In the Paint
Every basketball season begins with the same goals hanging in front of each team like a carrot on a stick.
Get better every day, qualify for the state tournament, win a conference title and, ultimately, cruise through the TD Garden on the way to a state championship. Those are the goals for every coach, every team.
Yet so often, teams only manage to reach their first and second goals.
The 2011-12 season produced an unusual amount of highs, however.
Three area players — Masconomet's Adam Bramanti, St. John's Prep's Steve Haladyna, and Pingree's Isaac Carp — reached the 1,000-point mark this winter.
Three teams captured league titles on the same night when Hamilton-Wenham, Danvers and Beverly each grabbed at least a share of their conference's crown late in the season.
Nine teams reached the state playoffs.
One team collectively lifted a state championship trophy on the hardwood of the DCU Center in Worcester. For the second consecutive year, a team from The Salem News coverage area won a boys state basketball title. Danvers High — following the trail that neighboring St. John's Prep blazed last year — reached the mountaintop.
Now is the time to look ahead to next season in an attempt to figure out which team is most likely to make a run toward the ultimate goal. Here is an early look at who the area's top five teams will be:
1. Danvers — Ah, the pressure of playing as a defending state champ. The Falcons weren't even out of the DCU Center pressroom in Worcester last Saturday when the conversation turned to defending their title in 2012-13.
It's never fair to look that far ahead. One injury or extended absence could completely derail another postseason run, but Danvers clearly has the pieces in place to make another push for a Northeastern Conference title.
Four of the six players who played in the state final return for their senior year, and the Falcons are losing only 13 points from that championship game. Guards Eric Martin, Nick McKenna, Nick Bates and forward Danny Connors make up an excellent nucleus for what should be the area's top team again next year.
2. Salem — This season ended with a feeling that the Witches left something on the table. Salem stumbled a bit down the stretch, playing without junior guard Marvin Baez, and the Witches didn't achieve an ideal seed for the Division 2 North tournament. Baez returned for the postseason and Salem won a game before playing a strong North Andover team close for three quarters.
On paper, the Witches look great for next season as virtually their entire rotation will return as seniors. Baez and point guard Christian Dunston are both dangerous scorers and Billy Muse developed into a good complimentary scorer this year. Emilio Beato, Taylor Norris and Jared Louf-Woods also return in the frontcourt.
3. St. John's Prep — There isn't a team in the area that is losing more talent, but this is St. John's Prep. Although somewhat untested, there should be players left behind who can fill in enough of the holes. The tremendous senior class of Haladyna, Mike Carbone, Owen Marchetti and Freddy Shove will be gone, and head coach Sean Connolly hopes some of his young players are ready to make a big leap.
Marcos Echevarria, who is just a freshman, will probably return with the most experience, while Drex Costello and Tyler Dooley will also be back as guards. Look for freshman Ben Judson or sophomore Max Butterbrodt to show major improvement next winter.
4. Beverly — Is there a championship repeat in the Panthers' future? Beverly seemed to play with a more focused approach this past season, and the result was a piece of the NEC North title. Expect the Panthers to pick up where they left off, even without league all-stars Chris Keaton and Zach Zigelbaum.
Cam Rogers emerged as a huge threat for Beverly, also getting selected to the all-star team, while point guard Dom Abate will also return. Reserves Jonangel Franco and John Berchoff should see their roles increase.
5. Peabody — It didn't take first-year coach Thad Broughton long to change the program's attitude. The Tanners may not have been the most talented team in the area, but they played each game with maximum effort and ended up qualifying for the state tournament for the first time since 2007.
Broughton will be losing his top three players in Mike Gould, Steve Girolamo and Jason Hiou, but this team is headed back in the right direction.
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Another team to keep an eye on is Bishop Fenwick. The Crusaders fell well short of qualifying for the state tournament this season, but the lineup was loaded with sophomores and juniors. Sophomores Matt Costello and Dom Luoni began to emerge as scorers for head coach Mike Kane's crew, while junior Ben Maxner anchored the frontcourt. Mix in sophomore point guard Rishad Khan DeSilva, and Fenwick has a pretty good group to build around next winter.
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Since we're doing the Catholic Central League rounds, arguably the best young player in the area suits up for St. Mary's of Lynn. Sophomore point guard Randolf Thurman of Swampscott is a great combination of athleticism and basketball intelligence.
Thurman was the conductor for the Spartans team that recently captured the Division 4 state championship at the TD Garden last week. Scorers Devin Thompson and Nick Gagliolo got most of the headlines, but it was Thurman that made that team go.
St. Mary's went 2-1 against Cathedral this year, including the state championship win. The one loss came with Thurman out of the lineup — and it was not a coincidence.
Don't look for St. Mary's to fall too far in the CCL or in Div. 4 next season. Thurman will take on a bigger role as a junior and the Spartans may end up being just as difficult to beat.
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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 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FIVE FOR THOUGHT
The Salem News will be releasing its boys basketball all-star team and Player of the Year some time next week, but here's a look at my All-Salem News team for the 2011-12 season:
George Merry, Sr. C, Danvers — The area's dominant big man, the 6-foot-8 Merry impacted every game on both ends of the floor.
Steve Haladyna, Sr. F, St. John's Prep — Right spot, right time is not an accident when it comes to Haladyna. The Tufts-bound standout is a scoring machine and one of the best players in the state when it comes to attacking the offensive glass.
Adam Bramanti, Sr. G, Masconomet — Chieftains' big scorer regularly led his club despite facing defenses geared to stop him.
Christian Dunston, Jr. G, Salem — Against most teams the lightning-quick Dunston can pick a spot on the floor, get to it, and drill a pull-up jumper. He's also smart and unselfish.
Eric Martin, Jr. G, Danvers — He may not look like the most polished guard, but very few can match him in intensity, competitiveness and intelligence.