Boston High School: Ryan Boulter

Snapshot: A Shot For Life photo shoot

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
12:21
AM ET
HANOVER, Mass. -- Yesterday afternoon, ahead of Aug. 2's second annual Shot For Life Challenge, we held a small photo shoot with several of this year's participants, at the University Sports Complex.

Last month, we unveiled the announced participants for this year's event, which has added a girls division and a dunk contest. Last year, 12 shooters from around Massachusetts convened at Hanover's University Sports Complex and shot jumpers for two hours, competing for the honor of being named the state's best shooter, and raising more than $10,000 for brain cancer research. Proceeds for this year's event go to brain cancer research at both Children’s Hospital in Boston and Dr. Curry Research Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Joining A Shot For Life founder Mike Slonina in yesterday's shoot were Catholic Memorial's Brandon Twitty, Mansfield's Ryan Boulter, Westford Academy's Samantha Hyslip and Archbishop Williams' Alana Gilmer.

D1 South: Mansfield 72, Weymouth 52

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
11:34
PM ET
MANSFIELD, Mass. -- Back on Feb. 19, Weymouth stunned the state by beating Mansfield on a buzzer-beater to earn a postseason berth.

Fast forward one week with the two teams meeting again, this time in the first round of the D1 South playoffs. This go around, there wasn't even a chance for a last second shot, as Mansfield dominated from start to finish on their way to a 72-52 win over the Wildcats.

Mansfield hit 10 first-half three-pointers, part of a 13-of-22 effort from beyond the arc, to jump out a 20-point halftime lead. They held that separation throughout the second half for a comfortable win.

"We hit shots," said Mansfield head coach Michael Vaughan on what the difference from a week ago was. "Obviously, we're a much different team when he make shots. I think we had 10 three's in the first half and it makes a big difference. They can't stay in that 3-2 zone that they do such a good job with. They're long up to and cut down a lot of passing lanes. I thought we took care of the ball better and I thought defensively we played better."

The Hornets didn't take long to hit from beyond the arc. Point guard Rocky DeAndrade hit his first of six first-half three's for the game's opening basket. Six of the Hornets' first seven field goals came from downtown on their way to a 20-11 lead after the first quarter.

It didn't get any easier in the second quarter as Mansfield's Ryan Boulter hit his second trey of the game to open up the second quarter, and scored nine straight Hornet points to build a 29-14 lead and forced a Weymouth timeout. Out of the timeout, though, DeAndrade gambled and came up with a steal and easy two, keeping the momentum with the Hornets. After the two teams traded baskets, DeAndrade then hit consecutive three pointers to extend Mansfield's lead from 39-18. Another DeAndrade three near the end of the quarter helped the Hornets head into halftime up 42-22.

After struggling to connect one week ago, Mansfield finished shooting over 50 percent from the floor, including nearly 60 percent from three-point range.

"I'd say that's a good day," Vaughan said. "I always say when you don't shoot well the next typically goes in your favor in terms of hitting shots. Guys stuck with it, we had a good couple of days of practice and the guys were up for the game and excited. It's just a matter of sticking to the game plan and limiting turnovers."

There wasn't much Weymouth could do, as they tried variations of their 3-2 zone. But with four players continuously on the floor that could connect from deep, they were forced to take their chances.

"They had what, 13 or 15 three's," said Weymouth head coach Jim Dolan. "They're a great team and when a team shoots like that, it's hard. our kids never quit and they kept battling. They were getting bloody lips and twisting ankles but we never quit and I'm so proud of our kids. What's tough is that we don't have practice tomorrow. They kept shooting and shooting and shooting. They're a great team and we tip our caps to them and we wish them well."

It ended up an even second half, with both teams scoring 30 points but the deficit that Mansfield created in the first half was too much for Weymouth to come back from.

Weymouth finishes the season 11-11 with the loss. Dolan called this "the best group of kids" he's been around after the team's win over Attleboro, and his eyes watered on Wednesday night talking about this season.

"Our kids, I'm really proud of them," he said. "It's a great group of kids and it's tough that we don't have practice tomorrow."

The Hornets know that they can't ride just their hot shooting throughout the playoffs, as they experienced in last year's state finals against Putnam.

"Now its a new season and last year we learned a valuable lesson in the tournament," Vaughan said. "If you don't shoot well, a team can beat you in a 43-43 fist fight. I want to try and find other ways to score when we're not shooting well."

Mansfield will now advance to host No. 11 seed Brookline on Friday after Brookline took down Taunton in double-overtime.

Recap: No. 7 Mansfield 73, Taunton 57

February, 8, 2014
Feb 8
1:37
AM ET
TAUNTON, Mass. - The forecast outside was clear skies, but inside the Taunton High field house it was pouring — raining three's to be exact.

Mansfield and Taunton combined for 23 three-pointers, but 14 of them in favor of the Hornets, who hit half of those in the third quarter, expanding a nine point halftime lead in a 73-57 rout of Taunton.

With the win, Mansfield (18-1) claims the Hockomock's Kelley-Rex Division title outright for the second straight year.

After converting just three three-pointers in the first half, Mansfield came out and hit seven shots from beyond the arc in the third quarter alone, outscoring Taunton 25-16 and expanding their 32-23 halftime lead into a 57-39 lead headed into the final quarter.

"We wanted to win the third quarter, call it a 0-0 ball game and win the third quarter," said Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan. "I told the guys the only way Taunton is getting back into this game is if they come out and play straight up man to man with no help, so we have to get three or four passes. If we can get them, we'll get uncontested shots. I thought we did a great job getting into that third or fourth pass in a possession and it was really the big difference for us."

Mansfield junior Michael Boen hit the Hornet's first three of the third frame to expand their lead to 10 at 37-27 before classmate Ryan Boulter hit one of his own. After Taunton's Shaq Davis drained a three of his own, Hornet seniors Kyle Wisnieski and Rocky DeAndrade hit consecutive three's. Taunton scored a field goal but on their rebuttal, DeAndrade hit two more threes.

"That's kind of been the key to our season," Vaughan said. "On any given night, different guys step up. In the third, Boutler hit a couple early, then Rocky hit a couple and then Boen comes and finishes up and then Kyle sprinkles in two in the middle that were kind of daggers. It's just kind of been the way we've been playing all year.

The Hornets didn't let up on the gas pedal in the fourth quarter, hitting four three's on their first six scoring players. Boulter opened the fourth by draining a three and a couple of plays later, Boen hit back-to-back threes before DeAndrade's final three made it 73-44 before Mansfield's starters exited.

"When you play defense like that and encourage the three, you better do something to take it away from them," said Taunton head coach Charlie Dacey. "We didn't do much to take it away from them. Any scouting report in the state says that they can shoot. Our inability to find the shooters and close our properly killed us. It's not like we don't work on it every single day because we do. I don't know where our minds were in too many minutes in this game. Mansfield was at a different level then us tonight."

The first quarter was a back and forth affair, with the largest lead five points in favor of the Hornets but ended with Mansfield up 18-14. Mansfield opened the second frame on a 6-0 run to extend the lead to 10, but Taunton responded with a 7-0 run to bring it within three, but Mansfield closed the quarter outscoring the Tigers 6-2 to go into halftime up 32-23, having hit just three three-pointers but out rebounded Taunton 8-3 on the offensive boards.

"We missed some early and I was little worried the depth perception was going to get to us," said Vaughan. "I thought defensively they did a good job of closing out but I thought we did a good job rebounding the ball early, especially on the offensive glass, keeping it alive and almost getting free shots."

The Mansfield defense - which entered the game allowing the least points against in the Hockomock - was stout again, forcing 20 turnovers and made it very difficult to score against the Hornets when they were in their set.

"I thought we did a good job blocking out and rebounding and neutralizing their size," Vaughan said. "We spread the floor so well so size doesn't bother us a lot of the time I thought our perimeter defense was pretty solid. A kid like Boen helps because he can play Shaq and his length neutralizes Shaq's size. Shaq is a special player, he's a veteran. He plays the game like an old man when it comes to being crafty and getting touches inside and then he can hit the three. He just lets the game to him and that's why he's one of the better players in the league."

Boen finished with a game-high 21 points while DeAndrade added 19 points, Boulter finished with 16 points and Wisnieski chipped in with 14 points. Taunton junior Matt Midouin led the Tigers with 14 points, Davis added 13 points and freshman Jordan Galloway scored 10 points, all in the fourth quarter.

For Dacey, there really wasn't much to say in terms of how the game went.

"I don't have much to offer other than that was a very poor defensive performance obviously," he said. "There's no sugar coating it. We certainly were prepared physically to do it but mentally just way too many mistakes. You make a mistake and they score."

Mansfield will wrap up their league schedule with a trip to North Attleborough on Tuesday while Taunton (14-4) will look to bounce back on Sunday when they host North Attleborough.

Good Sports: No. 2 Mansfield 53, Franklin 50

January, 25, 2014
Jan 25
8:47
PM ET
BOSTON -- No field goals in the fourth quarter? No problem for Mansfield -- sort of.

The Hornets were held without a field goal in the entire fourth quarter but Franklin's buzzer-beating three pointer at the end of the game rimmed out and Mansfield held on for a 53-50 win.

Mansfield led by as much as 18 in the third quarter after opening the second half on an 8-0 run, but once the lead reached as much, Franklin turned up their defensive pressure and made it a six point game, 46-40, heading into the final quarter.

"When we went on that run, they had one of two choices to either roll over and let the game end or come out in fight and in typical Franklin fashion they were going to fight to the last second and they did so," said Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan. "I thought our guys were resilient and battled through a few missed free throws and taking care of the ball and getting a few key possessions."

With both teams trading misses in the fourth quarter, Franklin senior Chris Rodgers hit a three to make it a two-point game at 50-48. Rocky DeAndrade (17 points) hit two free throws to extend the lead to four, but Rodgers darted up the court and his layup brought Franklin within two at 52-50 with 5.5 seconds left.

The Hornets then sent Michael Boen (seven points) to the line, who hit the second of his two chances to give Mansfield a 53-50 lead with 4.5 seconds left. On the final play, Franklin senior Pat O'Reilly tossed a pinpoint pass three-quarters of the court to 6-foot-7 Marcus Giese, who turned and laid it off to Rodgers. Rodgers' shot looked destined to go down but just rimmed out.

"Defense, guys started digging in," said Franklin head coach Dean O'Connor of what brought his team back into the game. "Someone just told me [Mansfield] only had four baskets in the second half. They missed a couple free throws and kept us in it but we just really dug in defensively. We were down 16 or something in the third and it looked like it was going to be a tough night. These guys just kept battling and we started making some shots and we were in the game."

Mansfield shot just 7-for-13 from the charity strike in the fourth quarter but it proved to be enough to sweep the season series against their rival.

"Whenever you play Franklin and you get out of the game with a victory, you're fortunate," said Vaughan. "They're a very good team, well coached and execute great. You throw in the factor for three and a half quarters we played very good basketball and then kind of went cold. We experienced that the other night with Attleboro when we weren't making shots it kind of came back."

The Hornets jumped out to a 9-2 led at the start of the game behind a strong start from Kyle Wisnieski (8 points in the first quarter, 12 total), but Franklin finished the opening frame on a 7-3 run to trail 12-9 after one. The second quarter is when Mansfield was able to being their separation, doubling up on the Panthers 22-11 in the quarter, sparking by nine points from Rocky DeAndrade and back to back three's from freshmen Matt Elrich and Max Boen.

"I think Rocky making some consistent plays throughout the game on both ends of the floor, including some tough drives in the first half, was a big difference," Vaughan said.

One of the Hornets' top scoring threats, Ryan Boutler, was held to just five points in the game after getting full attention of the Panther defense. But Vaughan said it was important they were able to pull out a win without his scoring.

"I think it shows we have other players that can step up and make big plays," he said. "We had the two freshmen hit two big threes that were kind of backbreakers for them, they had defensive possessions yet we were able to get points out of it."

The Panthers received offensive contributions from multiple players in their third quarter comeback. Giese scored five of his 13 points, O'Reilly netted four of his 10, and Rodgers, Tim Prunier and Danny McDermott all scored to close the gap.

"I'm proud of the way the guys battled the whole way," said O'Connor. "It would have been nice to pull it out but going forward its going to help us out a lot as a team to be able to play that kind of defense and stop a team like Mansfield."

Mansfield (13-1) will be back in action on Tuesday when they look to make it two wins in a row with a trip to King Philip. Franklin (8-5) will look to bounce back when they look to avenge an early season loss to Taunton.

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: No. 2 Mansfield 80, No. 19 Sharon 68

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
7:11
PM ET
SHARON, Mass. -- Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan said it best when describing junior Ryan Boulter.

"For him, every look he gets at the basket is a good look, whether he's covered or not."

After Sharon made it a five point game after being down as much as 14 in the second half, Boulter stepped up and nailed a three with a hand right in his face to put Mansfield up 71-63 and the Hornets never looked back, taking down Sharon 80-68 in a New Year's Eve matinee game.

Boulter scored 21 of his game-high 28 points in the second half and after attempting just three three-pointers in the fist half, Boulter went 4-for-5 from beyond the arc in the second half.

"He's an animal," Mansfield point guard Rocky DeAndrade said.

Boulter was 7-of-9 from the field in the second half and when DeAndrade was asked whether there is any doubt that Boulter should have taken the contested shot, he was quick to answer.

"No doubt at all," he said. "I have full trust in Ryan. When he gets the ball and he's going to make a move and shoot, I know theres a good chance its going to go in. We trust in Ryan's ability to create for himself. We run plays for him but if he's gotta do it himself, he can do it."

The Hornets got off to a very hot start, shooting over 70 percent from the floor and took a 29-17 lead after the first quarter, but Sharon responded in the second quarter, outscoring the Hornets 18-13 to go into halftime down 42-35.

"In the first quarter, I was actually shocked how efficient we were on offense," Vaughan said. "We scored in different ways -- foul shots, three's, got to the rim -- but we were kind of doing a little bit of everything we wanted. They came back and delivery a second punch and I think we absorbed it through the first half and I think the second half was similar to that -- we absorbed their punch and did what we needed to do defensively."

Mansfield extended their lead to 56-42 midway through the third quarter, but Sharon took their turn on offense, closing out the quarter 13-7 in their favor.

The Eagles opened the fourth quarter on an 8-3 run, and a Jordan Mello-Klein three-pointer made it a four point game at 67-63.

"I can't say I was surprised knowing that Jimmy [Fritzson] and Brian [Mukasa] can put up points quick, but obviously it came quick," DeAndrade said of their lead evaporating.

Mansfield was able to respond with free throw from Boulter and then his dagger three deflated Sharon.

"We withstood a run in the fist half from them, we withstood a run in the second half from them," said Sharon head coach Bruce Jackman. "I think the turning point was in the fourth quarter when we had five possessions and never got a shot off. We turned it over a couple of times -- we just got nothing out of it and then they came down and just buried a three. It went from like four to seven and it was just awful after that. We just really ran out of gas."

Beyond Boulter's 28 points, junior Michael Boen added 18 points and nine rebounds, and DeAndrade -- who was celebrating his birthday -- added 15 points.

For Sharon, Fritzson had a team-high 19 points while Earl Dessesaure had 15 points and eight rebounds, Mello-Klein added 14 points and Mukasa finished with 13 points.

Mansfield improves to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in Hockomock play and will host Oliver Ames on Friday. Sharon's first loss drops them to 4-1 and 2-1 in league play and will travel to North Attleboro on Friday.

Video: Recapping Shooting Touch Shootout

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
8:46
PM ET
MEDFORD, Mass. -- ESPN Boston High Schools editor Brendan Hall and correspondent Andy Smith break down the third annual Shooting Touch Shootout, at Tufts University's Cousens Gymnasium:

(Video by Greg Story)

Video: Recapping Mansfield vs. Spellman

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
1:31
AM ET
MEDFORD, Mass. -- ESPN Boston High Schools Editor Brendan Hall breaks down the matchup between No. 2 Mansfield and No. 16 Cardinal Spellman on the second day of the Shooting Touch Shootout, at Tufts University's Cousens Gymnasium:

(Video by Greg Story)



MEDFORD, Mass. –- Mansfield senior guard Rocky DeAndrade had been struggling to find his shot for most of the first three quarters of the Hornets’ battle with Cardinal Spellman, in the third annual Shooting Touch Shootout. But when it came around, it put the feisty Cardinals away for good.

DeAndrade, who was 1-for-9 from the field headed into the fourth, orchestrated a 10-3 run to start the frame, giving the Hornets a double-digit cushion over Spellman (4-2) that they would not relinquish over the final five minutes. The Hornets won, 60-47, to sweep both of their Shooting Touch contests this weekend at Tufts University’s Cousens Gymnasium.

“He’s one of those kids, he just keeps coming at you,” Mansfield (3-0) head coach Mike Vaughan said of DeAndrade. “He’s not forcing it, he’s not turning the ball over a lot, [and] he’s not giving up baskets out of turnovers if he does. He’s playing really solid basketball right now, I’m very happy with him.”

Holding a 40-37 lead to start the fourth, Mansfield freshman Matt Ehrlich knocked down a three-pointer to make it a six-point lead, only to watch Stonehill-bound Spellman point guard Ryan Roach (12 points) fire back immediately with a trey of his own.

That’s when DeAndrade got going.

With a 43-40 lead, DeAndrade came down the lane in transition with a hesitation move on a Spellman defender, then floated the ball over him. Two trips later, DeAndrade gathered behind the arc along the left wing, then reset and dribbled to the elbow for a 15-footer.

The next trip down, DeAndrade made it 50-40 with a nifty sequence of events, grabbing a loose ball rolling along the floor in his own end, pushing the ball up in transition, then driving and kicking out to junior Ryan Boulter (24 points, 11 rebounds) at the left wing for an open three.

A few moments later, Boulter took a handoff from DeAndrade and swung to the right corner, beating the shot clock buzzer with a high-arching three that made it 54-43 with four minutes to go.

“We knew we had to pull away, so we had to find the best way possible,” DeAndrade said. “Ryan’s three was huge, and Matt [Ehrlich] had some huge rebounds for us.”

Something they thought they could take advantage of in the second half?

“We started to cut, and then we came back to the middle to cut and find the ball,” DeAndrade said. “In the first half, we were just cutting to cut, and then we missed a lot of guys on open looks. “Second half, we focused on cutting with a purpose.”

Rory Donovan led Spellman with 14 points and six rebounds, while Joey Crane added 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Rocky vs. Roach: One of the most anticipated individual matchups was between the two points guards, DeAndrade and Roach. DeAndrade was a catalyst for the Hornets’ run to the Division 1 State Championship last season, and returns as one of the state’s top point guards on a squad that is once again a D1 favorite. Roach, meanwhile, signed with Division 2 Stonehill College during the early signing period last month, and leads a Spellman squad that is among the favorites in D3 across the state.

DeAndrade had just five points, but it was his distribution that keyed the Hornets, finishing with six assists. Roach had 12 points, but was 5-for-12 from the field.

“He’s shifty, he’s quick,” DeAndrade said of Roach. “He can handle, he can score. It was tough guarding him as a player.”

No posts? No problem: Much has been made of the fact Mansfield is without three of its starters –- forwards Brendan Hill (knee) and Kevin Conner (hip), and guard Mike Hershman (sports hernia) –- as they begin their Division 1 Eastern Mass title defense. They’ll likely be snakebitten for most of the season’s first half, as the 6-foot-5 Hill –- a junior, and the reigning Hockomock League MVP -– could be out another month as he rehabs from the knee injury suffered late in football season.

With all that considered, it’s fair to question how well the Hornets would rebound in their absence. But not only have Boulter and Michael Boen slid into the forward positions seamlessly, they’ve thrived in it. They have out-rebounded opponents in all three of their games so far; tonight, the Hornets out-rebounded Spellman 38-24, including an 11-2 mark in the fourth.

“Coming into the season if you had asked me my biggest concern about this team, knowing what we’re missing, I would have said rebounding. And ironically, I don’t think we’ve had an opponent out-rebound us yet,” Vaughan said. “To me, that’s a good sign, primarily because of Boulter and Boen. Boulter has had double-digit rebounds every game. He’s going after the ball, he’s diving to the floor, keeping balls alive.

“We’re doing a good job of team rebounding, too…I think they’ve made a commitment, knowing that that was going to be a weakness going forward that we were going to have to overcome.”

Said Boulter, “Coach [Vaughan] told us over the summer, and during the preseason, that we were going to have to step it up, because Brendan and Kevin were hurt. But we just follow their roles and play great basketball.”

Shooting Touch: No. 2 Mansfield 79, No. 24 Cathedral 45

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
4:49
PM ET
MEDFORD, Mass. -– Mansfield knocked down 13 three-pointers and out-rebounded Springfield Cathedral, 44-27, to dominate its Shooting Touch Shootout matchup, 79-45, on Friday afternoon at Tufts University. Senior point guard Rocky DeAndrade paced four Hornets in double-figures to lead all scorers with 21 points.

The dominance on the boards was surprising for the Hornets, who are missing two of their key post players in junior Brendan Hill and senior Kevin Conner. Head coach Mike Vaughan credited the rest of the team for recognizing the importance of stepping up on the glass.

“Surprisingly we’ve been pretty good on the boards all year. I think we realize that with Brendan going down and Kevin going down in the first few days of practice, we had to have a mindset that we have to rebound the ball with all five guys.”

[+] EnlargeDeAndrade_
Brendan Hall/ESPNRocky DeAndrade (21 points) and the Mansfield Hornets blitzed Cathedral for an easy 79-45 win at the Shooting Touch Shootout.
Mansfield trailed early 5-4 but then went on a 23-6 run to close out the first quarter. DeAndrade, Ryan Boulter (19 points), Michael Boen (15), and Kyle Wisnieski (14) all hit shots from beyond the arc during the run. Boen, who finished with 15 points, also added six of his game-high 14 rebounds in the opening quarter.

“He’s had double digits in the last couple of games and he’s really picked up the slack,” said Vaughan about Boen’s improvement from last season. “He’s playing tremendous. Right now, he’s our best overall player. He’s doing all the little things that don’t show up on the score sheet but he’s the difference between us being very good.”

The Hornets controlled Cathedral point guard Darrick Boyd, limiting him to just seven first half points (five of them from the free throw line), and kept senior forward Edens Jean-Baptiste off the boards. One of the keys to that was the defense of Ryan Boulter on the post.

Vaughan spoke highly of the leap that Boulter and Boen have made from their sophomore to junior seasons.

He remarked. “I think last year was their first full year of varsity so they were very passive and just wanted to fit in. This year, they’re playing like seniors. They’re making big plays. Boulter is still shooting the ball well but he’s added the dimension of going to the basket.”

According to DeAndrade there is confidence running up and down the Mansfield roster and the familiarity of last season’s run to the Division 1 state championship game has helped with ball movement.

“It’s all about being unselfish and getting the best look possible,” he explained. “We trust in each other to make the right plays. We have four guys that can get to the basket at any time and on top of that we have guys that can shoot the ball for us. It’s an inside-out game for us and it works.”

With a commanding 44-25 lead at halftime, the Hornets came out of the break a little sluggish and Cathedral took advantage. Boyd (13 points) knocked down a pair of threes and Jean-Baptiste (8) started to find room for layups. A floater by Brian McCrae had the Mansfield lead to as low as 15 but a three by DeAndrade and a step-back, corner three by Boen pushed it back to 21 going into the fourth.

Despite the sizeable lead, Vaughan laid into his team in between quarters. He wanted a stronger effort on the defensive side of the floor and, after a McCrae free throw, the Hornets responded with a 13-0 run to push the lead up to 33.

“You can never catch a break with Coach Vaughan; he always wants the best,” said DeAndrade with a smile after the game. “Once we do one thing very well then we need to do another thing and in this case it was defense.”

Vaughan explained, “Your bread and butter has to be defense. If you can’t defend teams, then when you go periods where you can’t score then you lose those games. If we want to play at the level that we want to play at then you have to defend and I thought we got really passive...In high school you can’t do that because, at some point, you’re going to get beat because of it.”

Mansfield will play again on Saturday night in the Shooting Touch Shootout against No. 16 Cardinal Spellman.

Recap: No. 2 Mansfield 63, No. 14 BC High 49

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
10:52
PM ET


MANSFIELD, Mass. -- Anytime that No. 14 BC High was able to come up with some offense, No. 2 Mansfield had an answer.

The Hornets never trailed and pulled away in the fourth quarter to clip the Eagles 63-49 on Monday night.

Mansfield had an 11-point lead in the first quarter, and then a 10-point lead early in the second. But the Eagles continued to close the gap, heading into halftime down just 31-26. The Hornets used a 14-3 run in the third quarter, but a couple of baskets late made it just a 45-38 game after three.

In the fourth quarter, Ryan Boulter opened the scoring with a bucket and then senior Kyle Wisnieski hit back-to-back three-pointers to turn a nine-point game into a 15-point game at 53-38 and Mansfield never looked back.

"Especially in the first, I thought we got some really good looks and the ball didn't go in," BC High coach Bill Loughnane said, after his team shot just 24 percent from the field in the first quarter. "When [Mansfield] got the open looks, it went in."

The Eagles went to a man-to-man defensive strategy early on, while the Hornets switched into a 2-3 zone after starting with man-to-man. The zone allowed for more looks from distance for BC High (4-of-7 from three in the second quarter) but really frustrated their offense and limited their offensive rebounds.

"We had to mix up a little 2-3 [zone], with guys logging a lot of minutes, to see if they could still be playing a high level at the end," Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan said. "I thought it changed up their flow a little bit. [BC High] is a pretty aggressive team so I thought by changing up the zone it kind of made them a passive team. They did get a lot of three's out of it so we kind of had to manage it so they didn't make three after three."

The Eagles went from five offensive rebounds in the first quarter to zero in the second, and just three in the second half.

"When you have a team you're playing playing five or six guys a lot of minutes, you start looking at foul trouble and match ups," Vaughan said about the zone. "I thought we rebounded better once we went zone. I thought [Michael] Boen did a fantastic job rebounding the ball on both ends of the floor."

Not only did Boen own the boards -- a game-high 14 rebounds (7 defensive, 7 offensive) -- he led the game in scoring with 19 points, including eight points and six rebounds in the fourth quarter.

"That's a quiet 19," Vaughan said. "He's gotten better since game one. He was kind of passive and didn't do a whole lot offensively. Last game, he did real well and tonight obviously too. He's steady -- he's going inside-out, he's getting in transition and hitting his foul shots so I'm very happy about that."

Beyond Boen's 19, Mansfield had three other scorers reach double figures: Rocky DeAndrade and Boulter each had 12 ,and Wisnieski added 11, which all turned out to be momentum points at the time.

"He's that type of kid," Vaughan said about Wisnieski. "He said it in the locker room when we met before the game, 'This is a good statement game.' He knows what this is all about, he knows how big this game is. He plays the best in those situations."

As for the balanced scoring, this is something that's going to be needed with Brendan Hill on the shelf for a while and Kevin Conner still working back to full health.

"Different guys will have different match ups and we'll get different guys stepping up but you're going to for the most part see those four are going to be the consistent scorers and then you hope the other guys can step in," Vaughan said.

Isaiah Bowman led BC High in scoring at 16 points, Jack Loughnane added 11 points, Tom Galanek had 9 points and Phil Leotsakos added 6 blocks.

"Offensively [Mansfield] has a lot of weapons and they do a nice job spreading the ball out," Loughnane said. "They have our number right now."

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

With strong young talent, future bright for MIAA hoops

March, 26, 2013
3/26/13
5:52
PM ET
In the biggest game of the year in MIAA hoops, the Division 1 state title game, it seemed as if the sophomores were hitting all the big shots. With hundreds of Mansfield fans directly behind the basket screaming and waving, Putnam sophomore Ty Nichols nailed two free throws with eight seconds left in overtime to seal the Beavers’ first state title in school history.

But let’s not forget how the game got to that point. Rewind to the end of regulation.

Mansfield sophomore Ryan Boulter put on one of the gutsiest performances that we saw all season. After he was fouled on a three-point attempt with five seconds to go in the fourth quarter, Boulter went to the line with an opportunity to tie the game and send it into overtime. Miss one, and his team, in all likelihood, would lose the game.

Not only did Boulter hit all three free throws, he did so without ever taking his eyes off the rim -— not even to catch the bounce passes that came from the referee following each of the first two free throws. He sent the game into overtime, then hit a three-pointer from the wing to give Mansfield the lead.

Following a four point swing by Putnam, Boulter put the team on his back one last time -— draining a three-pointer to tie the game with just seconds to go in overtime. Enter Nichols, and game over.

While Putnam’s entire team circled around their trophy in the pressroom after the game, a few of Mansfield’s players sat across the room waiting to be interviewed. Boulter fought back tears. Brendan Hill -- a sophomore who was Hockomock League MVP and considered to be a Division 1 prospect in both football and basketball -- stared at the floor, head in hands.

While listening for Putnam senior KayJuan Bynum talk about the pride that Springfield has in basketball, I couldn’t help but glance over at Hill and Boulter across the room. Both fierce competitors with unbelievable poise, they sat in the shadows of the pressroom while Putnam’s players hugged each other in celebration.

That was the ringing overtone talked about for days following the state title game: Mansfield will be back.

It was the same reaction seen on the floor of the Tsongas Center only a week earlier. After a crushing defeat to a more experienced Central Catholic team, Lynn English sophomore guard Stevie Collins pulled his jersey over his face as the final buzzer sounded, hiding tears from watching Central Catholic celebrate the Division 1 North championship.

The playoff run was an unexpected one for the Bulldogs, and English can be expected to be back next year. With Collins’ classmates Johnny Hilaire (6-foot-6 forward) and Erick Rosario (6-foot guard) both returning, as well as juniors Freddy Hogan and Danny Lukanda, expect a big run from English once again. The Bulldogs' run to the North final almost wasn’t possible, mainly because of 20 points from Everett sophomore Gary Clark in the quarterfinal match -- a high-scoring, back-and-forth match that left English the 94-87 victors.

English, Putnam, and Mansfield, and Everett are not alone in boasting talented young players, though. Statewide, the MIAA’s depth in the 2015 and 2016 classes is one of the best we have seen in recent memory.

***

DAVIS, COLLINS LEAD LONG LIST OF POINT GUARDS

Collins leads a long list of talented floor generals in the 2015 and 2016 classes. Those included (and very close behind him) are Lowell sophomore Kareem Davis, who ignited one of the state’s most exciting offenses this year; New Mission's Randy Glenn, a left-handed playmaker who was pivotal in helping the short-handed Titans make a run to the Boston City League championship; St. Peter-Marian freshman Makai Ashton, a fearless point guard who is considered to be the best long-term guard prospect in the Worcester area; and Melrose frosh Sherron Harris, whose "on-court killer" style of play is scarily similar to his cousin, Cushing Academy star Jalen Adams.

-- St. John's (Shrewsbury) sophomore Davon Jones has more big-game experience than any of the point guards listed above, as he has helped lead Bob Foley’s Pioneer squad to WPI each of the last two years. As mentioned with Hill, Jones is considered to be a Division 1 football prospect.

-- Boston English freshman Ernie Chatman will win a lot of games for Boston English over the next three years, Chatman is a great ballhandler who is also lightning quick and a great floor leader.

-- Along with Glenn and Chatman, Brighton freshman Javaughn Edmonds will make a major impact in the Boston City League in the coming years. Edmonds will be looked to to step in and help fill in some of the production missing from departing ESPN Boston Mr. Basketball Malik James.

***

MIAA’S TOP PROSPECT HEADS FORWARDS

There is no question who has the highest ceiling of any player in the MIAA. It is Springfield Central’s 6-foot-8 sophomore Chris Baldwin. A sureshot Division 1 prospect who can block shots, rebound at a high rate, and score in a variety of ways, Baldwin will make sure Central remains one of the state’s best hoops programs after making the Western Mass. Division 1 championship game once again this year.

St. Peter-Marian freshman Greg Kuakumensah will have big shoes to fill next year for the Guardians, especially as they soon graduate forward Tim Berry, the heart and soul of their offense. Kuakumensah, the younger brother of Brown University forward Cedric Kuakumensah, will join Ashton in what should be a very bright future for St. Peter-Marian. At 6-foot-4, he is a great shot blocker like his older brother, but is also tremendous athlete and competitor.

-- SPM isn’t the only squad returning a talented young duo though. Brighton, the Division 2 state champion, will, alongside Edmonds, return 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Jason Jones, who played a lead role in helping the Bengals to their first Boston City League championship.

-- Andover's 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Connor Merinder was limited in minutes this year as he recovered from a severe wrist injury. However, he was able to recover by playoff time and led the Warriors to the Division 1 North semifinals, knocking off Medford and St. John’s Prep in order to do so.

-- For all the attention to the prospects at larger Division 1 and 2 schools, keep an eye on 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Jake Wisniewski out of Quaboag. After averaging over 20 points per game for Quaboag this past year, the already-experienced post scorer is one of the state’s top prospects in Division 3. A talented forward at Division 3 New Leadership, 6-foot-6 freshman Davidson Pacheco, will take his talents elsewhere after averaging 10 points per game this year, what with the expected closing of the Springfield-based charter school.

***

MOBLEY, JUDSON CAN MAKE IT RAIN

Newton North sophomore Tommy Mobley was one of the state’s most feared scorers this year, leading the Tigers to a 20-4 record and picking up Bay State Carey MVP. Mobley and St. John’s Prep sophomore guard Ben Judson showed that they can be two of the MIAA’s best scorers again next year. Like Mobley, Judson’s three-point range extends all the way out to 25 feet—as both were known to drop a barrage of three-pointers on opponents this year, heavily guarded or not.

New Mission's Juwan Gooding, New Bedford's Tyree Weston, and Catholic Memorial's Guilien Smith, were all early exits from the state tournament this year. But as three of the MIAA’s most talented pure scorers in the 2015 class, they’ll be back for big runs next year. Smith and Gooding are finesse guys who use their quick first step to get to the rim, while Weston uses his sculpted frame to overpower opponents and score inside-out.

-- One other Springfield product to keep an eye on is Cathedral sophomore Darrick Boyd. The young, talented sharpshooter scored 19 points per game this year, leading Cathedral to a 13-9 record. Danvers sophomore Vinny Clifford, also a dead-eye shooter, will be looked at to be a leader for the two-time defending Division 3 state champion. Clifford, the younger brother of Merrimack College forward Mike Clifford, was an integral piece this year for a team led by Eric Martin, Nick Bates, and Nick McKenna.

-- Yet another two-sport star, Wakefield sophomore Bruce Brown, helped the Warriors make a deep run in the Division 2 North tournament this year, eventually falling to a deeper, more experienced North Andover team. Brown is an elite athlete who, at his best, is nearly unstoppable because of his upper body strength. On the football field, Brown caught seven touchdown passes as a wide receiver last fall.

-- Two 14-seed over 3-seed upsets in the first round of the Division 1 North tournament should be remembered going forward. Freshman Saul Phiri’s heroics in a first-round upset win helped lead Haverhill past Westford Academy, while frosh Keyshaad Dixon’s three-pointers sparked perhaps the most surprising win of the first round, as Braintree knocked off heavily-favored BC High.

-- St. John's (Shrewsbury) freshman Adham Floyd, was a very important piece for the Pioneers’ run to the Central Mass. Division 1 title game, starting several games during the season. Bishop Feehan freshman Mike Nelson, a teammate of Floyd's with the Shooting Stars AAU program, showed great poise in leading his team to an impressive run in the Division 3 South tournament, falling narrowly in the quarterfinals to eventual D3 South champion Martha’s Vineyard.

***

Picking the Super Team for this year's ESPN Boston MIAA All-State Team sparked as much debate as any Super Team selection in recent years. The statewide parity, talented young players bolting to prep school, and lack of scholarship-level talent in the upper classes forced careful consideration and a never-ending debate about picking out the MIAA’s elite upperclassmen.

However, with the amount of freshmen and sophomores who made a name for themselves on a big stage this year -- the instant-classic Division 1 state final between Mansfield and Putnam being the prime example -- it's likely we won’t spend too much time worrying about the pipelines of scholarship-level talent coming up the ranks in MIAA basketball.

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

March, 17, 2013
3/17/13
1:35
AM ET


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tale of the Tape: Mansfield vs. Putnam

March, 14, 2013
3/14/13
11:24
PM ET
MassLive.com online sports producer Jay King and I break down each of the three MIAA boys basketball State Championships taking place Saturday at the DCU Center in Worcester. I'll be providing Eastern Mass. perspective, while Jay handles Western Mass.

***

DIVISION 1: MANSFIELD VS. SPRINGFIELD PUTNAM

School: Mansfield
Record: 25-2
Region: South

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

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

-- Brendan Hall

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

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

***

School: Putnam
Record: 23-1
Region: West

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

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

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

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

-- Jay King

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

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

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