By Matt Jenkins
---- — In the Paint
The North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie boys basketball team enjoyed a great experience last week before it opened the regular season against Greater Lawrence on Friday.
The Bulldogs had the rare opportunity to host a scrimmage against a team from Australia.
An email found its way to North Shore Tech coach Jody Norton about setting up a scrimmage with a team from Australia that would be touring the United States. The timing worked out well, so North Shore played against the Sydney Grammar School team in a meeting that should help the Bulldogs early in the season.
North Shore ended up dropping a 44-43 decision, but came away a much better team.
”It helped us learn about ourselves and what we need to work on,” said Norton, whose team lost its opener to Greater Lawrence. “It was extremely helpful and an unbelievable cultural experience.”
Sydney Grammar School is a secondary school (grade 7-12) that plays a level of basketball similar to Division 4 high school here in the states. Of course with the seasons reversed, Sydney just entered its summer vacation.
The team, which came with full varsity and junior varsity squads, traveled to Vancouver, then stopped in Minnesota before moving on to Boston. They also scrimmaged Stoughton, and from here will move on to New York then Orlando before heading home.
Sydney Grammar is a high-level academic school known for its music program.
Basketball is a universal language, but the teams do play with slightly different rules.
”In the U.S. we try to win with pure athleticism. They play a team game, share the basketball and are intelligent. They had size. The Australian guys, the coaches, were big dudes,” Norton laughed.
”They were super guys, and it was pretty comical with the rules. They don’t play the ball hitting the rim on free throws. We had a close game down the stretch, it was a one-point game, and their coach asked me if he called a timeout does he get to advance the ball (like the NBA). It was kind of funny like that, but really cool.”
Norton was pleased to see his team compete after a short preseason.
Junior guard Trace Schaejbe led the way for North Shore with 15 points against Sydney while Yordany Sanchez grabbed 16 rebounds.
”Theoretically, since the end of football we only had four practices. We’re not in the best shape and really got gassed,” Norton said. “We still have a lot of things to still put in. Our defense was excellent and we worked hard. The positioning was great, but offensively we were a little limited. We handled the pressure (defense) well, which bodes well for us.
“I couldn’t imagine going into the season without this; it was really helpful.”
Thad Broughton’s goals for the Peabody High basketball team have not changed since he took over the post before the 2011 season.
Now in his third year, Broughton will continue to keep the Tanners focused on qualifying for the postseason and hope they can compete for the Northeastern Conference crown someday soon.
Those are the short-term goals, but Broughton hasn’t lost sight of his ultimate vision for what the Peabody program can become.
”My goal every year is to get into the state tournament and win the NEC, but the larger goal as a program is to build Peabody basketball into a year-in, year-out power,” Broughton said. “I think we’re starting to lay the foundation; we just need to continue to build.”
This season Broughton has five returning players to build off, plus a group of young players ready to make the leap. He’ll count on senior captains Jared McCarron and Brian Onessimo heavily while juniors Matt Correale, Bobby Sullivan and David Hoar also figure to get big minutes.
McCarron, a guard, was Peabody’s leading scorer last year, averaging 11 points per game. Onessimo, a forward, chipped in with eight points and six rebounds per game. Correale is a quick guard who saw consistent minutes all year as a sophomore while Sullivan and Hoar each had increased roles as the season wore on.
Broughton believes junior forward Brendan Morrison and sophomore guard John Lawrence can push for minutes, and freshmen Moisse Irizzary and Matt D’Amato could make an immediate impact this winter.
”As a team, we have a nice challenge in front of us,” Broughton said. “We have some young players who will definitely compete for minutes on the varsity and we have a couple of returners, so the goal is to blend both of those and build nice chemistry as a team so we can have a successful year.
”The key to our season is how quickly the young guys and new faces can pick up the offensive and defensive schemes.”
Ipswich’s Alan Laroche has been happy with his team’s effort thus far and would like to see the Tigers rewarded with wins. But really, there’s much more to it than that.
“They came in with some great intensity through the first four practices and one scrimmage (in the first week). They came to play this year, as cliche as that sounds,” said Laroche, whose team dropped its season opener to Amesbury. “They want it bad and know how Ipswich basketball is looked upon in the league. It’s not that strong, and they want to try to change that this year.’
Ipswich has six returning players, which should put it in good position to start turning around the program. Senior guard Matt Jaeger is back after making the Cape Ann League all-star team last year. He will captain the team, but he should get some leadership from fellow seniors and returning players Kyle Blomster, Quinn O’Connor, Ben Rice, and Marco Kuljic. Junior Aleks Kuljic is also a returning player for Ipswich.
Blomster is a guard while O’Connor and Rice will play in the frontcourt. The Kuljic brothers will provide some much-needed height, with Marco measuring 6-foot-5 and Aleks coming in at 6-4.
Laroche is also hoping the six newcomers (5 juniors and a sophomore) can push the returning players for minutes. “I feel like we have a scrappier group of guys. I think we can play scrappier and play a little more up-tempo,” he said. “It’s a good core of guys and so far we’ve seen some good team stuff early on, which is going to help us out down the road.
“I think another big goal for our team is to outwork the other team, play with intensity and grittiness throughout the whole game and not just in spurts this year.”
Ipswich would have been in much better shape had Erik Fyrer not transferred to Pingree. Fyrer, a forward, was the Tigers’ leading scorer as a sophomore and a junior.
”It’s going to be a big loss,” Laroche said. “Points, rebounds, all those stat lines are going to be tough to fill. We’re going to have to fill them as a team, not with one or two other people.”
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 e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @MattJenkins_SN.