In the Paint
DANVERS — Two coaches stood in front of opposing benches very much focused on the present last night at St. John’s Prep.
It’s already been a long road traveled in a short time frame for Bishop Fenwick’s John Preziosa and St. John’s Prep’s John Dullea, but both first-year head coaches have big plans for the future at their respective schools.
Even though the Eagles — one of the top Division 1 programs in the state — came away with a lopsided 72-41 victory, more may have been gained by the Crusaders, a program that dropped into Division 4 this season.
”This might sound strange, but I think we found something tonight,” said Preziosa, who served as an assistant at Melrose High last year after previously holding head coaching positions at Bunker Hill Community College and Wheelock College. He was also an associate head coach at Salem State under Sean Doherty.
Seven games into Preziosa’s tenure, Fenwick sits below .500 at 3-4 (2-1 in the Catholic Central League), but the Crusaders played with an effort last night — especially in the first quarter — their new coach hadn’t seen yet.
”I thought we had a poor effort against Boston Latin (last Friday night), so I told the guys in the locker room, ‘You can’t have those efforts anymore because you exposed yourself tonight by playing your butts off,’” Preziosa said. I’m extremely optimistic about where we’re going and pretty happy with where we’re at. We’re going to keep plugging away; there’s no quit in our team or staff.”
Preziosa didn’t have a lot of time to prepare the Crusaders in the preseason. Fenwick had only 10 practices before its first game and the Crusaders also had to deal with a few missing players who were competing for a Super Bowl title in football.
While Fenwick may have been unable to power full steam into the season, the situation should have been much different for St. John’s Prep.
Dullea served as former Prep coach Sean Connolly’s assistant dating back to 2004, when Connolly was the head coach at Bishop Fenwick.
Aside from the title and the responsibility, very little changed for the Dullea and the Eagles.
”It’s been a really good transition. It hasn’t been a big change from Connolly to Dullea,” senior captain Max Burt said after scoring 13 points in the team’s win over Fenwick. “We knew what was in store for us. He’s the same kind of coach with the same methods and everything. We knew what to expect and we all came in with good attitudes.
”There’s a little difference (between Connolly and Dullea), but they both love to win and both really stress defense.”
That defense was on display last night. The Eagles made Fenwick exert tremendous energy just to advance the ball, and scoring was almost impossible at times for the Crusaders.
Fenwick trailed only 18-10 after the first quarter, but St. John’s (4-0) held its opponents to 11 points over the next two quarters to pull away.
St. John’s will still be using its trademark in-your-face man-to-man defense, and most of the offensive sets that the Eagles ran under Connolly will be utilized by Dullea.
”We have honestly about 25-30 (offensive) sets that by the end of the year we’ll be able to comfortably call,” Dullea said. “Over the years there have been a few sets we didn’t run last year but we ran two years ago that now we’re using again. It’s been pretty much the same stuff, the defensive concepts and philosophies are the same and as we go we’ll put more and more in.”
Dullea is also fortunate to be able to lean on his captains. Burt, Ben Judson (who led all scorers with 14 points last night) and Max Butterbrodt (a two-year captain) have helped ease the transition for Dullea, as well as junior guard Kareem Davis, who transferred to St. John’s this year.
Davis is a talented guard who should take a lot of scoring pressure off Burt and Judson, and he’s a solid ball handler.
Junior Jake Burt also saw a lot of time in the frontcourt last year for the Eagles, who are now headed into their Catholic Conference schedule, beginning Friday on the road against B.C. High.
”The guys are itching to play. We’ve only played four games and a lot of teams have played five or six games now,” Dullea said. “Now we have 12 or 13 games in January and the guys are eager to play and we, as a staff, are eager. The conference is going to be tough, as it is every year. It doesn’t matter where we’re playing or who we’re playing, it’s going to be a tough game.”
Games against top-level competition only make teams better for the long haul.
That’s the exact message that Preziosa was trying to send to his team last night.
The Crusaders played without senior Matt Costello, who was out with an injury, and the Eagles limited Dom Luoni to 11 points. Junior point guard Jhon Olivera played an outstanding floor game for Fenwick and finished with eight points.
This game could officially be filed under the “taking your lumps” category, but it should only help Fenwick moving forward.
”I think this gave us some confidence. The first quarter was very good. I’m not a big moral victory guy, but I think the first quarter alone let us know that we can play with any team in the state,” Preziosa said. “They’re a very good team; we ran into a buzzsaw. We’re never going to see anything like this in our league.”
Bishop Fenwick and St. John’s Prep aren’t the only teams adjusting to new coaches. Marblehead is getting accustomed to life with Mike Giardi, who took over the program after former head man Wayne Hanscom shifted to the girls team, while Swampscott is settling in under first-year head coach David Born.
The Magicians are now 3-2 under Giardi after winning the Saugus Christmas Tournament over the weekend.
Marblehead was known as a defensive team under Hanscom, but the Magicians came out of the gate showcasing their offense this season.
”We’re starting to come together and find some things. The kids are starting to get a feel for what we want to do,” said Giardi, a veteran Marblehead football assistant who previously coached the basketball team for six years.
The Magicians have scored over 80 points in three of their first five games.
”We’ve been up there, but we’re letting up a lot of points, too,” Giardi said. “We don’t want to be getting into too many track meets.”
Swampscott is going through some growing pains under Born right now, but the 1-5 Big Blue have shown positive signs. After suffering a 40-point loss to Danvers in their third game, the Big Blue responded with a 75-62 win over Amesbury.
Swampscott is now in a similar situation after dropping an 88-49 game to Watertown. The Big Blue will be looking to bounce back again.
”That’s what we hope to do,” Born said. “That was a tough loss to Danvers and this is similar. We’ll try to rebound against a hungry Winthrop team, but it won’t be easy.”
This is supposed to be a bridge year for Danvers, which lost all five starters from last year’s state championship team, four to graduation and one when junior guard Vinny Clifford tore his ACL.
The Falcons just keep on firing under John Walsh, however. Danvers is off to a 4-0 start, most recently winning the Malden Christmas Tournament.
Senior Kieran Beck (the Malden Christmas Tournament MVP) has played very well so far, and junior transfer Devan Harris has also stood out. Peter Merry, a junior center, has made positive strides this season and the young backcourt of sophomore Rashad Francois and freshman Devonn Allen has showed promise.
”The kids are playing hard. We’re really inexperienced, but they’re working to get better and it’s a great bunch of kids,” Walsh said. “I’m proud of them for the way they’re progressing. You can see it somewhat coming together, but it’s a work in progress. Forget about the wins and losses, we’re starting to play the right way and that’s all I want to do.”
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 email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @MattJenkins_SN.