson verbally committed to UMass-Lowell last summer, at the time coached by Greg Herenda, and signed a National Letter of Intent during the early signing period last November. Herenda left for the head coach job at Fairleigh Dickinson in April, and two weeks later Pat Duquette was officially named the River Hawks' new coach.

Last Tuesday, Gibson arrived at school for freshman orientation and finally met the new coaching staff. Several days later, he says Duquette told him and fellow recruit Jack Sullivan of Albertus Magnus High (N.Y.) that "there was no chance of us playing, and that it'd be in our best interest to leave and find somewhere else to go."

"I didn't really feel too bad," Gibson said. "As soon as I heard the news I knew I had to be quick. I didn't have time to be upset or anything like that. I simply moved on."

UMass-Lowell is preparing to make the jump from Division 2 to Division 1. The school is set to join the America East Conference on July 1, replacing Boston University, which is leaving for the Patriot League.

Of the conversation he had with Gibson, Duquette said, "Tyler and I had a very open and honest discussion about his future and what his options are. After that conversation he asked for his release."

Asked if he felt any ill will about the sudden turn of events, Gibson says he harbors none.

"Not at all," he said. "I kinda understand it's a business decision. He wants his own guys with the coaching change, that’s how it works. It's a business. New management comes in and the old people leave. Nothing personal, it's all good."

Gibson said he is still in the process of applying to Bentley, but should have "all my stuff set by tomorrow".

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
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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

Rockland's Gibson named Gatorade Player of the Year

March, 21, 2013
3/21/13
12:56
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RocklandBrendan Hall/ESPNBoston.com Rockland senior center Tyler Gibson was named Massachusetts' Gatorade Player of the Year on Thursday after averaging 21.4 points, 15.3 rebounds and 4.8 blocks per game.
In its 28th year of honoring the nation’s best high school athletes, The Gatorade Company, in collaboration with USA TODAY High School Sports, today announced Tyler Gibson of Rockland High School as its 2012-13 Gatorade Massachusetts Boys Basketball Player of the Year. Gibson is the first Gatorade Massachusetts Boys Basketball Player of the Year to be chosen from Rockland High School.

The award, which recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the court, distinguishes Gibson as Massachusetts’s best high school boys basketball player. Now a finalist for the prestigious Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year award to be announced in March, Gibson joins an elite alumni association of past state boys basketball award winners, including Dwight Howard (2003-04, SW Atlanta Christian Academy, Ga.), Chauncey Billups (1993-94 & 1994-95, George Washington HS, Colo.), Jason Kidd (1991-92, St. Joseph Notre Dame HS, Calif.), Paul Pierce (1994-95, Inglewood HS, Calif.) and Chris Bosh (2001-02, Lincoln HS, Texas).

The 6-foot-6, 200-pound senior center averaged 21.4 points, 15.3 rebounds, 4.8 blocks and 2.1 assists per game this past season, leading the Bulldogs (19-4) to the Division 3, South Region semifinals. A two-time Brockton Enterprise All-Scholastic selection and the 2013 South Shore League MVP, Gibson had eight games this season with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds. He concluded his high school basketball career with 986 points.

Gibson has maintained a 3.32 GPA in the classroom. He has volunteered locally as a youth basketball coach and has also donated his time as an elementary school mentor.

“Tyler Gibson is certainly a game-changer and a hell of a player,” said Jim Willis, head coach of Cohasset High. “He was definitely the No. 1 reason Rockland won the league this year and went as far as they did. Defensively, he just changed every game he was in because of his size and jumping ability.”

Gibson has signed a National Letter of Intent to play basketball on an athletic scholarship at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell beginning this fall.

Gibson joins recent Gatorade Massachusetts Boys Basketball Players of the Year Rene Castro (2011-12, Worcester Academy), Pat Connaughton (2010-11, St. John's Preparatory School), Nate Lubick (2009-10 & 2008-09, St. Mark's School), Stevie Mejia (2007-08, Lawrence Academy), and Mike Baldarelli (2006 – 07, Holy Name Central Catholic) among the state’s list of former award winners.

D3 South: Wareham 61, Rockland 55

March, 5, 2013
3/05/13
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BROCKTON, Mass. -– Darien Fernandez is getting more out of his high school basketball career than most players do.

Literally.

The 5-foot-7 star point guard led the way as his No. 1 Wareham team slipped past No. 4 Rockland, 61-56, at Brockton in a Div. 3 South Sectional Semifinal match-up, guaranteeing Fernandez and the Vikings will make their straight trip to the sectional finals.

Fernandez piled up 26 points to go with 11 rebounds, five assists and three steals as Wareham advanced to a repeat of last season’s finals match-up as they’ll take on No. 7 Martha’s Vineyard on Saturday at UMass-Boston.

“You really can’t stop a kid like that,” said Rockland coach Fred Damon. “He initiates contact, he gets us in foul trouble and he distributes the ball. We knew he was going to do what he was going to do, the key was we just didn’t want to be able to make everyone else better. We also wanted to be able to limit their threes.”

For the most part, Rockland (19-4) succeeded to limit the damage done by Fernandez’s supporting cast. It was the 3-pointer, however, that sent them home -– largely because Fernandez was able to find his guys open from distance.

“Darien’s been unselfish all year,” said Wareham coach Kevin Brogioli. “He loves to penetrate, but if there’s open players he’ll hit them. He’s done it all year. He leads our teams in points and assists and that’s a pretty potent combination.”

Wareham (22-1) knocked down eight 3-pointers in the game, led by Sam Brogioli who poured in four of them. Each one of his came from way downtown, beyond the range of Rockland’s coverage. He sealed the game with a fourth quarter heave nearly 10 feet beyond the arc.

“That one from about 25-feet away -– man, the backyard blacktop paid off on that one,” said coach Brogioli of his son. “I was happy for him because he struggled a bit early. He had open looks early too, and he wasn’t afraid to keep shooting his shot. He hit them down the stretch.”

Added Damon: “Give the kid credit -– those weren’t even just high school threes, they weren’t just college threes, they weren’t even NBA threes. They were even beyond that, and they were all nothing but net.”

Brogioli’s 14 points paired him with Fernandez in double-figures, but offense was harder to come by last night for Wareham than it had been in the first two rounds of the tourney.

“Their defense is good. I’d never seen that,” Fernandez said. “They really tried to take my shoes away so I couldn’t really drive and kick like I wanted to and like I like to do, so I just had to get to the rack.

Added Brogioli: “Their defense is very tough –- but we held them to 56. We knew what they’re capable of –- we knew that was the Rockland way. Ever since Bobby Fisher, and now Fred Damon does it. They’ve got tough kids.”

As Wareham, the defending South Sectional champs, advanced to the title game for the third straight year, they also got strong showings from Quintin Silveria (six points, four rebounds, three blocks), Mason Vasconcellos (eight points) and Latroy Hariston ( six rebounds).

EMOTIONAL GOODBYE FOR BULLDOGS
With the loss, Rockland also had to say goodbye to South Shore League MVP and UMass-Lowell bound Tyler Gibson.

A three-year varsity player who scored 986 career points, Gibson helped the Bulldogs win 54 games during his time there – an average of 18 per season.

The Bulldogs’ success this season could’ve have taken a hit if Gibson would’ve put himself ahead of the program. Last spring, prep schools sought out the 6-6 forward with promises of increased chances for a college scholarship.

Instead, Gibson chose stay Rockland for a chance to add something to the impressive basketball legacy there.

Gibson, who finished with 25 points and 21 rebounds, nearly added another chapter alongside Matt Nicholson (14 points, seven rebounds) and Bryan Tavares (14 points) before the Bulldogs fell just short on Monday night.

The scholarship offers came anyway –- he had one from Merrimack in addition to UMass-Lowell, all without having to leave a town he calls home.

“There’s no place like Rockland, and I’m serious when I say that,” Gibson said. “It’s the tradition; we’re just one big family. That’s why I stayed.”

During his career, he blossomed from a physically gifted athlete into something much more.

“I’ve grown up a lot since sophomore year -– all because of this program,” Gibson said. “Coach Damon, the whole coaching staff and my teammates and I can’t give them enough credit.”

While Gibson’s play blossomed on the court, it was his non-basketball skill that impressed his coaches most.

“Your blessed when you get players like that,” said coach Fred Damon. “Totally blessed. Those type of kids only come along every so often. You look at his stats -– and they’re tremendous -– but it’s much more than that. It’s his personality, it’s how hard he works, it’s everything.”

Roundtable: Midseason All-State, Superlatives

January, 25, 2013
1/25/13
3:46
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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

All-Defensive
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

All-Shooters
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

Dorchester
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.

Sharon
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.

Waltham
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.

Case
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

All-Defensive
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

All-Shooters
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:

Andover
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 (www.massprepstars.com)


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 (www.beantownhoops.com)


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

All-Shooters
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.

Recap: No. 21 Rockland 78, Mashpee 51

January, 9, 2013
1/09/13
12:16
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ROCKLAND, Mass. -– Not all games are created equal. Some of them, like when the Rockland boys basketball team hosted South Shore League rival Mashpee on Tuesday night, just feel bigger.

“This was our fourth statement game –- Scituate, Norwell, Abington and this game here,” said Rockland coach Fred Damon. “We wanted to send statements. If we want people to take us for real, we need to win these types of games. We want to set ourselves as a team that can be a force in division three.”

That message was sent loud and clear on Tuesday, as No. 21 Rockland rolled to an easy 78-51 over the formerly unbeaten Falcons (8-1) in front of a sellout and raucous crowd.

UMass-Lowell signee Tyler Gibson got Rockland (9-0) on the board with a pair of free throws on the first possession, but senior point guard Bryan Tavares was the driving force behind the Bulldogs (9-0) forging an early lead, finishing the first quarter up 15-11.

Tavares notched 21 of his 26 points before halftime on a ridiculous 8-for-9 shooting. Even more impressive was that he did it all while battling the flu, twice leaving the court to throw up.

“I honestly don’t know how I did it,” Tavares said. “I practiced a lot over the summer and I can feel the improvements now. It all kind of came together tonight.”

Tavares knocked down three five 3-pointers in the second, sparking a 16-point quarter for him as the Bulldogs extended their lead to 44-28 at the half.

“Bryan’s the floor general of the team, so he basically controls everything,” said Gibson. “He gave us a boost scoring by hitting those 3-point shots early.”

Added junior Matt Nicholson: “It’s awesome to have a guy like. He’s been pretty consistent for us too -– other than the Cohasset game, he’s been like that every single game for us.”

Still, even a 14-point lead at the break wasn’t satisfactory for the Bulldogs.

“We like to keep teams around 20 (first half points),” Damon said. “We came into the locker room and I was not happy at halftime. I said they cannot stop us offensively, there’s no doubt and we ran sets like crazy in the second half. We had to pick it up defensively and they got seven points in the third quarter. We went from up 14 to up 26 –- that’s the game right there.”

Nicholson made sure the offense kept pouring it on as he tallied 11 points in the third quarter before adding nine in the fourth en route to a game-high 28 points, to go with six rebounds, two blocks and four steals.

Considering how both took over the game, it’s not clear which one was better against the Falcons.

“That was an absolute two-headed monster, so I really don’t know,” said Rockland coach Fred Damon. “I probably would have to say Tavares because he put us ahead and then extended the lead, and Nic kept us there. Bryan was just unconscious tonight. It was ridiculous. You cannot stop him when he’s shooting like that.”

Gibson finished with 13 points, five rebounds, three blocks and two steals and sophomore Liam Ball chipped in five rebounds, three points and two steals for Rockland.

Mashpee had a strong showing from Nakia Hendricks, who tallied 19 points, six rebounds, four blocks and three steals, as well as 12 points from Dean Feliciano and 10 points and seven rebounds from Malik Lee. But those individual showings weren’t enough to overcome Rockland’s impressive attack.

“What can I say, they just beat us,” said Mashpee coach Rick Boulrisse. “They shot the ball real well –- I think they hit seven 3’s in the first half. It’s hard to overcome something like that. Rockland just outplayed us.”

Recap: Upper Cape 22, Dorchester 8

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
12:06
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MILTON, Mass. -- After Upper Cape’s EMass. Div. 5 Super Bowl win, 22-8, over Dorchester at Curry College, it’s starting to feel like where Rams’ coach Mike Hernon goes, a Super Bowl is sure to follow.

He won one as a player with Rockland (2001), then won two more as an assistant coach at South Shore Vo-Tech (2002, 2003). And yesterday, the 27-year old Hernon added a ring as a head coach, in just the second year Upper Cape was a varsity program.

“When you’re a head coach, you have so much invested in the programs and invested in these kids,” said Hernon. “I came in with these kids, building the program together. We took our lumps last year and it was painful. Coming in to this year, it was kind of like ‘what do we do to fix it.’ These kids vowed to make it better and they did.”

Led by a pair of touchdowns and 131 yards on 16 carries by junior running back Jonathan Dumont, the Rams completed the transition from new program to Super Bowl champion, handing Dorchester their first loss of the season.

“They’ve got talent and they should be proud of that,” said Dorchester coach Rich Moran. “Overall we just made too many mistake – we dropped the ball a lot and gave them extra chances. But hey, they beat us what else can I say? It was a great high school football game and congrats to Upper Cape.”

Added Hernon: “We just talked about grinding it out. That’s our gameplan – ball control offense and get timely stops on defense, and I thought we did that today.”

Dorchester pulled out all the stops in this one, including opening the game with a successful onside kick, but just couldn’t overcome the ground attack of Dumont and sophomore Dylan Derby, who combined on 180 yards on the ground.

The teams were knotted at zero when Upper Cape had what looked like a touchdown pass from Edgar Eldredge to Derby wiped off the board because of an ineligible receiver down field.

On the next play – a 4th-and-10 from the 15 – Dumont broke around the right edge, racing past the would-be first down and into the end zone with 1:57 left in the first. A two-point try failed and the Rams led 6-0.

Dumont pushed his rushing total over the century mark about halfway into the second quarter when a 42-yard touchdown run sent his total to 103 yards.

Dorchester got on the board in the final minute when quarterback Demetrius Leary tossed a 32-yard score to Arrik Bell, cutting the lead to 14-8.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Eldredge extended the lead with a four-yard dive up the middle for the score, and followed with a successful pass to Matt Hoadley for the two-point conversion, making the score 22-8.

Rich Semple sparked the defense in the win, intercepting a pair of passes and knocking down a third in the win.

Trevaughn McCoy chipped in 84 yards on 17 carries in the loss.

Even after taking their first loss of the season in their biggest game, the Dorchester players certainly earned the respect of
their coach.

“These guys, from the beginning there was something different,” said Moran. “They got a long and worked together well. I didn’t expect this, I didn’t expect 10-0 (before the Super Bowl).

I’m so damn proud of the kids, it’s just phenomenal what they did this year. We beat a lot of good teams, but we ran into a power today. We did play good football.”

And for Upper Cape (10-1), this Super Bowl meant a lot more than just adding a ring to Hernon’s collection – it meant they had opened people’s eyes to their program.

“I’m not sure too many people even knew what Upper Cape even was until this year. Hopefully we put Upper Cape on the map a little bit. It’s the first state championship in school history.”

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