In the Paint
You could actually see David Kazadi make a conscious effort to speed up and start measuring his steps when Beverly High’s Nick Cross made a steal and got loose in the open court.
Kazadi, Salem’s top backup player in the frontcourt, has been the Witches’ buried treasure this winter, and this particular play Friday night against the Panthers was the junior’s season in a nutshell — start slow, speed up, catch the pack, then rise above.
That’s what Kazadi did in Salem’s win over Beverly to clinch a share of the Northeastern Conference Large title. He caught Cross from behind, then sent his layup attempt hard off the glass, the type of open-court block that gets as big a reaction from the crowd as a thunderous dunk.
”That block was incredible; it’s the second time he’s done that,” Salem coach Tommy Doyle said. “We’re trying to get him to do that more and get a little more aggressive. He’s (getting more aggressive) every game and he’s a special player.”
There isn’t a player on the North Shore who has made more improvement this year than Kazadi.
He gradually has worked his way into the Salem lineup, bringing size and athleticism to the Witches’ undersized frontcourt. Kazadi is 6-foot-4 with a large wingspan and jumps well.
”It’s his second year of playing basketball and he really, really is improving every day,” Doyle said. “He is a wonderful young boy and is trying to get better every day. He has a great attitude about it and certainly is a pleasure to coach.”
At first Kazadi mostly looked like a raw athlete, someone who ran and jumped well and had good enough instincts to not hurt Salem. Now, there are times when the Witches end up hurting when he’s not on the floor.
He scored nine points in the second half to help Salem pull away from Beverly, and last Tuesday against Lynn Classical Kazadi scored 15 points.
Beverly coach Scott Lewis noticed a big difference in Kazadi from their first meeting in early January until now. Kazadi scored just two points in the first Salem-Beverly game.
”He makes a big difference for them; he’s playing really well,” Lewis said. “Now he’s finishing and he just gives a whole different presence down there. He gets offensive rebounds and he’s a shot blocker. With so many three-point shooters you’re out extending and somebody drives and they dump it to him for an easy layup when the help comes. It’s hard. You’ve gotta be really good at rotating to cover all your aspects when they’re playing well.”
Kazadi is a good rebounder at both ends of the floor and covers a lot of ground in the paint when he’s defending.
”He’s got great instincts and he’s so long and athletic. He runs well, jumps well, he gets his hands on everything, and he certainly is an X-factor for us,” Doyle said. “Guys are finding him and he’s catching and finishing. He’s knocking down his free throws too. He’s coming into his own right now.”
Kazadi isn’t the only Salem player coming into his own, either. Junior guard Jamie Dominguez has transformed into a very reliable option off the bench for Doyle. When Doyle has to give his starters a rest, he doesn’t mind turning to Kazadi and Dominguez.
”They bring a great spark off the bench; it’s unbelievable,” Salem senior guard Billy Muse said. “David definitely has improved a lot and Jamie definitely has improved a lot also, so it’s a great to have them coming off the bench giving us a spark.”
North Shore Tech senior guard Jordan Mendez took a little while to get going, but once he did he was nearly unstoppable.
The Bulldogs finished the season 5-15 and Mendez helped them turn around a very slow start by having an excellent second half of the season. After spending the majority of the first 10 games fighting to be competitive, North Shore finished by playing .500 basketball over the final eight games.
Mendez was a major reason why.
North Shore’s only captain, Mendez did all he could to keep his team positive with his leadership skills. Then, his on-court performance began to improve after the season’s midpoint.
“He was sick and got off to a slow start. It really lingered for like a month,” North Shore coach Jody Norton said. “He’s not a very big kid; he’s very light and and not the strongest kid, so he got bogged down. When he got healthier he just got super aggressive ... and I wanted him to shoot like crazy.”
Mendez started shooting more and, more importantly, started scoring a lot. He averaged 11.7 points per game over the first 11 games. In the last nine games, Mendez averaged 20 a game with a pair of 27-point games, 26 in another, and 20 in two more.
“His confidence built, but the problem was the wins weren’t there so it was very hard for the kids to keep fighting. He was our only captain and truly led like one,” Norton said. “He always stayed positive even though our record was down. He tried to keep them up and pushed them. He always played hard no matter what our record was or what the score was.”
Mendez and the Bulldogs will not get a chance to play in the state tournament this year, but Norton hopes his captain’s attitude and approach will resonate with his younger players, and it appears that it already has.
Norton headed north with his family for a ski trip when he received a message from sophomore guard Trace Schaejbe asking if the gym would be open this week.
“We started two sophomores and there are three good freshmen in the program,” Norton said. “Next year we’ll probably be under the radar and it will depend on how good we do in the offseason. These young kids are really dedicated basketball guys.”
Masconomet seemed to be in great position after winning nine of 11 games to climb back over .500 (9-7) after a slow start,. But the Chieftains have lost three straight games and face elimination tomorrow night at Malden Catholic (6:30 p.m.).
The Lancers, who started fast this season and stumbled a bit down the stretch, defeated Masco by 11 (61-50) earlier this season. Malden Catholic just qualified for the Division 2 North tournament with a win over Chelmsford last night.
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 ... Teams are putting the final touches on their regular season schedules this week and tournament pairings will be released Friday. Everyone knows it's all about matchups when the brackets are announced, but here are some storylines that could be huge factors for the North Shore tournament teams: 1. Hamilton-Wenham's balance. Whatever team the Generals draw you can be sure they'll be prepared to slow down James Foye. Hamilton-Wenham's best chance of advancing rests in the hands of secondary scorers Henry Eagar and Nikos Lara. 2. Salem's strength off the bench. The emergence of juniors David Kazadi and Jamie Dominguez off the bench has provided the Witches with another layer of firepower. Salem will need its top seven players to play at a high level to go far in a deep Division 2 North bracket. 3. Beverly's inconsistency. When playing their best, the Panthers look like they can compete with just about anyone. The problem has been Beverly's inability to play its best for an extended period of time. Just like Salem, Beverly will need to figure that out in a talented Div. 2 North section. 4. Eric Martin's injury. Everything -- offense and defense -- goes through Martin for Danvers. He suffered an injury in the Falcons' first loss on Sunday against Brighton, then sat out last night against Newton North. If this is something that keeps him hobbled, it could mean trouble for Danvers. 5. The St. John's Prep-Central Catholic collision course. St. John's now owns two wins over the Raiders this winter, but you still have to believe that the Eagles will have to go through Central eventually if they want to reach their goal. Could St. John's defeat Central three times in one season?