The Hamilton-Wenham boys basketball team is small in terms of height; almost all of its experience has been earned through its first nine games this season, and it has faced some strange statistical trends so far.
Yet through it all, the Generals have started to find ways to win.
Hamilton-Wenham has won three straight games to move to 4-5 and has a chance to climb back to .500 tonight (6:30) at Georgetown.
The Generals’ three victories last week over Pentucket (58-54), Rockport (48-45) and Amesbury (63-55) didn’t necessarily look pretty in the box scores, especially when considering perimeter defense. In the three games, Hamilton-Wenham surrendered a combined 32 three-pointers. To be fair, the Generals did limit their opponents’ other scoring opportunities.
”I can’t really explain that logically,” Hamilton-Wenham coach Doug Hoak said about giving up so many threes but still registering victories. “We’re small, so I guess we are defending the paint well. Either that, or we’re not defending the perimeter well.”
The Generals weren’t expected to be much of a threat in Cape Ann League Division 1, but they’re proving to be at least enough of a pest to make current league leader North Reading at least work for the title.
That, in and of itself, is impressive considering no one would have given a second thought to a team that basically brought up all JV players.
Sophomores James Foye and Jimmy Campbell were the only two returning players with real experience, but Campbell was lost for the season when he broke his leg in football. That left the fate of the program in the hands of Foye and a bunch of newcomers.
Foye, an intelligent, high-scoring guard, has more than lived up to the challenge, and Hoak has been pleased with the progress of several other players.
Foye is averaging 19 points per game, and he’s doing it while having the opposing team’s complete attention.
“I knew what I had in him. He was a freshman (last year) that was so advanced as far as knowledge and poise; and even last year when we had two veteran guards in Steve Tam and Jake Lindland, I was comfortable with Foye having the ball in his hands,” Hoak said. “People knew him from last year. He came off the bench, but he played more minutes than kids that started games sometimes. He has so much poise.”
Some of that poise must be rubbing off on his teammates.
Junior Henry Eagar has been a tough, consistent complimentary scoring option for Foye, and he’s doing it in his first varsity season. Eagar is averaging just a shade under 13 points per game so far this year.
“Henry’s been tough,” Hoak said. “He’s not that big, but he’s a tough kid and he’s been doing a great job for us.”
Eagar actually struggled a bit in the Generals’ win over Amesbury on Friday night, but Hoak chalked it up to a long week and a lot of minutes played.
“He was pretty much gassed the third game of the week,” Hoak said. “We probably had him off the floor for about a minute all week in the three games.”
Seniors Ben Kozlowski and Nick Fusco have also been key contributors this season, both in their on-court play and with leadership.
“They didn’t play much last year at all, but they’re both starting now, and both defend well and hustle,” Hoak said. “We got two threes out of Fusco (against Amesbury), and Koz plays good defense and makes things happen. Defensively, he’s been great for us.”
Danvers passed a couple of Northeastern Conference tests last week and did so with such ease that it begs the question: Will anyone in the conference knock the defending Division 3 state champs off this season?
The way the Falcons are playing right now — after wins over Lynn English and Salem last week — it’s hard to imagine them taking a loss in conference.
Obviously, any team can have a bad night and suffer a setback to an inferior team, but Danvers is winning by an average of more than 26 points per game.
The Falcons’ 20-point win over Lynn English was impressive because they beat the Bulldogs at their own game. Most teams would try to slow the pace against English, but Danvers stuck to its fullcourt man-to-man defense and ran the Bulldogs out of the building. The Falcons basically did it using only six players.
Conditioning is clearly a factor for the Falcons.
“It’s huge. We’re blessed with Eric (Martin) because he’s a soccer player that can run for, legitimately, forever. I mean forever,” Danvers coach John Walsh said. “Our other kids are just used to a philosophy I have ... and it’s due to a lack of good coaching. I’m focusing on the game, I don’t think I have the mind capacity to go past six guys. It’s a fault, but that’s it.”
In Martin’s case, his ability to run forever goes beyond being in shape. It takes a great deal of mental fortitude to continue pushing forward.
Martin, Danvers’ point guard, was asked to handle the ball against English’s fullcourt defense, then defend the Bulldogs’ best guard, in this case mostly junior Fred Hogan and sometimes sophomore Erick Rosario. He did so, successfully, without leaving the court.
“I was definitely tired at the end, but for most of the game I could keep going more than the other kids because of soccer,” said Martin, the all-time leading scorer for Danvers boys soccer.
Even though Danvers handled the Bulldogs, everyone walked away thinking the future is bright for English.
The only senior who really gets significant action for English is center Ben Bowden, who is headed to Vanderbilt on a baseball scholarship. Other than Bowden, the Bulldogs are playing mostly sophomores.
“They have so many weapons,” Walsh said. “They’re young, but wait until next year. Loaded.”
Peabody just had its best week of the season by posting back-to-back wins over Revere (53-45) and Winthrop (58-53), and playing a good Saugus team tough before losing 64-54. The Tanners now stand at 3-6 and have some winnable games before the end of January.
It’s possible Peabody could climb back to .500 before the calendar changes.
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.
Five for thought ... It happens every year. Young players, or players who haven't seen much -- if any -- varsity basketball time storm onto the scene and help their program win games. Here are five breakout performers through the first half of this season: 1. Ben Judson, St. John's Prep -- The long, lefty shooter has become a go-to guy for the Eagles this winter. Judson, just a sophomore, will likely terrorize the Catholic Conference for two more seasons after this. 2. James Foye, Hamilton-Wenham -- This sophomore guard has been everything that the Generals need this winter. 3. Vinny Clifford, Danvers -- He doesn't have the same build as his older brother Mike, who dominated the hardwood at Bishop Fenwick as a 6-foot-7 pivot a few years back, but this sophomore guard is an excellent shooter who has a solid all-around game. 4. Jon Berchoff, Beverly -- Panthers' junior forward has a versatile inside/outside game, and he creates a dangerous 1-2 punch with senior Cam Rogers. 5. Henry Eagar, Hamilton-Wenham -- Eagar was helping the H-W JV team win games last year, now he's the No. 2 scoring option on a varsity team that has won three straight.