SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 21, 2013

In The Paint boys basketball column: Putting a wrap on the boys hoop season

In the Paint
Matt Jenkins

---- — For three years in a row, the North Shore boys basketball season has ended with a local team being crowned state champs.

Does anyone need any more proof that this is one of the best areas for boys basketball in Massachusetts?

Danvers has done the job the last two years after St. John’s Prep picked up its first state championship in 2011.

Some might argue that those titles were due in large part to the specific group of players on those teams. St. John’s had current Notre Dame starter Pat Connaughton when it won the title, and, for the most part, Danvers was made up of the same core of players for both titles.

There’s no question that the players made the difference, but throughout the tournament this winter, Danvers coach John Walsh praised the Northeastern Conference for preparing his team. No matter what a postseason opponent threw at the Falcons, Walsh’s crew was ready. The coach felt that the varying styles played throughout the NEC boosted his team’s performance. So in a sense, a small portion of this title should be shared with the NEC.

At any rate, it’s time to start looking back on the season — and start looking ahead to next year. Could the North Shore make it four straight years with a state title?

The Wait ’Til Next Year Team

Some young players have already arrived, like St. John’s Prep’s Ben Judson, Danvers’ Vinny Clifford and Hamilton-Wenham’s James Foye, and others only showed flashes of what they might become. Here are five players who could be ready to break out next year:

Jamie Dominguez, Salem, Jr. G. Became an extremely valuable reserve for the Witches over the second half of the season. He can handle the ball and score. His role will increase dramatically next season.

Justin Assad, Pingree, Fr. G. May have been the North Shore’s best-kept secret this winter. A solid defensive player who already has a versatile offensive game, you have to wonder how much higher he can take his game in another year. The one drawback for Assad? Pingree is returning just about everyone, so his numbers may not increase much.

Kieran Beck, Danvers, Jr. F. The top reserve on a state championship team, Beck will be counted on to do much more next season. The Falcons will have four big holes to fill next winter, and Beck just might surprise some people with how well he adjusts.

Jake Burt, St. John’s Prep, So. F. A solid, dirty-work type of forward for the Eagles off the bench early in the season who became more of an offensive threat as the year advanced.

David Kazadi, Salem, Jr. F. Maybe the most improved player on the North Shore this season, Kazadi brought size, athleticism and great instincts to the Witches’ front line. In addition to playing defense, Kazadi started finishing around the basket in the second half of the year.

The All Dirty Work Team

You know these guys ... they’re usually tough, physical forwards who sacrifice scoring points for gathering rebounds, collecting loose balls and setting picks. Our quintet will actually show you there are some little guys who fit the category, too.

Jared Louf-Woods, Salem, Sr. F. A strong, unselfish forward who was often overshadowed by Salem’s dynamic backcourt. Louf-Woods is the type of player who would seemingly prefer to take a charge than make a shot, and Salem coach Tom Doyle considered him the team MVP through the first quarter of the schedule.

Josh Syska, St. John’s Prep, Sr. F. Intense and tough, Syska provided a physical presence in the middle of the Prep’s defense. He averaged 11 rebounds a game and developed a dependable catch-and-shoot midrange game.

Cam Rogers, Beverly, Sr. F. Had a breakthrough junior season as a secondary scoring option for the Panthers. He didn’t take his scoring to the next level this season, but that was because Beverly needed him to do a little bit of everything. He ranked first in rebounds and steals for Beverly, second in blocks, and third in both scoring and assists.

Tyler Dooley, St. John’s Prep, Sr. G. Backcourt mate Drex Costello was the Catholic Conference Player of the Year, but Dooley may have been the most important player to his team. An excellent perimeter defender, the Eagles’ point guard also had to create offense for his squad.

Eric Martin, Danvers, Sr. G. Would be the captain of this team. In fact, he sort of made dirty work glamorous during his time in a Falcons’ uniform. Like Dooley, Martin was an excellent defensive player and made his team’s offense go. Most of the time he was the fifth scoring option on the floor, yet he was still named Northeastern Conference Small MVP.

 

The Bomb Squad

If you’re looking to stretch the floor, look no further than these five players. Putting these five guys on the court together would be very far from a traditional lineup, but good luck matching up with them.

Vinny Clifford, Danvers, So. G. Player who can go from ice cold to steamy hot with just one made shot.

Ben Judson, St. John’s Prep, So. G. His length and high release make this lefty difficult to stop from behind the arc.

Billy Muse, Salem, Sr. G. A streaky shooter, but the type of player you’d better not lose in transition.

Nick McKenna, Danvers, Sr. G. A Very crafty, intelligent offensive player, but his long-range shooting might be his biggest strength.

Drex Costello, St. John’s Prep, Sr. G. He’s pretty much in range as soon as he crosses halfcourt, and he proved to be extremely clutch in his senior year.

Sixth Man of the Year Award

It’s not often that an obvious candidate emerges at the high school level, but this year was different. Beverly’s Nick Cross eventually forced Panther coach Scott Lewis’ hand, but the junior spent a large portion of the year coming off the bench. Cross ended up second in scoring for Beverly with 12.7 points per game, third in rebounding with 5.4, and first in blocks with 2.0 a game.

 

Under the Radar

Here are few more under-the-radar players from this season before we put the 2012-13 season to bed:

Jordan Mendez, North Shore Tech, Sr. G. A dangerous shooter, Mendez learned how to be a go-to scorer. He helped the Bulldogs become a pesky team down the stretch, leading them to a 5-5 record in their final 10 games.

Dom Luoni and Matt Costello, Bishop Fenwick, Jrs. G and F, respectively. Luoni has the potential to be a big-time player for the Crusaders next year. He has guard skills and possesses pretty good size. His shooting stroke is no joke. Costello, on the other hand, does a little bit of everything for Fenwick. This duo could help the Crusaders turn things around next year.

Maynard Wheeler, Peabody, Sr. G. Wheeler was sort of a combination guard who did a lot of things for coach Thad Broughton. He was named an NEC all-star in large part because of the consistent season he had for the Tanners.

Tighe VanLenten, Masconomet, Sr. G. Basketball is probably third on VanLenten’s list of sports, but he still made a huge impact for the Chieftains this year. His work on the hardwood was good enough to earn a spot on the Cape Ann All-League Team.

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In the Paint, a column on North Shore boys’ basketball, runs every Tuesday during the winter sports season in The Salem News. Contact staff writer Matt Jenkins at 978-338-2648, by email at mjenkins@salemnews.com, or follow him on Twitter @MattJenkins_SN.