By Matt Jenkins
---- — The rumors were circulating on the North Shore well before a ball was officially bounced this winter.
They went something like this:
Have you heard about Salem’s transfer from Mississippi? He’s 6-foot-8 and is being recruited by Kentucky.
The player in question was Rashad Keys.
Yes, he is a transfer and he did move to Salem from Mississippi. But his height was slightly over-exaggerated and, while he will likely have an opportunity to play basketball at the college level, John Calipari hasn’t been spotted at Salem High School just yet.
What was implied by the rumors that actually rings true is that Keys is a difference-maker for the Witches.
He’s one of a few local transfers that is making a major impact for his new program.
Keys is a long, lean, athletic 6-4 player who has already given Salem a huge boost on both ends of the floor.
The Witches entered this season with minimal experience. Salem head coach Tommy Doyle had the luxury of bringing back his top two reserves from last winter — guard Jamie Dominguez and forward David Kazadi — but not much else in the way of seasoned players.
Keys has fit in well so far for the 4-1 Witches (who square off with undefeated Danvers tonight at home). Salem has been relatively small up front in recent years, but Keys and Kazadi are a pair of legitimate big men as far as North Shore high school basketball goes. The emergence of forward Bryan Martinez-Rodriguez has given the Witches a solid front line.
“We’re playing three what-would-be huge guys for us at the same time. We’re probably 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 (height-wise up front), but they’re so long and they play bigger than they are,” Doyle said. “There’s no size or bulk (to them) but it is a welcome change for us.”
Keys and Kazadi, in particular, are both at the very least shot-altering presences in the paint. Their athleticism has also meant a different look for Salem on defense this winter, playing more man-to-man and less of the 3-2 zone that the Witches relied on in recent seasons.
Keys has an above-the-rim game and has been a big reason why Salem looks different on both ends of the floor. “He brings a lot to the table. He’s athletic and certainly an extra weapon on offense,” Doyle said. “With his defensive presence, he’s so long and jumps so well and he alters so many shots. He’s very quick for his size. He’s given us a nice little boost.”
Offensively, Keys prefers to play more like a wing, facing the basket and equally relying on his jump shot and drive. His leaping ability makes him a dangerous player on the offensive glass.
“We’re definitely getting more second chance points,” Doyle said about his forwards. “David is so long that he jumps over people and taps it back to himself.”
Keys, who is averaging a little over 10 points per game so far, is still adjusting to his new team, but it’s already obvious that his play is going to make Salem a dangerous team throughout the year.
Doyle isn’t the only North Shore coach to be enjoying the arrival of a fresh face to his program. You can add Danvers’ John Walsh and St. John’s Prep’s John Dullea to the list as well.
Just like the addition of Keys to Salem, Danvers’ Devan Harris and the Prep’s Kareem Davis have already had profound impacts on their respective programs.
After winning back-to-back Division 3 state titles, no one was counting out Walsh’s Falcons this season. But, at the same time, no one was banking on an 8-0 start either after Danvers lost four starters to graduation and another (junior Vinny Clifford) to a season-ending knee injury.
Harris spent last season playing junior varsity basketball at Hingham High School as a sophomore, but his family moved to Danvers this summer. He spent the fall playing with his new teammates and working hard to fit in. All that work has paid off so far as Harris is leading the Falcons at nearly 16 points per game.
“He’s just a very skilled player,” Walsh said about the 6-foot-2 Harris. “He’s worked so hard from the beginning and really put the time in, and it’s starting to pay dividends. He’s very skilled around the hoop and he has a very high basketball IQ.”
Harris is a strong post player who is hard to move off the block and has blended very well with 6-foot-8 junior center Peter Merry. “They feed off each other,” Walsh said.
As for Davis, his arrival at St. John’s Prep couldn’t have been timed any better.
When Dullea took over for Sean Connolly last spring, he was expecting a lineup this winter that would have a few players playing slightly out of position. The biggest hole Dullea figured to have was filling the minutes left behind by last year’s point guard, Tyler Dooley.
“Tyler played 28-30 minutes a game for us and had the ball for 75-80 percent of the time. We didn’t really have anyone to step in and take those minutes until we got Kareem,” Dullea said. “He made our team so much deeper.”
Without Davis, Dullea was expecting senior Max Burt to be the primary ballhandler. Burt is capable of playing the point but is more suited to play off the ball, where he can work to get open shots.
Davis’ presence is also huge for Ben Judson, a knock-down shooter who will get more open looks because of Davis’ playmaking ability.
Davis’ transition from Lowell High School has been pretty smooth, and Dullea credits that to his attitude.
“Defensively it was a bigger adjustment for him because of the style we play. He’s a very coachable kid and he’s still learning. We’ll stop practice and he’s always willing to take criticism and advice,” said Dullea, whose team is off to a 6-0 start.
“The Prep can be demanding, school-wise, and that was obviously going to be an adjustment, but add one a whole new (basketball) system and a new coach. That was a lot of adjustment to go along with that. It’s really been a pretty smooth transition (for Davis) academically and athletically.”
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.