By Matt Jenkins
---- — Mike Kane is staying positive. In fact, the veteran Bishop Fenwick boys basketball coach feels his team might turn out better in the long run.
Kane was — and remains — confident that the Crusaders could return to the state tournament this season for the first time since 2009. Getting off to a good start is paramount in that pursuit, but Fenwick’s odds of starting hot were dealt an early-season blow when senior captain Ben Maxner went down with a broken wrist in the first game against Archbishop Williams.
Maxner, a 6-foot-5 center, is the core of a defense that Kane feels is the strength of his team. Now, Fenwick must do without Maxner for at least four weeks.
“It might be a good thing. He hurt his ankle (in preseason), and this will give him time to heal because that was bothering him in the beginning of the season,” Kane said. “Other guys have to step up and get confidence.
“We could be a better team when he gets back.”
Kane knows he can’t just replace a senior leader like Maxner with an exact replica, but he is getting the next best thing. Travis Maxner, Ben’s 6-3 junior brother, has stepped into the lineup in place of the Fenwick captain.
The injury is also testing another area that Kane felt was a Fenwick strength — depth.
Ben Maxner’s fellow senior captain, Fran Hannon, has also played well early on and Kane expects Matt Costello, who is typically a small forward, to play some minutes at power forward while the deck is shuffled.
“We have a lot of experience and the team has been working hard every day. (Plus) we have a pretty deep, good bench coming into the season,” Kane said.
“What I’ve been happy with is our defensive effort. So far, we’ve struggled against some pressure defense, and that’s something we’ve been working on every day.”
Fenwick defeated Archbishop Williams on opening night last week despite losing Maxner to injury in the second quarter after he blocked a shot and fell awkwardly.
The Crusaders played well into the third quarter against Cardinal Spellman Friday night, actually holding a five-point lead in the third quarter. The Cardinals turned up their defensive pressure, however, and ran away from Fenwick.
That leaves the Crusaders with a 1-1 record as they host St. John’s Prep tonight.
Kane is not going to concern himself too much with his team’s loss to Spellman. All he wants from them is to continue to get better, especially while Maxner is sidelined.
“It’s early, we have a lot of promise, and (Spellman’s) one of the better teams in the league,” Kane said. “We’ve got a lot of experience and a long way to go. I think we can do some special things; we just gotta stay together and stay supportive.”
Kane’s junior class of Costello, Dom Luoni and Rishad DeSilva has been getting playing time for two seasons now, and they seem prepared to power this program back to the postseason.
“We’re definitely a more confident team. Everybody is a little stronger and bigger, and a lot of guys worked on their game and were lifting,” Kane said. “Kids just mature sophomore to junior year and junior to senior year.
“I think the key for us is teamwork. We could have a different leading scorer every night when we’re playing together and moving the ball. The kids gotta buy into the system and make their teammates better every day.”
If you’re interested in point guards who like to get their teammates involved in the offensive action, then here are two names to keep in mind: Spencer Craig and Matt Correale.
Craig is a sophomore point guard for Marblehead who got a significant amount of playing time as a freshman last winter. The Magicians could be embarking on a bit of a rebuilding campaign, but look for Craig to make that process a little less painful.
Peabody High’s Correale is also a sophomore, but he’s getting his first varsity action this season. Made famous by his time as an outfielder on the Peabody West Little League team that advanced to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series, Correale will spend a lot of time this winter proving he’s also a dynamic basketball player.
Currently coming off the bench for the Tanners, Correale’s natural instincts and good shooting range will allow him to draw big minutes.
Pingree has an excellent blend of size, athleticism, and youth. It’s just a hunch, but the Highlanders could be destined for big things later this winter.
Juniors Johnny Spears, Kyle Lentini and Connor Reardon alone would make Pingree difficult to deal with, but the Highlanders also have four promising freshmen in the mix. Nino Leone and Alonzo Jackson are a pair of 6-foot-5 forwards who will make the team’s frontcourt a serious strength, along with Lentini and Reardon.
Justin Assad and Griffin Beal are also talented ninth-graders who are ready to make an immediate impact.
That Pingree frontcourt will face a big challenge tomorrow afternoon (4 p.m.) when Berwick Academy visits South Hamilton. Berwick is led by 6-10 senior center Tom Nason.
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 email at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @MattJenkins_SN.
Five for Thought ... The calendar year is coming to a close, so here is a list of five games worth watching before we enter 2013: 1. Berwick at Pingree, tomorrow, 4 p.m. -- Pingree just seems like it's going to be a really fun team to watch this year, and why not catch them when 6-foot-10 center Tom Nason is in town? 2. Cristo Rey at Bishop Fenwick, Thursday, 7 p.m. -- Cristo Rey, the former North Cambridge Catholic, is a Catholic Central League Small team, and the Crusaders would love to get a little momentum going before the holiday. 3. Lynn English at Beverly, Friday, 7 p.m. -- The Northeastern Conference Large division title was shared by these two teams last year. With a win over Lynn Classical already under their belts, the Panthers would love to add the Bulldogs to their list of early season W's. 4. Saugus at Danvers, Friday, 7 p.m. -- These two teams met at the Tsongas Center last year in the Division 3 North final, and the Sachems appear to be Danvers' biggest challenger in the NEC Small this winter. 5. North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie at Peabody, Thursday Dec. 27, 7 p.m. -- Putting this game on the list isn't as far-fetched as it may seem. Both teams are hungry for wins, and there is some history between them: the Bulldogs won a game against Peabody a couple years ago, and North Shore coach Jody Norton used to be an assistant for the Tanners.