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Roundtable: Preseason MIAA hoop primer

11/25/2012

With the first MIAA-sanctioned practices of the 2012-13 season set to commence tomorrow, today we're looking at the top storylines and top players from across the state.

Check back with us later in the preseason for our first Top 25 poll and our Preseason All-State Teams. But for now, here are the storylines to watch, and our projected Super Teams.

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Brendan Hall

ESPN Boston High Schools editor

Reading Machine Rages On

Had it not been for Andover and superstar Nicole Boudreau, the Division 2 state champ Reading Rockets would have been garnering far more attention last season. The Rockets were one of the state's most dominant forces from wire to wire, going 25-0 en route to the program's first state title. They were one of the state's most explosive offenses (64.3 points per game), and blew out nearly everyone -- their average margin of victory was 27.1, with their only threats coming in the North final (49-46 over Arlington Catholic) and Eastern Mass. Final (71-64 over Scituate, in overtime).

The conversation in Reading starts with Richmond-bound guard/forward Olivia Healy, a two-time ESPN Boston All-State and one of the early favorites for our Miss Basketball award. The 5-foot-10 senior can play any position on the floor, excels on the boards, and is as physical as they come. But every superstar needs a supporting cast, and you can't do much better than Assumption-bound guard Morgan O'Brien in that regard.

With Andover expected to level off following the graduation of one of the MIAA's best ever (Boudreau), we're most likely looking at Reading starting the year at No. 1 in our statewide girls' poll, which will be released later this preseason.

Fierce, Fierce City A

Over the offseason, the Boston City League voted overwhelmingly to split into three tiers for boys basketball, based on competitive balance. And with it, the city's "A" division instantly becomes the state's toughest league. City A is comprised of Brighton, New Mission, Madison Park, Charlestown and East Boston -- all teams expected to start the season in our statewide Top 25 poll -- and with the new scheduling setup, we're looking at appointment viewing in the city nearly every night.

Charlestown-Eastie, Mission-Brighton and Eastie-Madison are the city's three fiercest basketball rivalries. Now, on top of those series, we're getting two installments of Mission-Madison, Brighton-Eastie, Charlestown-Mission, Madison-Brighton, and so forth. Brighton and MP figure to be the favorites here, but this is going to be an absolute grinder of a league. Of the highest degree.

Swat Team

Anyone that watched the University of Kentucky last season can tell you how valuable Anthony Davis was despite an unpolished offensive game. Heck, he was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four despite going just 1-for-10 from the field in the championship game.

Last year our Defensive Player of the Year award went to a guard, Stoughton's Marcus Middleton, but I'm looking at a number of frontcourt shot-blockers to contend for the award. Any conversation about swatters in the MIAA has to begin with New Mission's Isshiah Coleman, but keep an eye on Cambridge's Fredens Deneus, a 6-foot-6 junior who is expected to have a breakout season. Rockland's Tyler Gibson, a UMass-Lowell commit, will alter many a shot in the South Shore League. Also keep an eye on Holy Name's Dan Kegbeh, only 6-foot-1 but blessed with some impressive ups.

On the girls' side, Holy Name's Brianna Frias is my early favorite for Defensive Player of the Year. The 6-foot junior committed to Providence over the summer, and averaged six blocks per game last season as the Naps went 20-0 in the regular season and captured the No. 1 seed in Division 1 Central.

Sizzlin' Sophs

Across the state, there are a number of Class of 2015 players to get excited about. Springfield Central's Chris Baldwin has yet to play in an MIAA game, having played his freshman season down the street at Hillside School, but he is already garnering significant hype. Wakefield's Bruce Brown showed freak athletic ability at times during his freshman campaign for the Warriors, and figures to be regarded as one of the state's elite by season's end. Same for Mansfield's Brendan Hill and St. John's of Shrewsbury's Davon Jones.

Central Catholic junior Tyler Nelson is on the short list as everyone's favorite shooter, and deservedly so, but Newton North sophomore guard Tommy Mobley is as automatic as they come. He plays a different role for the Tigers than his older brother, 6-foot-8 Yale forward Greg Kelley, did several years ago. But when you talk about the elite shooters in the state, Mobley has the potential to be in that conversation.

Also keep an eye on Falmouth guard Craig Green, a three-sport star who's already on the radar for track and field. He turned many heads last June, when he placed third in New Englands in the 100-meter dash. He has run as fast as a 10.6 in the event so far in his young career.

On the girls' side, we all know the capabilities of Braintree's Molly Reagan. The 6-foot-1 center was a key cog in the Wamps' run to the Division 1 South title last March, and she already holds Division 1 offers. On the flip side, Archbishop Williams' Jaylen Williams committed to Penn State this past summer despite playing limited minutes for the Bishops.

But the potential speaks for itself. For one, Williams is 6-foot-3 and long. For another, there is plenty of pedigree. She is the daughter of former New England Patriots defensive lineman Brent Williams, and the younger sister of two high Division 1 college football players -- North Carolina offensive tackle Brennan Williams, and Ohio State linebacker Camren Williams.

Open Waters in the North

I'm not sure which will be the more interesting race in the North -- Division 1 girls, or Division 2 boys.

In Division 1 girls, we're looking at a number of contenders in the North. Nobody's counting out Andover in spite of the talent graduated, but it should be an interesting race in the Merrimack Valley Conference with Central Catholic and Billerica figuring to start the year high in many polls. Lincoln-Sudbury will be another contender, led by Lafayette-bound forward Ashley Lutz, as will be Lynn English and reigning Northeastern Conference MVP Catherine Stinson. The ultimate wild card might be Cambridge, led by Georgia Tech-bound guard Donnaizha Fountain. And don't count out Somerville, either, with Indira Evans in the fold.

Division 2 North will be an interesting bracket. New Mission returns a strong core, but so does Brighton, behind returning All-State guard Malik James, forwards Nick Simpson and Prince Unaegbu, and one of the state's best shooters, Daivon Edwards. Ditto Wakefield, with Bruce Brown expected to have a breakout year alongside seniors Kendall Hamilton and Mikol Blake-Green.

SUPER TEAMS

Boys

G - Jameilen Jones, Sr., BC High

G - Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic

G - Malik James, Jr., Brighton

F - Kamari Robinson, Sr., Springfield Central

F - Tyler Gibson, Sr., Rockland

Girls

G - Donnaizha Fountain, Sr., Cambridge

G - Sarah Hope, Sr., Medway

G/F - Olivia Healy, Sr., Reading

F - Ashley Lutz, Sr., Lincoln-Sudbury

C - Molly Reagan, Soph., Braintree

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Ryan Kilian

Editor-in-Chief, New England Prep Stars

Central Reign

Can Central Catholic represent Eastern Massachusetts in the state finals this season in Division 1? Central returns a battle tested and veteran group that represented EMass Division 1 as the top seed in last season’s MIAA tournament. Central boasts key returnees Tyler Nelson, Joel Berroa, Doug Gemmell and Nick Cambio.

Veteran Sophomore Talent

Mansfield’s Brendan Hill and Wakefield’s Bruce Brown are two of the top returning players in Massachusetts. They are also only sophomores. Both sophomores started and lead their respective teams deep into tournament play as freshman and we can expect even bigger seasons from both this year.

Best Frontcourt?

Massachusetts has a very strong group of point guards this season but the depth in the frontcourt is down in part of the continued flood of players to prep schools. New Mission (Nate Anderson and Isshiah Coleman) and Central Catholic (Gemmell and Cambio) are at the top of the frontcourt ranks but look out for North Andover and Charlestown to also have improved front lines with the development of returning veterans as well as additions of new talent to the mix.

Replacing Boudreau

It will be impossible to replace two-time Miss Basketball Nicole Boudreau (Boston College), but Andover does return senior Devon Caveany, and the glue of the squad in top defenders Jackie and Rebecca Alois. Expect some more classic Central Catholic and Andover battles for years to come in the MVC.

Special time for City of Braintree

The city of Braintree boasts some the best young female talent in the state, with Braintree High School and Archbishop Williams sharing city quarters.

Braintree returns Coach of the Year Kristen McDonnell and a lineup featuring returning senior Rachel Norton, and sophomores Ashley Russell, Bridget Herlihy, and Molly Reagan. Archbishop Williams returns Southern New Hampshire commits Olivia Conrad and Sara Ryan along with Alana Gilmer and Penn State commit Jaylen Williams.

SUPER TEAMS

Boys

G - Bruce Brown, Soph., Wakefield

G - Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic

G - Jameilen Jones, Sr., BC High

F - Brendan Hill, Soph., Mansfield

F - Kamari Robinson, Sr., Springfield Central

Girls

G - Kayla Burton, Sr., Newton South

G - Donaizha Fountain, Sr., Cambridge Rindge

G - Olivia Healy, Sr., Reading

G - Tajanay Veiga-Lee, Sr., Fenway

F - Saliah Serrette, Sr., Weston

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Chris Bradley

ESPN Boston correspondent

Springfield Central Is Back

Saying that Kamari Robinson and sophomore transfer Chris Baldwin are the best frontcourt in the state is no stretch. Robinson helped lead Central to last year’s division 1 state title, averaging a double double while the Golden Eagles went undefeated against MIAA opponents. The 6-foot-7 Baldwin is already drawing in interest from high major division 1 college programs. A strong, athletic forward who is known for his rebounding and sky-rising dunks, he’ll make quite a duo with Robinson, a member of last year’s ESPN Boston All-State Team.

Senior Cornelius Tyson could be primed for a big year as well. The 6-foot-1 guard made quite a showing in last year’s state championship game against Brockton, knocking down four 3-pointers in the second half to lead Central to the Division 1 title.

Can anyone knock off St. John's of Shrewsbury?

The Inter-High has two legitimate Top 25 teams in Worcester South and Doherty. Will this finally be the year that St. John’s doesn’t run away with the Division 1 tournament in Central Mass.? The Pioneers have won five consecutive Central Mass. Division 1 championships, and return yet another talented core from last year’s team. Sophomore point guard Davon Jones has already asserted himself as one of the best guards in the western half of the state, juniors Charlie Murray and TJ Kelley will be a tough duo on the post, and 6-foot-5 senior Ken Harrington is one of the best shooters in central Mass.

Brighton looking for revenge

Last year’s loss to Mahar in the Division 2 state title game was demoralizing to say the least for the Bengals, but another year of maturity should help Brighton come tournament time this year. Junior playmaking guard Malik James will be one of the very best in the MIAA, and he’ll have plenty of weapons around him with forward Nick Simpson and guards Theo Oribhabor and Daivon Edwards. The Boston City League will be a rock fight this year, but battle-tested Brighton will reap the benefits of a tough schedule come tournament time.

New Mission young, but talented

Sophomore guards Greg Bridges, Randy Glenn, and Juwan Gooding will make for quite a show this year when put together with 6-foot-5 forward Isshiah Coleman and 6-foot-7 forward Nate Anderson. The Titans will be young, with less experience at the guard position than many of their opponents, but when all is said and done this could end up being the most talented team in the state this year.

Who will emerge in D3?

Picking favorites in Division 3 is like splitting hairs. Wareham has Darien Fernandez, a waterbug considered one of the best point guards in the state. Danvers returns four starters from last year’s state title team. Quaboag has one of the best inside-out duos in D3 with Thomas Jankins and sophomore Jake Wisniewski. Hopedale has a deep, versatile lineup. Whitinsville Christian has won three straight central Mass. championships. Out in Pittsfield, St. Joseph Central returns the majority of their core from last year’s state finals team—including scoring guard Taverick "Tank" Roberson. Any of these teams could emerge and make a deep run into the tournament in February and March.

SUPER TEAMS

Boys

G - Malik James, Jr., Brighton

G - Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic

F - Jameilen Jones, Sr., BC High

F - Kamari Robinson, Sr., Springfield Central

F - Tyler Gibson, Sr., Rockland

Girls

G - Kayla Burton, Sr., Newton South

G - Sarah Hope, Sr., Medway

G - Donnaizha Fountain, Sr., Cambridge

F - Casey McLaughlin, Sr., Central Catholic

F - Olivia Healy, Sr., Reading