Boston High School: Springfield Putnam

Some quick-hit thoughts from the week’s high school basketball action around Massachusetts:

1. Don’t look now, but it’s looking like that time of year again for Lynn English. Last season, after a 4-4 start, the Bulldogs won 15 of their next 16 games before bowing out in the Division 1 North Final, their first such appearance since the fabled 2009 state final run. When they are fully healthy and in full swing, the Bulldogs’ backcourt of Freddy Hogan, Erick Rosario and Stevie Collins is among the state’s best, and they’ve proven as much with two gutsy wins over NEC rivals -– first a 15-point rally over Danvers, then a dramatic victory over Salem to avenge the loss two weeks prior.

The excuse for the early slump last year was that coach Mike Carr’s run-and-gun, full-court man-to-man pressure system takes about half a season to get used to. With a year of that system under their belts, that doesn’t feel applicable for the recent spell of three losses in four games that ended with the Danvers win. Perhaps it had more to do with the need for more assertion on the boards, a problem that tends to arise as the Bulldogs sometimes surrender the offensive boards in order to prevent a fast break going the other way. The return of Collins from injury should bolster the backcourt, but if the “Runnin’ Dawgs” are to replicate last year’s success, promising athletic forwards Danny Lukanda and Johnny Hilaire are going to be the key.

2. Went and saw Marshfield host Barnstable on Saturday night, a battle between two unranked teams in our Top 25 poll, and I got the feeling one of these teams –- maybe both -– could steal a game in what should be a wide-open D1 South tournament. Bob Fisher has won everywhere he went, which includes this latest stop at Marshfield, where he always seems to move past the first round. Against Barnstable, the Rams were 11-of-26 from three-point range in a 63-53 win, including a 5-for-7 mark in the first quarter. They get a night like that in D1 South, combined with their speed in transition, and I could see them dealing haymakers to a high seed.

Realistically, Barnstable might be a year away from being a bona fide contender, but first-year coach Chuck Kipnes has this program going in the right direction, and there is plenty to like with this young group. Two underclassmen in particular to keep an eye on are sophomore point guard Izaiah Winston-Brooks, a transplant from Boston, and junior forward Elijah Baptiste, a long and lanky slasher who excels on the wing and has deep range. Winston-Brooks is strong on the ball and vicious driving with his left, and made a few nifty dishes to post players for some sweet assists. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kipnes score an upset on somebody in the South.

3. Seeing Shabazz Napier’s jersey retired at Charlestown on Friday night conjured up a lot of memories for what was a brilliant high school career split between the Townies and Lawrence Academy. My favorite memory of Napier is his final game in an LA uniform, the 2010 NEPSAC Class B Final against St. Mark’s. The undersized Spartans were getting hammered underneath in the first half by the likes of Nate Lubick and Kalb Tarczewski, with many of LA's stars (including Napier) racking up three first-half fouls. Throughout his career Napier wowed fans with no-look passes and dagger three’s, but in this battle he took control of the game in second half by slowing the game to a crawl. Literally, each trip down he would bring the ball over halfcourt and huddle up with the other four players on the floor as he continued dribbling, milking the shot clock for all its worth. The Spartans rallied to win by 10 in that game, still one of my favorite NEPSAC games I’ve covered in my career.

4. It there is one weakness with No. 1 Springfield Putnam, it is its shooting ability. But then again, that was the Beavers’ glaring weakness last year, and they rode that deficiency all the way to a D1 state title. Call me crazy, call me whimsical, but I’m a firm believer that there is a difference between a good shooting team and a timely shooting team. The Beavers certainly aren’t a great shooting team, getting most of their baskets off turnovers and fast breaks. But I saw Ty Nichols hit a gutsy three against Nazareth (N.Y.) back in December to force overtime, and apparently he was up to his old tricks against Holyoke this week, hitting a buzzer-beater to rally the Beavers from down five with 1:30 to go. When their feet are held to the fire, the Beavers pride themselves on not being out-toughed or out-played.

5. Continuing with the “defense trumps offense” theme over in girls’ basketball, I thought No. 1 Braintree made a statement in sweeping its season series with Newton North, even if the Tigers were without star guard Infiniti Thomas-Waheed. The Tigers have been a tough out for the Wamps the second time around. Defense has never been a question in Braintree, but if you’ve been following our girls basketball coverage the last two seasons, you know my biggest criticism of the Wamps is their scoring ability. Well, they put up 70 on a pretty talented Newton North team tonight, so I guess that shows how much I know. Don’t be surprised if there is a third installment of this growing rivalry in the D1 South tournament, either.

6. Two milestones that deserve some praise: Wachusett’s Tom Gibbons, who earned his 200th win in an overtime victory over Fitchburg; and Mahar’s Chad Softic, who earned his 100th win in his seventh season at the helm of the Senators’ program. Under Gibbons’ watch, the Mountaineers have always scheduled tough, and been consistently in the upper echelon within its division. Like his brethren in the famous Gibbons coaching family of Central Mass.,Tom is as genuinely good a human being as you’ll come across.

Softic inherited a program at Mahar that was just looking to get off the canvas, and after going 1-19 his first season he brought the Senators hardware in year five, beating heavily-favored Brighton in the 2012 Division 2 State Championship. The Senators basically played six kids that on paper did not hold water to All-State Brighton players Malik James and Nick Simpson; but they ate the Bengals' much-vaunted extended 3-2 zone alive, jumping out to a 17-3 first quarter lead and making it hold up for a four-point victory. To this day, that is one of the best coaching jobs I’ve seen in my time covering high school sports in Massachusetts.

Hoophall: Putnam 77, Woodstock Acad. (Conn.) 45

January, 18, 2014
Jan 18
3:45
PM ET
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Less than 30 seconds into the game, Putnam’s Dizel Wright picked off a pass at half court and took off towards his basket. He elevated and threw down a rim-rattling dunk for the first points of the game. He held onto the rim to let defenders pass underneath him, which served as a metaphorical exclamation point on the play.

That set the tone for the rest of the game as No. 1 Putnam beat Woodstock Academy (Conn.), 77-45.

“That was really important,” said Putnam (10-0) junior Tyonne Malone (19 points, 9 rebounds). “Dizel always gets those dunks. It gets the team hyped on the bench so we come out with a lot of energy.”

Woodstock (9-2), the defending Connecticut Class L champion, came out in a zone defense to try to slow the game down and keep the ball on the perimeter. Putnam , the defending MIAA Division 1 champion, likes to play in transition and work quickly, but they appeared more than happy to play in its half court offense. Even though his team never trailed in the game, Putnam coach William Shepard was not happy to see that zone early on.

“Obviously, if they’re setting up in their zone, that means they scored, so I wasn’t happy with that,” he said. “As far as teams getting into their zone, if we’re playing defense like we’re capable of playing, we’re getting transition baskets because they don’t have time to set up the zone. But our defensive intensity wasn’t there like it was supposed to be at the beginning of the game. We came into halftime, talked to them, made an adjustment, and they responded well.”

As a team, Putnam shot 50 percent from the floor, including 8-of-18 from the three-point line.

Putnam went into halftime with a 36-27 lead and for the second game in a row, blew the game open in the third quarter. The Beavers outscored Woodstock 25-8 in the third frame to put the game out of reach.

“We’re trying to change it from last year where we would do that in the fourth quarter,” said Putnam senior David Murrell. “We’re trying to switch things up because everybody knows our style from last year where we’d start the fourth quarter and try to hop on them. I don’t know, it seems like we’re not getting our heads in the game early.”

For a team known for consistently playing only a few of its bench players, Putnam’s bench outscored Woodstock’s 15-0.

Woodstock junior Adam Converse lead the way for his team with 14 points and 6 rebounds.

After playing two games in three days over the holiday weekend, Putnam will have a day off on Sunday, but then it is right back to practice on Monday. They're already halfway through its 20 game schedule, so there has not been a lot of time to get in quality practices. Shepard said with the team’s game schedule, he was concerned about conserving the team’s energy level and not wearing them down outside of games.

Putnam will be back playing a game again Tuesday against West Springfield.

Beasts on the blocks: The Beavers outscored Woodstock 46-22 on points in the paint. For a team that is known for its ability to push the pace and getting out and running in the open court, Saturday was the opposite of that. The game was played mostly in the halfcourt, and Putnam adjusted accordingly.

Murrell and Malone were active on the glass, finishing with 15 and nine rebounds respectively. Thirteen of those came on the offensive end, with both players out-jumping and outmuscling Woodstock’s post players to the basketball. As a team, Putnam out-rebounded Woodstock 49-29.

“First thing coach says all the time is you gotta box out,” said Malone. “That’s the first thing he says, put a body on somebody and see the ball. If you can’t get it, just keep boxing out and someone else is going to come and get that rebound.”

As the season rolls along, how each player asserts themselves on the backboards will go a long way to determining Putnam’s success. It will go up against teams with taller and heavier post players in the postseason, but if Murrell (6-foot-3) and Malone (6-foot-4) play like they did Saturday, their lack of size will not be an issue. Coming off a 27 point, 12 rebound performance Thursday against Springfield Central, Murrell had another double-double Saturday with 15 points to go along with his 15 boards. Malone was one rebound away from a double-double of his own.

“We challenge Tyonne and David to control the boards,” said Shepard. “If you’re capable of dominating, dominate for however long you’re out there. Tyon really took heed today and really took care of the boards and David was his normal self.”

Video: Recapping Putnam-Central at Hoophall

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
10:40
AM ET
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- In a highly-anticipated nightcap of the first night of the Hoophall Classic, before a capacity crowd at Springfield College's Blake Arena, No. 1 Springfield Putnam got the best of its archrival Springfield Central, 82-57, thanks to big nights from David Murrell (27 points, 12 rebounds), Ty Nichols (12 points) and Dizel Wright (10 points, 10 rebounds).

ESPN Boston High Schools editor Brendan Hall and correspondent Andy Smith break down all of the action.

(Video by Greg Story)

Hoophall: No. 1 Putnam 82, Central 57

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
2:31
AM ET


SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- It was an intersection of time and place Thursday night at the Hoophall Classic.

At the birthplace of basketball, on the campus of Springfield College, two schools that are less than a mile apart from each other in Springfield met on a neutral court, played for nothing more than pride. They are the last two Division 1 state champions. On one side, the always-running Putnam, last March's winners. On the other side was 2012 champ Springfield Central, coached by Jack O’Brien, who is in his first year coaching the team and most known for his success building a juggernaut at Charlestown, winning five state titles in a span of six seasons stretching more than a decade ago.

In the end, it was the most recent state champ, Putnam, who came away with a 82-57 victory. At least until the two teams play again, the Beavers will have bragging rights over their Roosevelt Ave. rivals.

“The rivalry is tough, it’s real tough. We don’t like Central and I’m sure they don’t like us,” said Putnam junior Ty Nichols (12 points, 6 rebounds). “We’ll see them again later in the season, and that will probably be more of an intense game because they will have to make the playoffs. Whenever there’s a Putnam vs. Central game, everybody’s talking about it. We just love it. There’s talent out in Western Mass. and people come out and support us.”

Putnam (9-0) likes to get out of the gates fast and play in transition as much as possible, and Thursday was no different. It jumped out to a 15-7 lead in the first quarter off the back of its transition offense. The Golden Eagles (4-6) were able to hit timely three's towards the end of the quarter, which cut the lead to 18-15.

Putnam was able to maintain its pressure into the second quarter and stretch its lead to 36-27 going into halftime.

In the third quarter, the Putnam onslaught continued. The Beavers outscored Central 26-10 in the quarter to finally put the game out of reach. It outscored Central 22-6 in the fast break and 35-12 off turnovers in the game.

“I told the guys at halftime, Central is going to come out. They have pride,” said Putnam coach William Shepard. “They’re going to come out and fight, but it goes back to the foundation, what we do every day at practice. We’re going to sustain our energy and intensity for the full 32 minutes.

"Can they do that? Can they do the same? I told the guys we let them back into the game with unforced turnovers. Just keep playing Putnam basketball, keep the intensity, and they really followed through on that in the third quarter and really turned it out."

Putnam is back in action at the Hoophall Classic Saturday at noon at Blake Arena against Woodstock Academy (Conn.).

Battling Baldwin: One of the toughest tasks for any team playing Springfield Central is defending 6-foot-8 junior center Chris Baldwin. In its halfcourt offense, Baldwin can set up in the post to exploit a mismatch against smaller defenders. Defensively, he is the prototypical rim protecter and forceful rebounder every team hates facing.

Thursday night, Putnam used its transition offense as a way of neutralizing Baldwin. When it came down with a defensive rebound, it immediately pushed the ball up the floor and forced the big man to try and catch up. Often, he was behind the play, which gave Putnam an easy lane to the basket.

“We knew Chris coming into the game, he didn’t like to run up and down the court, and if he was going to run up and down the court, he was going to get fatigued,” said Ty Nichols. “We switched to our full court man defense and it kind of wore them down a little bit. That’s when we took control.”

On offense, Central wanted to slow the pace down and work in its halfcourt offense. To combat that, Putnam set up in a 3-2 zone to keep the ball away from Baldwin in the post and was more than happy to let Central shoot from the outside. The strategy worked as Central finished the game 6-for-25 from three.

“The kids were actually calling for me to stay in man defense, but what dictated me changing the defense was how the game was being called,” said Shephard. “We make adjustments to whatever is being called. Are they going to let us play or is going to be touchy? We got a couple of fouls early, so I went into the 3-2 and it worked a little bit.”

For most of the game, Tyonne Malone (13 points) and David Murrell (27 points, 12 rebounds) were charged with defending Baldwin in the post. Both players were at a height disadvantage to the Central junior.

“Ty had his moments there where he was getting a little frustrated and things weren’t going right for him,” said Shephard. “Dave has been playing against guys bigger than him since he got to Putnam, so that’s nothing new to him.”

Baldwin ended the game with 16 points and 8 rebounds.

Recap: No. 10 St. John's (S) 68, No. 11 SPM 62

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
12:51
AM ET
SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- When Davon Jones got fouled and fell hard on his elbow late in the fourth quarter, St. John’s (Shrewsbury) head coach Bob Foley asked his star point guard a question that the coach probably already knew the answer to.

“Davon, you OK?” Foley shouted from the end of the bench.

Wincing in pain and holding his elbow, Jones jumped up and waved off his coach — he wanted to be the one to shoot the free throws. He swooshed the first, then the second, giving the Pioneers their first lead of the second half, 64-62, with less than a minute to go in the game.

As an encore, he nailed two more from the charity stripe to put the game out of reach just moments later. Senior T.J. Kelley (14 points, 10 rebounds) sealed the deal by hitting two free throws of his own with 12 seconds left, giving the No. 10 Pioneers a 68-62 victory over rival No. 11 St. Peter-Marian in front of a standing-room only crowd.

The standout defensive back has taken plenty of hits in his career though, and for Jones the hard foul certainly wasn’t worse than some of the hits he’s taken on the gridiron.

“I’m fine," Jones said. "I play football, so I’m kind of used to it."

Jones is a rare breed in Foley’s system — a junior point guard who is also a three-year starter. An exceptional on-ball defender with lightning-quick bursts of speed with or without the ball, Jones’ poise and hard-nosed style of play gave Foley no choice but to put him in the starting lineup nearly from the time he arrived at St. John’s.

“He’s such a tough kid that he banged it really good and I was all set to send a sub in … and he just goes ‘No, no, no,'" Foley said. "It’s great to have tough kids."

The Pioneers’ comeback was one that will be talked about for a long time.

When St. Peter-Marian coach Marcus Watson called timeout with 3:23 left in the game, the Guardians (4-2) led St. John’s, 62-51. Despite the eleven-point deficit, Foley encouraged his team to stay together and stick to their gameplan of putting ball pressure on SPM and get the ball inside the paint offensively.

“Coach Foley just told us to stay together," Jones said. "Whenever we listen to coach, good things happen. I just think we came out and said together that we’ll play defense, we’ll talk, and we just played together."

To little surprise, it was Jones (11 points) who helped set fire to the comeback. Shortly after the timeout, Jones drove into the paint and fed big man Alex Fisher (15 points) with a beautiful no-look pass, Fisher finished off the conventional three-point play after getting fouled. The next time down Jones did the exact same thing, this time feeding sophomore guard Nick Lukasevicz, who hit two free throws after getting fouled.

“The kid I thought did a great job tonight was Nick Lukasevicz — the sophomore who had barely even played in the game,” Foley said, “he played a couple minutes earlier, but he got in there and we feel like he’s a very steady kid who never turns the ball over. When he was in there we didn’t turn the ball over.”

The Pioneers (7-1) were able to capitalize on SPM’s inexperience down the stretch, putting a trap on their guards defensively while the Guardians forced shots and got away from the ball movement that helped them pull away at the end of the first half.

“The kids believe in each other and I believe in them," Foley said. "We threw that half-court trap at [St. Peter-Marian] and got them to turn the ball over. They took a couple long shots and we got every rebound off that situation, we got every rebound, I thought we got every loose ball at the end, and everyone just kind of did their job.”

St. John’s had no answer for Guardians’ star sophomore Makai Ashton-Langford (18 points) in the first half. Ashton-Langford, a heralded Division 1 recruit who was playing in front of University of Maryland assistant coach Scott Spinelli, got to the rim nearly at will in the middle quarters — enabling SPM to go on a 15-1 run spanning from the end of the second quarter to the middle of the third.

Another sophomore, Greg Kuakumensah (13 points, 8 rebounds) was the only other Guardians’ player who finished in double-figures. Tom Annan and Jamal Smith each scored eight points for SPM, which will face No. 1-ranked Putnam in Springfield on Sunday.

The Pioneers, who have now won five in a row after losing to Leominster in their second game of the year, will host another league foe, St. Bernard’s, on Friday night.

“[Beating St. Peter-Marian] doesn’t boost our confidence as much as it just makes us work harder. We understand where we stand now,” Jones said, “tomorrow we’ll be back at practice ready to go.”

BABC: No. 1 Putnam 69, No. 6 New Mission 52

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
11:31
PM ET
BOSTON -- As the second half continued to carry on, it was quite clear that one team was significantly more energetic than the other.

Top-ranked Putnam withstood an upset bid from New Mission on Sunday afternoon at the BABC Holiday Classic, pulling away in the second half to knock off the Titans, 69-52,

New Mission was able to dwindle the Putnam lead down to six, 36-30 early in the third quarter, but the Titans collapsed down the stretch, playing their third game in as many days against the buzzsaw that is the defending Division 1 state champion Beavers.

Dizel Wright led Putnam with 20 points and 8 rebounds, while Jonathan Garcia (12 points) and David Murrell (10 points) each put up double figures. Forwards Asante Sandiford (14 points, 7 rebounds) and Fred Rivers (13 points, 14 rebounds) led the Titans, who took on Putnam (4-0) after playing New Hampshire power Bishop Guertin and St. Joseph of New Jersey -- who is considered to be one of the best high school teams on the East Coast -- on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

The Beavers’ fast-paced attack left New Mission (3-2) exhausted in the second half, taking the Titans out of their gameplan and therefore allowing Putnam to pull away significantly after leading by 9 at halftime.

“We felt like we had a good plan, we knew exactly what they were gonna do, but you can’t simulate that speed,” New Mission coach Cory McCarthy said. “We tried to do some things in the walk-through today that were pretty effective, but after awhile once you’re tired, you stop thinking, and you stop sticking to the gameplan.

“Although they turned the ball over, they were still disciplined enough to beat us down the floor. They’ve got five guys who will beat you down the floor, we’ve only got three. That’s the difference in the game: their transition points was probably in the 30’s or 40’s.”

Wright turned in an outstanding performance for the Beavers, about 24 hours after he was forced to leave Putnam’s game against Cambridge because of a dislocated shoulder. Though Wright said the injury was something he can play through, Putnam coach William Shepard will insist his point guard see a doctor about the shoulder when the team gets back to Springfield.

“I spoke to him about that last night, he said it happened to him several times this year. It comes out, he puts it back in, but we’ve got to get that looked at. He says he’s able to play through it,” Shepard said. “He’s shown some senior leadership. Dizel’s been awesome, in practice, in games, he’s just awesome. He’s having a great start to his senior year, a great start.”

Putnam was able to contain New Mission shooting guard Shaquan Murray, who is considered to be one of the MIAA’s best shooters, to 10 points on 4-for-17 shooting from the field.

“That’s what we hang our hat on: defense. Being accountable, now let’s hope we can hold it down where we have to hold it down: the defensive end. We played the way we were capable of playing,” Shepard said.

Murray, the Titans’ anchor on the offensive end and defensively on the perimeter, never could get anything going against the Beavers’ high-pressure defense. Rarely getting a chance to sit during New Mission’s stretch of three games in three days, Murray wore down in the second half.

“I think Shaquan’s tired, he doesn’t get too much time on the bench," McCarthy said. "He just didn’t have any legs, he didn’t create any steals...He wasn’t Shaquan. Bam and Asante will come out five or six times a game, Shaquan stays on the floor. I think we could have rested him more. We just need him to make people better."

The uptempo play was a speed New Mission hadn’t seen all year, and likely won’t see for the rest of their schedule, but McCarthy hopes the experience will pay dividends for the talented Titans’ – perhaps the favorite statewide in Division 2.

“They got us to play out of character, and they sealed the deal. They’re experienced, they’re relentless; they’re the number-one team in the state for a reason,” McCarthy said. “The last two games we played, we won’t see anybody that good for the rest on the season. If we can keep it up we’ll be on track for bigger goals, we’ve got bigger goals.”

Shepard said the overnight stay in Boston was a bonding experience for his team—a trip that included ordering pizzas and watching movies yesterday afternoon at their hotel in Chelsea after knocking off Cambridge. The Beavers will go home with an undefeated record and Valley League play set to start this coming Friday against West Springfield. The next big challenge for Putnam will likely come Jan. 10, where they’ll take on a tough Northampton squad at American International College.

BABC: No. 1 Putnam 62, Cambridge 47

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
12:55
AM ET
BOSTON —- Cambridge had upset on their mind on Saturday afternoon, especially considering that they were only down by six to top-ranked Putnam after three quarters.

Then the Beavers (3-0) went back to Coach William Shepard’s pre-game speech on having fun and trusting their preparation. Through flawless offensive execution in the fourth quarter, Putnam was able to withstand the upset bid, knocking off Cambridge (3-1), 72-57, at the BABC Holiday Classic.

Putnam was led in scoring by forward tandem David Murrell (22 points, 9 rebounds) and sophomore Tyonne Malone (18 points, 6 rebounds), opting for shots in the paint and often working the ball around until they found just the right shot. Shepard made it clear to his team before the game: basketball is a lot more fun when you execute.

“That was our pre-game talk: what we do in practice,” Shepard said, “I said ‘that’s my time in practice guys, this is your time. You guys should be confident in what we do in practice every day, it’s why we work you guys the way we work you guys—it’s for these statements games like this, you guys can have a good time and enjoy yourselves.”

Enjoy themselves they certainly did. The Beavers shot 62 percent from the floor, only deeming it necessary to shoot five three-pointers the entire game.

“Practice is hard, the game is supposed to be fun,” Shepard said.

In the losing effort, Fredens Deneus put up 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Falcons, while point guard Isaiah McLeod totaled 14 points. In a game that was a nail-biter until the last few minutes that also boasted an irregular amount of aggressive play, the Putnam coach was just relieved for the game to be over:

“Yes, very relieved," he said. "That was a hard fought game, Cambridge came out prepared and ready to go. We were trying to adjust to what was being called, to make that adjustment, but the kids just played tough and played hard and we came up with the victory.”

Murrell comes back strong: The game marked the first of David Murrell’s senior season, as he previously sat out injured for the first few games of the year. Murrell wasn’t much of a factor offensively in the first half, only finishing with four points after the first two quarters of play.

However, the senior came up big in the second half and was efficient when it mattered, finishing with 22 points on 8-for-10 shooting from the floor. Shepard couldn’t have been happier about Murrell’s play after the game, especially knowing that Murrell is far from full strength at this point.

“He’s still not 100 percent, but he brings that toughness down low, that rebounding and energy," Shepard said. "I think he scored maybe three or four times just off of out-of-bounds plays -- just knowing the plays. Tyonne is still catching up, and they both had those little nuances that got us through it.”

The presence of Murrell greatly helped Malone, giving the 6-foot-5 sophomore swingman space to create and score off the dribble – a skill he has shown to be most accustomed to.

“Oh it helps out a great deal -- David helping him out on the boards. Tyonne’s new to the system, but he battled back. He was a little confused at times in the first him, but he didn’t let that stop him. He battled back and had a great second half,” Shepard said.

The Wright stuff: A dislocated shoulder just couldn’t keep Dizel Wright out of the game.

Wright finished with 14 points on the afternoon for Putnam, but his more impressive feat may have been his ability to come back for the last few minutes of the game after his shoulder popped out of its’ socket late in the third quarter.

So Wright did what he thought was necessary: He went to the locker room and popped his shoulder back into place, iced it for a few minutes, and relentlessly reminded his coach on the bench that he could go back in the game.

“When I looked at it I was scared, it looked real bad, I started asking for medical attention -- I didn’t know what to do,” Shepard said, “He said when it overextends it pops out sometimes. He came back in and said he was ready to go, I left him out and he kept saying he was ready to go.”

Wright came back into the game just in time to finish an acrobatic lay-up at the rim and knock down two free throws to put a bow on the victory for Putnam. The Beavers will take on sixth-ranked New Mission on Sunday afternoon for the final day of the BABC Holiday Classic.

MIAA Boys Hoop Countdown: Nos. 5-1

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
11:46
PM ET
Tonight, ESPNBoston.com concludes its week-long countdown of the top 25 boys basketball teams in Massachusetts.

The Friday preview includes two D1 North favorites in Lynn English and Central Catholic, two teams with loaded backcourts in Catholic Memorial and Putnam, as well as Mansfield--who only last one impact player off of last year's Division 1 finalist team.

For a refresher on how the final 2012-13 poll ended up, CLICK HERE.

Here's how the countdown has gone so far: Nos. 25-21 | 20-16 | 15-11 | 10-6


5. LYNN ENGLISH
Coach: Mike Carr
2012-13 results: 17-6, Division 1 North finalists
Key players: Sr. G Freddy Hogan, Jr. G Stevie Collins, Jr. F Johnny Hilaire, Sr. F Danny Lukanda, Jr. G Erick Rosario
Analysis: English was undoubtedly the surprise team of the year last year, but the talent on Mike Carr’s team won’t be surprise anybody this year. Fred Hogan, Stevie Collins, and Erick Rosario should all be considered to be on the all-state radar, while the Bulldogs’ will boast rebounding specialist Danny Lukanda and 6-foot-6 athletic center Johnny Hilaire down low.

4. CATHOLIC MEMORIAL
Coach: Denis Tobin
2012-13 results: 13-8, Division 1 South, first round
Key players: Sr. G Aamahne Santos, Jr. G Guilien Smith, Sr. C Gerard Adams, Soph. G Denis Tobin, Soph. G Kellan Grady
Analysis: Aamahne Santos transferring back to CM for his senior year automatically puts CM in the conversation of state title favorites, but don’t forget about Guilien Smith—who anchored the Knights offense on plenty of occasions last year. Denis Tobin and sophomore Kellan Grady add even more depth to the backcourt, while big man Gerard Adams should be considered one of the MIAA’s best post threats.

3. CENTRAL CATHOLIC
Coach: Rick Nault
2012-13 results: 21-6, Division 1 North champions
Key players: Sr. G Tyler Nelson, Sr. F Nick Cambio, Sr. F Aaron Hall, Fr. G Kevin Fernandez, Jr. G Alex Santos
Analysis: Fairfield commit Tyler Nelson needs no introduction. He proved last year to one of the state’s most lethal all-around scorers, and should be able to use his lights-out three-point stroke to his advantage this year with big men Nick Cambio and Aaron Hall down in the post. Look for freshman Kevin Fernandez to have an instant impact at the point guard position for Rick Nault’s squad.

2. MANSFIELD
Coach: Mike Vaughan
2012-13 results: 25-3, Division 1 state finalists
Key players: Brendan Hill, Rocky DeAndre, Michael Boen, Ryan Boulter, Kyle Wisniewski, Kevin Conner
Analysis: This Hornets team came up just short of beating Putnam last year at the DCU for the Division 1 championship game. Mansfield lost one impact player of last year’s squad, captain Greg Romanko, but they return a plethora of talented guards, including Rocky DeAndre, Michael Boen, and Ryan Boulter. Brendan Hill will miss games early because of an injury suffered during football season, but look for him to be on Super Team radar when all is said and done.

1. PUTNAM
Coach: William Shepherd
2012-13 results: 24-1, Division 1 state champions
Key players: Sr. F David Murrell, Soph. F Tyonne Malone, Soph. F Davidson Pacheco, Jr. G Justin Stewart, Sr. G Dizel Wright, Jr. F Jonathan Garcia, Jr. G Ty Nichols, Jr. G Ki-Shawn Monroe, Soph. G Luqman Abdur-Rauf
Analysis: The Beavers were a no-brainer at the top spot, especially given the fact that they may have even more talent on the roster than last year’s Division 1 state title-winning squad. Newcomer Tyonne Malone -- who already holds offers from UMass, Boston University, St. Peter's and Manhattan -- is a college prospect to keep a close eye on over the next couple of years, after a strong freshman campaign at Williston-Northampton. He leads an influx of transfers that includes Pacheco (New Leadership), Stewart (Williston-Northampton) and Abdur-Rauf (New Leadership). Look for David Murrell, the post anchor of last year’s team, to be in the conversation for first-team All-State.

2014 Hoophall Classic schedule announced

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
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The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced the high school teams today for the 2014 Spalding Hoophall Classic. Springfield College will host the games at Blake Arena from January 16-20 during Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. The nationally renowned event will once again showcase the top high school basketball teams from across the country. This year’s elite matchups include Huntington Prep (Huntington, WV) vs. Prime Prep Academy (Dallas, TX), Wilbraham & Monson Academy (Wilbraham, MA) vs. Brewster Academy (Wolfeboro, NH) and Wesleyan Christian School (High Point, NC) vs. Findlay Prep (Henderson, NV).

Numerous games from the 2014 Spalding Hoophall Classic will be televised nationally. Information on these broadcasts will be available shortly. Other legendary programs scheduled to participate include St. Benedict’s Prep (Newark, NJ), Montverde Academy (Montverde, FL), Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, VA), Mater Dei High School (Santa Ana, CA) and St. Anthony High School (Jersey City, NJ), coached by 2010 Hall of Fame inductee Bob Hurley, Sr.

The 2014 Spalding Hoophall Classic continues its tradition of talented players by featuring several of ESPNU’s Top 100 in the class of 2014, including top 10 standouts Jahlil Okafor (Whitney Young High School/Chicago, IL), Cliff Alexander (Curie High School/Chicago, IL), Emmanuel Mudiay (Prime Prep Academy/Dallas, TX), Karl Towns Jr. (St. Joseph High School/Mutuchen, NJ), Stanley Johnson (Mater Dei/Santa Ana, CA) and Kelly Oubre (Findlay Prep/Henderson, NV). A total of 32 players out of the ESPNU Top 100 in the Class of 2014 will participate.

Among the local games of particular interest include the nightcap of the first day, which pits city rivals Springfield Putnam and Springfield Central against one another. The two schools, located less than a mile apart on Springfield's historic Roosevelt Ave., have won the last two MIAA Division 1 state championships.

On the girls' side, the state's top two returning squads will square off against national powerhouses Friday evening. Defending D1 South champ Braintree will face off against Christ The King (N.Y.), followed by defending D3 state champ Archbishop Williams against Mater Dei (Calif.).

Here is the full schedule of games for the five-day event:



Thursday, January 16, 2014
4 p.m. - Sabis vs. Granby - GIRLS
5:30 p.m. - Granby vs. Greenfield
7 p.m. - Sabis vs. West Springfield
8:30 p.m. - Springfield Central High School vs. Springfield Putnam

Friday, January 17, 2014
4:30 p.m. - Springfield Central vs. West Springfield - GIRLS
6 p.m. - Archbishop Williams vs. Mater Dei (Calif.) - GIRLS
7:30 p.m. - Braintree vs. Christ The King (N.Y.) - GIRLS
9 p.m. - Springfield Cathedral vs. Holyoke

Saturday, January 18, 2014
Noon - Springfield Putnam vs. Woodstock Academy (Conn.)
1:30 p.m. - Springfield Central vs. Albany Academy (N.Y.)
3 p.m. - Bishop O'Connell (Va.) Rainier Beach (Wash.)
4:30 p.m. - Abraham Lincoln (N.Y.) vs. Houston Yates (Texas)
6 p.m. - St. Frances Academy (Md.) vs. St. John Bosco (Calif.)
8 p.m. - *Huntington Prep (W. Va.) vs. Prime Prep Academy (Texas)

Sunday, January 19, 2014
11 a.m. - Kimball Union (N.H.) vs. Northfield Mount Hermon School
12:30 p.m. - Cushing Academy vs. Worcester Academy
2 p.m. - St. Benedict's Prep (N.J.) vs. Arlington Country Day (Fla.)
3:30 p.m. - Our Savior New American (N.Y.) vs. La Lumiere (Ind.)
5 p.m. - DeMatha Catholic (Md.) vs. St. Joseph (N.J.)
6:30 p.m. - Wilbraham & Monson Academy vs. Brewster Academy (N.H.)
8 p.m. - Skills Challenge

Monday, January 20, 2014
9:45 a.m. - St. Anthony (N.J.) vs. Paul VI (Va.)
11:30 a.m. - Wesleyan Christian (N.C.) vs. Findlay Prep (Nev.)
1:30 p.m. - Oak Hill Academy (Va.) vs. Whitney Young (Ill.)
3:30 p.m. - Curie (Ill.) vs. Montverde Academy (Fla.)
5:30 p.m. - Neumann-Goretti (Penn.) vs. Mater Dei (Calif.)



Bridgewater-Raynham new No. 1 in football poll

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
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We updated our statewide MIAA Top 25 football poll. To view it, CLICK HERE.

A few notes and observations about this week's poll:

Trojans in the top spot: For the first time in the four-year history of our high school section, Bridgewater-Raynham is the No. 1 team in the land. The Trojans took down preseason No. 1 St. John's Prep in the opening week of the season, then followed up last week with a 13-10 thriller over Duxbury, a team they haven't beaten since 2009. Led by junior Brandon Gallagher and a talented offensive line, the Trojans have one of the state's best rushing attacks.

This marks the second consecutive season a team from the Old Colony League has held the top spot in the poll. Last season, Barnstable upset then-No. 1 Everett in late September and held onto the No. 1 spot for seven consecutive weeks, before falling to Everett in the re-match in the Division 1A Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium.

B-R's previous high spot in the poll was in November 2011, when they were No. 3. That week, of course, the Trojans fell to Barnstable to tumble down the rankings and lose out on a playoff berth. With Xaverian on tap this week, the Trojans are hoping to avoid a similar fate in 2013.

Xaverian makes a splash: Previous No. 1 Everett's 10-game win streak against the Catholic Conference was snapped on Friday night, when Xaverian came into Everett Memorial Stadium and delivered a 20-8 upset. The Hawks jump up four spots to No. 10; you can make a case to rank the Hawks higher, but there is quite the logjam in front of them, with Lowell, Leominster and Natick all looking sharp this weekend. Everett, meanwhile, falls four spots to No. 5.

Notable newcomers: Auburn, Dennis-Yarmouth, Bishop Feehan, Millis/Hopedale and Haverhill all suffered losses last weekend, dropping them out of the poll. That makes way for five newcomers this week: Cardinal Spellman (21), Franklin (22), Nashoba (23), Attleboro (24), and Springfield Putnam (25).

As always, here is how the poll breaks down this week by division:

Div. 1 - 9
Div. 2 - 11
Div. 3 - 3
Div. 4 - 1
Div. 5 - 1

Putnam's Kyles shows strong at Super 7 Showcase

July, 21, 2013
7/21/13
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- When Jaleel Kyles showed up for Putnam Vocational Tech’s first football practice three years ago as an unassuming freshman, the Beaver coaches didn’t pay much attention to him, that is, except for making a few mental notes regarding his dimensions. Kyles stood 5-foot-2 and barely reached 90 pounds.

“At that size at the time we didn’t know how much he was going to help us,” said Putnam head coach Bill Watson, who served as assistant under head coach Lou Malvezzi when Kyles arrived on the scene.

Prior to Kyles’ junior season, he had a growth spurt which bumped him up to 5-foot-6, 140-pounds. To the coaches that was progress but questions still lingered.

“Funny thing is when we as coaches continued to doubt if he would be able to play for us, Jaleel always believed and just kept working,” Watson said. “He ran track to get faster and continously worked out during the off-season with weight lifting and doing agility work and then he had another growth spurt.”

Fast forward to the present, and with the start of pre-season camp just a few short weeks away, Watson’s reflections of Kyles have changed dramatically. No longer the scrawny little kid whom many felt might get injured if he played, Kyles, thanks to yet another growth spurt this past year which now puts him at 5-foot-10, 160-pounds along with a vigilant off-season conditioning program, has emerged in becoming the featured player on the Putnam squad.

Taking part, along with 40 other area players, in Saturday’s Super 7 Showcase at Central High’s Fred Berte Field, Kyles showed off the abilities which should make him one of the top two-way players not only in Western Mass. but most-likely beyond.

Because of his pure athleticism, Watson says Kyles will play all over the field this season and will rarely come off. As of now, his primary position is slot receiver but he will also see time at running back and quarterback as well with the various offensive packages Watson wants to use. On the other side of the ball Kyles is a shutdown defensive back.

“It doesn’t matter where I play,” Kyles said. “I just want to put this team on my back and let them know I’m ready to lead them.”

With the addition of Sci-Tech High players merging with Putnam this year, automatically the Beavers’ numbers regarding depth will increase. Putnam will need those extra bodies after being moved up to Western Mass. Division 2 this season, joining the likes of powers Longmeadow, Central, East Longmeadow and Westfield.

“We’re going to have more numbers which is huge because last year we would only practice using half of field because we didn’t have a lot of numbers,” said Kyles.

Early in his life Kyles, like so many other kids, experienced his share of hardship. Just nine months old at the time, his father left him and his mother Shakira. In time his mother met another man (Kwame Kyles) and they were married. The younger Kyles regards his stepfather, whom he refers to as dad, as a pure blessing and in fact, recently had his last name which use to be Brown changed to Kyles.

“He’s not my true father but he helped raise me,” Kyles said. “He’s always been there for me as is my mom. He took me under his wing and I’ve always been his. He’s like my real father. My mother works very hard and always does her best to get me and my siblings everything we need. She comes to my football games and track meets and supports me in everything I do.”

Kyles says without Kwame being a major presence in his life, he doesn’t know if he would have ever become the football star he is today. As a youngster, Kyles was extremely hyper and Kwame searched different high and low to try and put that energy to good use. Early on, Kwame got him involved in karate and boxing. Then one day Kwame saw an advertisement on a billboard about Springfield youth football. Kwame immediately signed Kyles up and the rest is history.

“Playing football at a young age, my dad taught me everything about football and a strong hard-work ethic,” said Kyles. “We would do drills and he would set up cones in our back yard to help me run precise routes, etc.”

Going into last season, Watson had Kyles listed as his third receiver but suddenly all of that changed.

“Going into camp we had two kids in front of him who were college scholarship type of receivers,” said Watson, who has coached at Putnam for 17 years. “In the scrimmages Jaleel played well and we had him play running back sparingly and he still ended up being our leading rusher last year (544 yards on 102 carries, 9 TDs). In my mind I believe he needs to touch the football at least 20 times a game. If he doesn’t then we’re not doing our job. He’s tough, physical, fast, quick and just a great kid to coach.”

Kyles’ hard-work and dedication to make himself better has already begun to pay dividends. He recently received an offer from AIC. Watson, who played at AIC, said UMass and UConn have also shown some interest.

“I want to play college football and get an education,” Kyles said. “My dad has always steered me in the right direction. So whatever offers I get on the table we will deal with. If it’s not something of my interest then I may go to a private school for a year.”

With a full high school season ahead of him, it is highly-likely a few more offers will come his way. No matter, Kyles has become a role model for others, who also may be a bit undersized, to follow and fulfill their dream.

Notable performances: During Saturday’s Super 7 Showcase, under the direction of Watson, other players besides Kyles, had very productive days. Ansonia (Conn.) running back Arkeel Newsome, who recently committed to UConn, stood out along with Holy Cross (Conn.) receiver Isaiah Wright, who will attend Kingswood-Oxford School in East Hartford next fall. Others who grabbed attention included quarterback Cody Williams and lineman Khaleel Walker of Central, Putnam tight end David Spears, East Longmeadow receiver Sam Blake -- who will PG at Williston-Northampton School -- and Windsor (Conn.) receiver/defensive back Terrell Huff, who will suit up for East Coast Prep in Great Barrington come September.

Elite 75: Bunting, Ainge, Nelson shine

July, 2, 2013
7/02/13
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New England Recruiting Report founder and editor Adam Finkelstein hosted the 8th annual New England Elite 75 showcase on Monday at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. The showcase, featuring New England’s top high school stars, schooled players on individual offensive drills and skill development and gave them an insight on what college coaches look for in a player.

The biggest stock-riser of the event may have been former Plymouth North forward Jesse Bunting, who will attend Tabor Academy and reclassify to the 2015 class this fall. Bunting, a heady big man who outplayed almost every other forward at the camp, has been playing AAU this summer with Expressions Elite. He received his first Division 1 offer this weekend from Holy Cross following the Crusaders’ elite camp.

"Yeah, that was pretty exciting hearing that all my work’s been paying off," Bunting said.

Several of his Expressions teammates, including top 100 recruits Abdul-Malik Abu (Kimball Union Academy) and Jared Terrell (Brewster Academy) also made late appearances. Abu, a physically-imposing 6-foot-8 forward, put down several skying dunks and dominated on the glass. Both are expected to cut down their lengthy college lists following the July live period.

Bunting said going up against the highly-touted Abu in practice has significantly helped his own development.

"Yeah, it definitely gets you prepared," Bunting said with a laugh. "In my workouts I’ve been trying to emphasize my shot and my dribbling, too. I need to work on my left-handed dribble."

Ainge carving his path

With his father, Boston Celtics’ President Danny Ainge, looking on, Crew Ainge stood out as one of the best point guards in the gym. Coming off a recovery from a wrist injury that resulted in the Kimball Union (N.H.) 2015 point guard becoming "out of shape" by his own admission, Ainge has begun to increase his physical training level.

Ainge works out regularly with trainers at the Celtics’ facility, with an emphasis on building his strength and improving his offensive skills. As a result, a slew of local Division 1 schools have expressed interest in Ainge this summer while playing for the New England Playaz AAU program. Originally thinking that as an incoming junior he would be playing for the Playaz’ 16U squad, expect Ainge to play a significant amount of minutes this July for the Playaz 17’s squad.

"There’s a little better competition. I was playing more than enough on the 17’s so I decided to stay there," he said.

His brother Cooper, who went to Brigham Young University as a recruited walk-on, is currently on his two-year Mormon mission in Chile. Crew says it is "most likely a big possibility" that he will also go on his Mormon mission before he begins his college hoops career.

Going forward with his recruitment, which is sure to expand during the July live period, Ainge says that his dad, for the most part, lets him handle his own recruiting.

"He actually kind of lets me handle most of it," Crew said. "He just tells me not to brag or boast about it—just to let it happen. Not to seek after coaches, just to let them come, if I keep working and getting better they’ll come, and not to even worry about it."

MIAA stars gearing up

Central Catholic Class of 2014 stars Tyler Nelson and Nick Cambio were both very impressive at Elite 75. Nelson was lights-out from beyond the three-point arc, while Cambio showed to be one of the best rebounders and interior defenders at the entire event.
Nelson -- who has picked up Division 1 offers this summer from Dartmouth, Jacksonville, Fairfield, George Washington, and Vermont -- will travel with Cambio and the rest of their BABC squad down to the Nike Peach Jam on July 11, where they'll try to win an 18th national championship for the revered club.

***Tyonne Malone, a 6-foot-3 forward who will be attending defending state champion Springfield Putnam this season, was also very impressive. A creative lefty who can score in a variety of ways and overpower perimeter defenders, Malone will be in instant-impact type of player as the Beavers will be playing for their second consecutive state championship.

***Makai Ashton-Langford, a rising sophomore at St. Peter-Marian who has been playing AAU this summer with Mass Rivals, showed well after picking up his first Division 1 offer this past weekend from the University of Rhode Island. Still only 14 years old, he has an understanding of the game that is far beyond his years. Expect him to play a significant amount of minutes for St. Peter-Marian this coming year.

***Ben Judson will be looked at to be "the guy" for St. John’s Prep this coming year, and the rising junior guard has shown that he should be up to the task. A lights-out left-handed shooter, Judson has significantly improved his scoring off the dribble and has added a lot of upper body strength, as the Prep looks forward to their first year under new head coach John Dullea.

Shepard changing culture at Putnam

April, 1, 2013
4/01/13
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Putnam basketball Brendan Hall/ESPNBoston.comDivision 1 state champion Putnam has emerged as a powerhouse, in part because of the way coach William Shepard constantly challenged his players off the court.


It was Friday, March 8, and inside the walls of the brand-new Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy, the boys’ basketball team was still practicing. The Beavers were preparing to venture into unfamiliar territory. It had been 19 years since Putnam basketball had played this long into the season. The following night, the Beavers would square off with the defending state champions -- a rival school less than a mile down Roosevelt Avenue -- Springfield Central.

The Golden Eagles were expected to play for the Division 1 Western Mass. title that Saturday night while the Beavers still had its fair share of doubters, yet none of them were in that gymnasium that Friday.

Putnam head coach William Shepard talked to his team each day after practice, though, he tweaked the postgame speech a bit that day. Each member of the team read a line from Marva Collins’ poem “The Creed.”

“It applied to basketball,” Putnam senior forward Kayjuan Bynum said. “But it also applied to life.”

The poem represented the new culture of Putnam basketball, one that Shepard brought into the school four years ago when he decided to leave his head coaching job at Springfield Technical Community College, a position he held for a decade.

“High school is the place I wanted to be at from the start,” Shepard said. “I knew there could be great things to be accomplished. I always knew there was talent here.”

Shepard made the transition to high school ball to tap into the talent at an earlier age and develop these gifted players into discipline young men. When he began at Putnam, he set the expectations high, never lowering them until the goals were met. Four short years later, Putnam will add its first state title banner. More importantly, Shepard is challenging these student-athletes to apply the hard work and success they’ve achieved on the hardwood to the classroom and the community. There is one particular line of Collins’ poem that underscores how Shepard is changing the perception of Putnam basketball and the city of Springfield.
Society will draw a circle that shuts me out, but my superior thoughts will draw me in. I was born to win if I do not spend too much time trying to fail.

The bus ride to UMass-Amherst for the Western Mass. title game was loose, according to the players. They were listening to music, joking, but when they walked into Curry Hicks Cage, they had the opportunity to dethrone Central as the city/sectional power.

A year earlier, Putnam earned the No. 2 seed to Central, only to be bounced in the quarterfinals. The top two seeds remained the same this season with Central receiving the top spot for a tougher schedule. Sharing the same street puts Putnam in the figurative and literal shadow of Central, where the history of on-court success includes three state titles while producing NBA talent in Travis Best. Despite the 20-1 record, Putnam was still doubted for much of the season.

“It really got me mad when they thought we were Division 2,” junior guard Dizel Wright said, referring to one of the criticisms the team heard during the season.

The shifting of the powers started to begin when David Murrell launched a half-court shot, and, as the buzzer sounded to end the third quarter, Murrell’s heave banked in, putting Putnam up nine.

“I let it go and I was like ‘We got this.’” Murrell said. “We got to take over now.”

From there, Putnam cruised to its first sectional final, 61-45, and the school’s first ever boys’ basketball title. Putnam was still the underdog in the state semifinals where the Beavers beat Milford. 52-39.

That trend continued in the state final against Mansfield. And it wasn’t until Ty Nichols hit a pair of free throws in overtime, as the Beavers held on for a 50-48 win, before Shepard’s mission became a reality.

Shepard, who was born and raised in Springfield, understands this wasn’t the only time his players had been counted out.
Failure is just as easy to combat as success is to obtain. … I have the right to fail, but I do not have the right to take other people with me.

Every day after practice, Shepard talked to his team, less about basketball and more about life and how the choices they make.

“I’ve told them, you’ve overcome adversity already,” Shepard said. “Basketball is the easy part.”

Shepard refers to his players dealing with the pressures of a city with many temptations and as a court officer in Springfield for 14 years. He has seen countless teenagers walk in and out of courtrooms for whatever reasons over the years, whether it is drugs, gangs, etc.

“We talk about a lot of life issues,” Shepard said. “It’s just not being a follower. To be honest some of their friends are selling drugs, not doing the right thing. They have a choice.”

“It’s easier for anyone to get caught up in that life,” Bynum added. “We use basketball as a sanctuary. We don’t need a gang family. We are each other’s family.

“No one needs to be out there when you can be in here with us, having fun, practicing, winning state championships.”

Through his time at Putnam, Shepard has become a role model and a father figure to those who needed the influence of a male role model in their life. Shepard is like his players, born and raised in Springfield. He won the Lahovich Award (awarded to the region’s top player) when he was in high school before starring in college at Western Connecticut State.

In his post-practice speeches, Shepard tells his players to not become followers, and challenges his team to be successful outside of the basketball court and in the classroom. Putnam serves as the city’s trade school, although, its six rotation players – Bynum, Murrell, Wright, Nichols, Jonathan Garcia, and Kishawn Monroe – all plan on attending four-year colleges. Within the first two years of his coaching tenure at Putnam, Shepard began to attract the attention of the city’s top players. Those, who had a passion for the game and were willing to be a part of something bigger then themselves.

“I had watched them play Northampton in 2011,” sophomore Jonathan Garcia said. “I remember I came to watch them and saw Putnam pull out a close one.

“I actually had to beg my mom to let me go to school here. She wanted me to go to Central.”

No longer was Central the place where all the talent in Springfield went. Putnam offered a solid education along with a trade in addition to what Shepard had to offer as a basketball coach. That’s exactly what Shepard and Putnam provided kids in 2012-2013.
Time and chance come to us all. I can be either hesitant or courageous. I can swiftly stand up and shout: "This is my time and my place. I will accept the challenge."

Ty Nichols stepped to the free throw line with the score tied, 48-48, in overtime of the state championship. He buried the pair of free throws, but coincidentally, the sophomore standing on the free throw line was the one that wanted to quit the team during his first season with Putnam.

“He wanted to quit,” Shepard said. “I have to give credit to his mother. She brought him into practice that day.”

Nichols, a transfer from Chicopee Comprehensive High School, admits it took some time for him to get used to the brand of basketball Putnam was building.

“Earlier in the year I wasn’t used to playing with these guys a lot,” Nichols said. “I was used to getting the ball, scoring more. I had to get used to passing the ball, so I had to adapt to how they were doing things at Putnam.”

Nichols, who transitioned into the sixth-man role this season for Putnam, will be one of the key players returning to next season’s team along with Murrell, Wright, Garcia and Monroe. After four years and with a new $114 million the perception of Putnam have been altered in the city of Springfield.

“Putnam is the place to be here,” Shepard said.

Thursday afternoon the team was getting their state championship rings sized. Bynum, a senior is done playing high school basketball as he is on his way to Southern Connecticut State to play football. He’s still pulled aside by Shepard as the two have a conversation in the school’s cafeteria. Times have changed at Putnam and with Shepard in the mix, it only serves as a positive for the team and provides a guiding influence to the city’s youth.

Final Thoughts from 2012-13, and looking ahead

March, 27, 2013
3/27/13
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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.

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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.

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