Boston High School: Springfield Putnam

Amherst enters boys' hoops Top 25

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
This week's statewide MIAA boys' basketball Top 25 poll has been updated and there's just one team making its debut this week, as Amherst slides into the rankings at No. 25, joining No. 1 Springfield Putnam as the second Western Mass. entrant.

For this week's complete poll, click HERE.

Recap: Corona del Sol (Ariz.) 60, Putnam 57

January, 18, 2015
Jan 18

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Once again, defense put No. 1 Putnam in a position to win.

With time winding down in overtime and the score tied 57-57, Corona del Sol (Ariz.) 3-point specialist Alex Barcello had the ball in his hands, trying to create an open look for the win. Barcello made his move to the basket off a ball screen with five seconds remaining, but the Putnam’s help defense at the top of its 2-3 zone thwarted any chance at an open look. However, Barcello countered, hitting an open Tyrell Henderson on the wing.

Henderson, who was not the primary scoring option on the play, rose up without hesitation and sunk the game-winner three, hitting nothing but the bottom of the net with 2.8 seconds left to give the Aztecs a 60-57 victory over the two-time defending state champions to close out Day 3 of the Spalding Hoophall Classic on Saturday night at Springfield College.

“My teammates and coaches are always telling me to shoot with confidence and be prepared for the big moment,” Henderson said. “He (Barcello) made a nice play and a nice pass and I just knocked it down.”

Corona del Sol was ranked No. 22 in USA Today’s national poll and featured a frontline that included New Mexico-commit Dane Kuiper and 6-foot-10 freshman Marvin Bagley III, who already holds an offer from Arizona. Putnam (8-2) was playing without senior captain Jonathan Garcia, who was sidelined with an ankle injury suffered on Thursday night’s win over Springfield Central.

It was naive to doubt the Beavers, who entered the game winners of 57 of their last 59 games.

“I’m not surprised the game was close. We weren’t just given two state championships,” Putnam head coach William Shepard said. “The pre-game speech was, 'Let’s just stick to our foundation -- which is defense -- come together, stay together and we’ll be alright. Just trust in that.' Defense travels well.”

Despite trailing by double-digits at multiple times throughout the night, the Beavers made a charge in the third quarter, behind a 14-3 run led by Ty Nichols and Tyonne Malone Jr. The two were not shy at challenging Bagley around the rim, choosing to go right at the heralded freshman.

Nichols gave Putnam its first lead with 1:25 remaining in the quarter with a pair of free throws.

“Every challenge they throw at me, I have to take it,” Malone said. “I already knew what to do because I had already played against Thon Maker (in the summer).

“I just wanted to foul him out. That was the plan before the game. I was just going to go at him and get fouls.”

In the fourth quarter, the Aztecs were able to get the ball inside with back-to-back buckets for Bagley, part of a 7-0 run. Putnam responded with an 8-1 run, culminating in a Ki-Shawn Monroe three against Corona del Sol’s 2-3 zone.

Corona del Sol answered with free throws from Kuiper and a jumper from Barcello off a step-back crossover, giving the Aztecs a 53-50 lead with two minutes in regulation. Monroe connected again from deep to tie the score at 53-all.

Nichols took advantage against the 1-3-1 defense with a kiss of the glass to put Putnam on top 55-53 with under a minute to play. After limiting Corona del Sol to one shot repeatedly in the second half, Putnam allowed too many additional opportunities down the stretch, resulting in Bagley being fouled. The freshman calmly sank two free throws to send the game to overtime.

In the extra frame, Kuiper broke a tie with a fadeaway, baseline jumper to beat the shot clock. Malone Jr. knotted the score again with an up-and-under lefty layup moments later. That gave the Aztecs plenty of time to set up the final play, which ended with Henderson’s heroic shot.

Malone scored a team-high 21 points, playing his best game in a Putnam uniform in front of a crowd of Division I coaches, including Wake Forest’s Danny Manning and Virginia's Tony Bennett. Nichols added 14 points and Monroe chipped in 13.

But it was the play of the role players that stood out on Saturday night.

Luqman Abdur-Rauf, who played well in extended minutes on Thursday night following Garcia’s injury, had another impressive showing on Saturday. The junior guard scored nine points, including a 3-pointer, which gave the Beavers a 42-41 lead after three quarters. Davidson Pacheco looked more comfortable on the floor, as he was inserted into the starting lineup given Corona del Sol’s size up front. When Pacheco fouled out, reserve forward Brian Smith, the tallest player on the roster at 6-foot-7, gave Putnam great minutes on the interior.

“I told Coach, ‘We need Brian in the game,’” Nichols said. “He’s a big body. If he has five fouls, he can use them. We put Brian in the game and that turned the whole game around.

“[Luqman] came in and hit big shots. We knew he could do it all season.”

Putnam was anticipating straying away from its trademark half-court, man-to-man defense, likely pressing full court, or utilizing its 1-2-2 three-quarters court trap. However, the Beavers remained in a 2-3 zone defense, trading open looks from deep in favor of slowing down Kuiper and Bagley around the rim.

“We knew they had shooters, but they didn’t have inside presence,” Nichols said. “[Bagley] was good, but he wasn’t really an inside presence. He was more of a mid-range guy, so when we went 2-3 it forced him out of the middle and out of his comfort zone.”

Corona del Sol also shifted to zone, switching between an extended 2-3 zone and a 1-3-1, attempting to limit Putnam’s penetration.

This was Putnam’s second loss in a month, having a 35-game win streak -- which spanned three different seasons -- snapped on Dec. 20 by Weaver (Conn.) at the BasketBull Hoops Fest at nearby Western New England University. Top-ranked Putnam has not lost to an in-state opponent in 40 games.

The Beavers are back in action on Tuesday night, hosting Holyoke in a Valley League matchup.

“Our confidence is through the roof right now,” Nichols said. “Proud of everybody on the team. We’re a family. We’re all brothers. We’re all going to stick together.”

Putnam, Central show solidarity with Cathedral

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- On Thursday night, in the final game of Day 1 of the 2015 Spalding Hoophall Classic, Springfield Central and Putnam, the state’s top team, put their heated rivalry on pause, at least during warmups.

The Golden Eagles and Beavers chose to take the Blake Arena floor at Springfield College united by the identical purple T-shirts they wore, which read “Save Cathedral High”.

Springfield Cathedral was ravaged by the June 1, 2011 tornado. Ryan McCollum, a member of the Committee for Cathedral Action, reached out to both teams prior to Thursday night’s game.

“I’m all for kids in the city of Springfield to have an environment of learning, a safe environment to be successful and reach their full potential. I’m all for that, no matter where it is at,” said Putnam head coach William Shepard, who is a graduate of Springfield’s High School of Commerce.

Cathedral, which is located three miles away from both Putnam and Central, has been abandoned since the 2011 tornado. Currently, the school is being torn down, however, there is uncertainty as to whether a new Cathedral will be built on the Surrey Road property.

Officials from the Diocese of Springfield are expected to announce a decision on the school’s fate at some point in February, following an extensive review process.

“For me it’s all about the city,” Central alum and first-year head coach Darryl Denson said. “So this is what we can do to support the city and other schools.

“It’s good for the city. It shows we have a united front and we’re not separate when it comes to education, and that’s the most important part. Keeping a school open it’s great for the city.”

Cathedral’s Valley League rivals have not been that kind to the Panthers on the hardwood in recent years, as the Golden Eagles and Beavers -- who account for the last three Division 1 state championships -- have each served as the city’s dominant program. Cathedral was the city power in the late 1990s, early 2000s, winning the 2002 Division 1 state title over Brookline.

Despite a declining enrollment, Cathedral has continued to be competitive at the Division I level. In the spring, the Panthers captured the Western Mass. Division 1 baseball championship, and once again this winter, Cathedral has one of the state’s top hockey programs.

Thursday night’s act of solidarity was not lost on the players, who have grown up playing with and against one another.

Hoophall: No. 1 Putnam 59, Springfield Central 43

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- The Roosevelt Avenue rivalry was renewed on Thursday night with No. 1 Putnam Vocational defeating Springfield Central, 59-43, in a wire-to-wire win to end Day 1 of the 2015 Spalding Hoophall Classic at Springfield College.

However, the 16-point difference was closer for much of the first three quarters.

Putnam (8-1) had seen a double-digit lead split after Central scored to begin the third quarter. Tyonne Malone Jr. had been saddled the entire second quarter with two fouls, and more importantly senior wing and defensive catalyst Jonathan Garcia rolled his right ankle with 7:30 to go in the first half.

Garcia began the second half on the bench, but with just under five minutes to go in the quarter, and with Putnam nursing a 32-29 lead, Garcia checked back into the game. On his first play, Garcia came up with a steal, which eventually led to a second-chance bucket for Ty Nichols.

“That just Jon Jon being Jon Jon, a leader in every sense of the word,” Putnam head coach William Shepard said. “He’s one of our glue guys, and it’s easy to see what he does for us.”

Putnam rallied around the Willis Reed impersonator, going on a 9-1 run to open up a 41-31 advantage.

“I’m always taking to the guys, and I told them right in the huddle, ‘We have to pick this up. We’re way better than how we’re playing and we need to show people that,’” Garcia said. “And they bought into it. We started getting tipped balls, rebounds, fast breaks.”

Central (4-7) would battle back with back-to-back buckets from big man Tysean Williams, but right before the buzzer, Nichols maneuvered his way through the Golden Eagles' zone defense, scooping in the left-handed layup to give the Beavers an eight-point lead.

Nichols offensive surge continued in the fourth quarter, scoring 12 of his game-high 22 points in the final eight minutes, helping finish off its city rival.

“I like to find my teammates earlier in the game,” Nichols said. “Later in the game, I feel like I need to take more control, score more points. The fourth quarter is where I like to assert myself.”

Putnam had doubled up Central in the first quarter, 20-10, but with 45 seconds left, Malone Jr. picked his second foul. To start the second quarter, Garcia was chasing down Brian McCrae on a fast break, but landed awkwardly on his right ankle, spending the remainder of the half behind the bench with a trainer.

With two starters off the floor, Putnam went in a prolonged slump, going scoreless for the first 4:27 of the second quarter. A 3-pointer from T.J. Brantley, mixed in with free throws from McCrae, Josh Pressley and Kenneth Stahovish cut the deficit to 22-17.

However, Putnam’s offense was able to remain afloat with an offensive boost from reserve guard Luqman Abdur-Rauf and senior guard Carlos Gonzalez. Abdur-Rauf ended the drought with a jumper from the elbow. That was followed by a three from Gonzalez, the lone triple on the evening for the Beavers, who shot 1-for-17 from beyond the arc.

“I gave Luqman a pat on the back,” Shepard said. “I liked his energy level and you could see that he wanted to be out there.”

The Beavers have seen every zone imaginable, so Central’s 3-2 zone was no surprise. However, the Golden Eagles were active at the top, coming up with deflections and getting into the passing lanes. It also it made Putnam settle for rushed 3-pointers, resulting in a woeful 5.9 shooting percentage from deep.

Central first-year head coach Darryl Denson was looking to slow the Beavers down. And he knew how to after being part of Putnam’s two state championship teams as an assistant coach.

“Just knowing the kids and coaching there for so long, you know their style of play and what their strong points are and I tried to take that away from them,” Denson said.

“It made them shoot jumpers. But we didn’t complete our task. We kept letting them get second and third shots. I said, ‘Limit them to one shot and we’re in a ball game.’ But we didn’t do that.”

Nichols had nine rebounds, seven assists and four steals to go along with his 22 points, earning game MVP honors. Garcia ended with 10 points, four boards, five steals and three blocks. Malone also scored 10, hauling in five rebounds.

Brantley scored a team-high 16 for the Golden Eagles followed by Williams with a 10-point, nine-rebound effort.

The Golden Eagles return to the floor Wednesday night at West Springfield.

Putnam has one more game at the Hoophall Classic, taking on nationally-ranked Corona del Sol High School from Tempe, Ariz. The Aztecs feature one of the nation’s most-heralded freshmen in 6-foot-9 forward Marvin Bagley.

“They’re big, but we feel like if we run them, we should be good,” Garcia said. “All five will need to crash the boards and we just have to play physical.”

Against Corona del Sol, Putnam will recycle a game plan previously used against Central.

“We’ll play them a lot like we played Chris Baldwin (now at Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg) at Central last year,” Nichols said. “Keep the ball out of his hands and press a lot. But right now we’re focused on the next practice.”

Garcia is hoping the short break between games will give him enough time to heal is right ankle.

“It’s getting there,” Garcia said. “By Saturday it should be really close, if not 100 percent.”

The scheduled tip for Putnam and Corona del Sol is 8 p.m. It will be the last of seven games on Saturday, the third day of the five-day showcase.

Recap: No. 1 Putnam 60, Amherst 47

January, 13, 2015
Jan 13
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Tuesday night was the first of three games in a six-day span for No. 1 Putnam Vocational, as the Beavers welcomed in undefeated Amherst.

The Hurricanes had a veteran lineup with size and athleticism on the interior. However, the roster lacked a true point guard, a death sentence for teams going up against the vaunted Putnam defense. In the first quarter, the Beavers had begun preparing Amherst’s last meal, jumping out to a double-digit lead en route to a 60-47 victory.

Putnam concludes the three-game stretch this weekend at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, renewing its Roosevelt Avenue rivalry with Springfield Central on Thursday before a Saturday night showdown against nationally-ranked Corona del Sol High School from Tempe, Ariz.

In the first quarter, Putnam (7-1) caught Amherst off guard by going with a 1-2-2 three-quarters court defense instead of its patented man-to-man, half-court defense. The new defensive formation was effective. Not only did it keep the ball out of the middle of the floor, it forced 8 first-quarter turnovers.

“When they were working hard at it, it was giving Amherst difficulties,” Putnam head coach William Shepard said. “These guys did a nice job coming out with the energy and intensity. [They] kind of let up in the second quarter, but I applauded their efforts.”

Amherst (7-1) came out in a 2-3 zone. The notion that Putnam is not a three-point shooting team has been refuted several times over the last calendar year. Once again on Tuesday night Putnam’s ball movement created some open looks in the first half; however, early on the Beavers settled for rushed shots rather than making the extra pass for a better look.

As the quarter wore on, Putnam was more patient on offense, resulting in a trio of threes -- two from Ki-Shawn Monroe and one from Jonathan Garcia, all of which came during a 14-2 run to close out the first quarter. Putnam sank seven 3-pointers on the evening.

“We practice against every type of zone,” Ty Nichols said. “I guess our shots were just falling tonight.”

Putnam was not only successful from beyond the arc, the offense also was able to get the ball into the heart of the defense with Tyonne Malone Jr. roaming the high post, looking to either drive to the basket or kick out to open teammates.

“I just took my time,” Malone said. “Just did was David Murrell did last year. Took it, turned around, look to see if it’s there. If it’s not, bring it back out.”

In the second quarter, Amherst began to settle in, and against a relaxed 1-2-2 pressure, was able to continually get the ball in the paint for high-percentage shots for Devonte McCall and Will Cuffee.

Inside of two minutes in the first half, Shepard elected to revert back to man-to-man defense to stop the bleeding.

Putnam came out of halftime more focused defensively, holding Amherst without a field goal for the first 4:50 of the second half. In the third quarter, Putnam would open up a 25-point lead at 51-26.

“I think we gave up six points in the first quarter and five points in the third quarter,” Shepard said. “If we do those type of things, I think we’ll be alright.”

To start the fourth quarter, Putnam ran a sideline out-of-bounds play, leading to a breakaway, one-handed dunk for Malone. The emphatic slam applied a exclamation point in Putnam’s 39th consecutive win over an in-state opponent.

Malone led all scorers with 17 points, rounding out his double-double with 11 boards. Nichols added 13 points and Carlos Gonzalez added a dozen. McCall had a team-high 13 for Amherst, followed by Cuffee with 12.

The 2015 Spalding Hoophall Classic begins on Thursday night at Springfield College with a quadruple-header of regional games. The nightcap -- scheduled for 8:30 p.m. -- will be between city foes Putnam and Central. In June, Putnam assistant coach Darryl Denson was hired as the new head coach of the Golden Eagles, adding another element to the rivalry.

On Saturday, Putnam closes out Day 3 of the five-day showcase against Corona del Sol, ranked No. 18 in the country by The Aztecs feature one of the nation’s top freshmen in 6-foot-9 small forward Marvin Bagley, who according to ESPN Recruiting Nation already holds an offer from powerhouse Arizona. That game is scheduled to tip at 8 p.m.

“I like the stage the Hoophall Classic presents,” Shepard said. “It puts these kids in the spotlight. Wish we could have more things like that. I think they’ll enjoy the atmosphere that it brings, and it’s something that they deserve. They should be highlighted even more. These kids have accomplished some great things around here.”

Recap: No. 1 Putnam 61, No. 14 Chicopee 60

January, 5, 2015
Jan 5
CHICOPEE, Mass. -- If preseason predictions pan out, and Chicopee High and Putnam Vocational ultimately play for the Western Mass. Division 1 championship in March at Curry Hicks Cage, then Monday night served as a great opening act.

The top-ranked Beavers erased a four-point deficit in the final 36.1 seconds of regulation, as Jonathan Garcia tapped in a go-ahead bucket with 4.5 seconds remaining to give Putnam a dramatic, 61-60, road victory over No. 14 Chicopee.

"It builds character," Putnam head coach William Shepard said of the win. "Staying together no matter what is going on. There are going to be challenges on the road. There are going to be things you flat out don’t give into. You just have to overcome it.

"I’m proud of this team. They battled and they never quit."

Chicopee senior guard Darrick Boyd bulldozed his way into the lane, finishing a layup through contact for the foul and the harm. Boyd knocked down his free throw to give the Pacers a 60-56 lead with 36.1 seconds on the clock.

That three-point play was the start of a wild ending.

Putnam senior guard Ty Nichols brought the play down the floor on the ensuing possession, but lost the handle. Garcia came out of the scrum with the loose ball, hitting teammate Carlos Gonzalez on the wing. Gonzalez drove to the bucket for an old-school three-point play of his own, cutting the Chicopee lead to 60-59 with 19.3 seconds left.

Chicopee would then inbound the ball to Boyd in the corner. Nichols blitzed him, forcing a turnover, giving the Beavers the ball back under their own hoop with shot clock off, trailing by one. Putnam drew up a baseline out-of-bounds play to get Nichols the ball -- but as he drove into the lane, he was whistled for a travel.

Putnam was forced to foul with 13.1 seconds left. However, the Pacers had struggled from the line in the fourth quarter, missing four of their last six free throws as Tony Slaughter went to the charity stripe. After missing both, the ball wound up in the hands of Nichols, who raced down the floor.

Nichols has been known for thriving in clutch moments over the years and while he had a hand on the play, he wasn't the hero on Monday night.

His layup attempt rolled off the iron, but Garcia -- moving swiftly through traffic -- came up the weak side to clean up the miss, giving the Beavers a 61-60 lead with less than five seconds on the clock.

“I have all confidence in [Ty] driving to the basket, but I had a sense that it was coming off,” Garcia said. “And I was just there.”

Chicopee would still have one final opportunity. The ball was inbounded to Genesis Arias in the foul-line extended area, charging past the half-court line before calling a timeout in front of the Chicopee bench, as the play was designed to do. However, it took too much time off the clock. Chicopee had 0.8 seconds to get a shot off -- enough time to catch and shoot -- but Gonzalez stepped in for the steal, securing Putnam’s 37th straight win over a Massachusetts opponent.

"We didn’t finish like we need to finish down the stretch and that’s unfortunate," Chicopee head coach Steve Menard said. "I think it was a six-point game with two minutes left. Putnam just made playe. They turned it up another notch defensively. We had some tough turnovers and they capitalized."

The Pacers came out firing in the first quarter, connecting on five of their first seven 3-pointers -- including a trio from Boyd, who had a team-high 19 points. Putnam went on its traditional second-quarter run led by Nichols, who scored 17 of his game-high 23 points in the first half. The lanky 6-foot-3 Nichols was nearly impossible to stay in front off, as he sparked an 8-0 run, giving Putnam a 25-18 lead.

Despite trailing by double-digits in the third quarter, Chicopee regrouped, with Arias scoring eight consecutive points for the Pacers. Chicopee ended the third quarter on a 13-5 run to recapture the lead at 47-46.

Tyonne Malone Jr. and Ki-Shawn Monroe each added 11 points for Putnam. Arias and Jake Midura ended with 19 and 16, respectively.

Chicopee hosts Holyoke on Thursday, while Putnam travels to Northampton the same night.

Gonzalez, Pacheco step up for Putnam

During tryouts and into the first week of practice, Shepard was looking for someone to step up to help the returning core of Garcia, Nichols, Malone and Monroe.

On Monday night, Gonzalez, the senior guard, answered the call, diving for loose balls, converting on a clutch bucket and coming away with the game-clinging win.

Gonzalez has been apart of both state championship teams, but always in a limited role, splitting time between varsity and jayvee. This season, he’s been inserted into the starting lineup, but it wasn’t until Monday night that he actually felt like he left his mark on the team.

"This is his turn, he earned it," Shepard said. "He was proud that the guys believed in him and it paid off. He showed up at the crucial time."

With just over a minute to play, Putnam installed a full-court press. Boyd got by Nichols, but Nichols’ length allowed him to smack the ball from behind. Gonzalez beat a Pacer to the loose ball, passing ahead to Nichols for an open floor layup to cut the lead to one.

After Boyd’s three-point play, Gonzalez countered with one of his own. Garcia dove for a loose ball and from a seated position hit Gonzalez on the wing. The 5-foot-7 guard absorbed the contact from 6-foot-4 Chevon Cote for the critical bucket and the foul.

"I’ve been playing for this program for four years, but I’ve never been in a game this big, this close," he said. "I love how they had faith in me. Jon saw me and threw the ball to me. That meant a lot to me because he could have held it and called timeout. I thanked him for having faith in me."

In the final play of the game, Gonzalez intercepted an inbounds play, backhanding the pass like he does groundballs on the diamond as a star infielder for Putnam’s baseball team.

Gonzalez wasn’t the only Putnam role player to show improvement on Monday. Davidson Pacheco, a 6-foot-5 junior forward, earned a spot in the starting five against Chicopee, logging longer minutes for a Putnam team that lost the inside production of David Murrell was a season ago.

"Pacheco is checking in," Shepard said. "He’s buying in now. There’s more to come from him."
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
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
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

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
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
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
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
Tonight, 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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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
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.)