The Salem News
---- — In the Paint
If not for bad luck, it seems like Doug Hoak and the Hamilton-Wenham boys basketball program would have none.
But a little bad luck isn’t enough to stop Hoak and the Generals from moving forward, however.
A year ago, with very little on-court experience, Hamilton-Wenham suffered a great loss when then-sophomore Jimmy Campbell — one of two players returning — broke his leg in football and missed the entire season. The Generals soldiered on, winning 10 games and qualifying for the Division 3 North tournament.
The future looked bright with Campbell expected back at full strength and with classmate James Foye making a major leap. Plus, the emergence of several other young players had Hoak smiling about the future.
Hamilton-Wenham faced even more offseason adversity this year, though.
Nikos Lara and Nick Loeper, two players who stepped up last year, started the season injured. Foye elected to go to Phillips Exeter, and freshman point guard Marcus Zegarowski started the season on the shelf with a broken thumb.
But Campbell returned to the lineup and quickly began rounding into form and senior Henry Eagar picked up where he left off last year, thus keeping the Generals near the top of the Cape Ann League standings.
Hamilton-Wenham is now 10-2 and its luck is changing. Lara, Loeper and Zegarowski have all returned to the lineup, and a new set of young players has stepped forward.
“Well, it’s been a pleasant experience. I didn’t know what to expect with those three (Lara, Loeper and Zegarowski) out,” said Hoak. “Henry and Jimmy have done a great job. They held us together during that time, and we had some unheralded kids who played really good roles for us.”
Frankie Bucco did an admirable job filling in at the point guard position while Shawn Kotch, Kyle Craig and Max Zegarowski (Marcus’ brother) helped plug the holes.
Now, Hamilton-Wenham is a team with some serious depth.
“We are (deep). It’s kind of like I have to find a rotation, a new rotation, which is a little bit of a challenge for me now,” Hoak said. “It’s nice to have that added depth; it’s a matter of finding that happy medium and keeping our rhythm. I don’t want to over-sub, but I don’t want to under-sub, either.
“One thing I think it does is gives us versatility. Our lineups can be different on different nights.”
Even with all that depth, Hamilton-Wenham still has Campbell and Eagar to rely on. Campbell has been getting stronger every game and Eagar has been extremely consistent this season. Eagar is averaging more than 17 points per game and Campbell is checking in around 14 per game.
“Fortunately for us, it didn’t take Jimmy long to get back and Henry has been the one guy back that was the steady influence. That really held us together,” Hoak said. “Between the two of them, that’s been the key for us.”
Sticking with the Cape Ann League, how about the emergence of Masconomet and junior Jake Rudolph? After a very slow start this season, the Chieftains have bounced back and climbed back above .500 with five straight victories.
Rudolph has been a consistent scorer for Masco all year and blew up for a career-game last Friday, dropping 44 points in the Chieftains’ 83-77 overtime win over Georgetown. Rudolph hit seven 3-pointers and connected on 16-of-34 shots.
He followed that with 30 points last night to boost his scoring average to 24.4 ppg., tops in the area.
Perhaps the most impressive thing Rudolph did in his 44-point game happened at the end of regulation. With the game tied, Masconomet coach Frank Shea drew up a play for him. When Georgetown flocked to Rudolph when he had the ball, the junior dished to an open teammate. The shot didn’t fall, but it takes a mature player to give the ball up in that situation.
Now that they’re back on pace to qualify for the postseason, Rudolph and the Chieftains are looking forward to the second half of the schedule.
“We started 1-5, and to be where we’re at and having played seven of 10 games on the road, it was really big to get that fifth win,” Shea said. “Hopefully we’ll do better than .500 in the second half. We’re happy to finally play some home games.”
Beverly coach Scott Lewis hopes senior forward Nick Cross will return to the lineup soon. Cross injured his back in a win over Gloucester in early January and since then has either sat out or tried to play through injury. It hasn’t worked out too well for the Panthers; they were 4-2 after defeating Gloucester but now sit at 7-6.
Cross tried to play through his injury in losses to Danvers and Charlestown and has sat out the last five games. Through those seven games, Beverly has gone 3-4.
Salem has been extremely busy in 2014, playing 10 games in 21 days. Of course, the Witches handled the brutal stretch almost perfectly.
Since suffering a close loss against Lynn Classical to kick off the new year, Salem has reeled off nine straight wins, including victories over previously unbeaten Danvers and Lynn English on back-to-back nights and two narrow wins over Lowell.
Now, the Witches get a quick breather before battling English again on Friday.
“Finally, a little down time. This is a little break for us; we have four days to prepare (for English),” Salem coach Tommy Doyle said Sunday night. “We’ll see what happens. I’m sure Lynn English is (looking forward to it). We’ll just try to prepare our best and take care of their pressure.”
Pingree coach Steve Gibbs has a large collection of players who can cover a lot of ground on a basketball court, but none of them cover as much ground off the court as Tom Lennon. A junior, Lennon travels 90 minutes to and from school every day from Chester, N.H.
Lennon turned in a solid defensive game against Landmark last night.
“He drives from New Hampshire every day to come to Pingree. He puts 90 minutes in the car every day to play basketball with us,” Gibbs said. “It’s a pleasure to coach somebody with that much drive; this kid really gives it his all.”
Pingree (12-5) has a big game against Beaver Country Day on the road tomorrow. Both teams come in with undefeated records in the Eastern Independent League and Beaver hasn’t lost a league game in three years (ironically, that loss came against Pingree).
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.