The Salem News
---- — In the Paint
Many people think of the New Year as a type of rebirth, a chance to wipe the slate clean. Of course, in the world of high school basketball, where most local teams have already played around a quarter of their games, wiping the slate clean can only be done in a figurative manner.
Teams that are off to a slow start can only make a resolution to get better in 2013, while other teams may just hope for continued success.
Either way, here are some New Year’s wishes for some of our local teams:
1. St. John’s Prep and Danvers schedule a regular season matchup for the 2013-14 season. This has to happen; it makes too much sense not to. These two programs are still on the rise, even though each has recently won a state title in their respective divisions. Danvers coach John Walsh, now in his third year on the Falcons’ bench, led this program to its first state title in Division 3 last year. On the other hand, Sean Connolly brought the Eagles a Division 1 state title two seasons ago in his third year.
Both coaches are young, intelligent, and tough. They’re both old-school in their approach, attacking each practice and game in a very business-like manner. As harsh as it may seem, they’re not interested in making friends. They share the same goal, and that goal is to make their team better every day.
Danvers is led by a quartet of seniors this season. But even when Nick McKenna, Nick Bates, Eric Martin, and Danny Connors move on after this season, Walsh will keep the Falcons playing at a high level as long as he’s roaming the sideline.
Connolly, meanwhile, may be in the midst of his best coaching job yet. For the first time during his St. John’s Prep tenure Connolly does not have Pat Connaughton or Steve Haladyna on his roster. Connaughton and Haladyna, a pair of 1,000-point scorers are now busy playing for Notre Dame and Tufts, respectively, but the Eagles have not missed a beat.
Displaying tenacity on defense and a balanced offensive attack, St. John’s is currently 6-0 and looking more like a Div. 1 North contender each day.
Currently, St. John’s and Danvers are the North Shore’s premier basketball programs, and they also happen to be located in the same town.
2. The Ipswich and Bishop Fenwick teams put together lengthy win streaks. Both teams have started slow this year, but they both seem capable of turning the corner. It really wasn’t that long ago that both programs were regular contenders in their respective divisions. You only need to go back to 2008 to find the last time each was contending in the postseason. That year Fenwick and Ipswich both lost in the North semifinals, the Crusaders in Division 3 and Tigers in Division 4. A year later, Fenwick advanced to the North final.
It’s been a rough go for each team since then, but the junior classes seem to be pretty strong for each team.
“We’re all juniors except for one senior and two sophomores,” Ipswich coach Alan Laroche said. “The guys are playing real heard and it just comes down to making the right decision in our offensive sets and knowing when to slow ourselves down on offense and take a little more time to make the defense work. Our spacing needs to be better.”
Ipswich just recently won its first game, but the 1-3 Tigers seem to be figuring it out. Erik Fyrer has been a consistent scoring threat for Ipswich, and Matt Jaeger has stepped up his offensive output recently.
Fenwick is currently regrouping from a broken wrist that has sidelined senior center Ben Maxner, but the Crusaders’ junior class is good enough that it should get the team moving back in the right direction.
3. Jimmy Campbell makes a speedy, full recovery. Campbell suffered a broken leg in football that will keep him out of basketball for this year, but here’s to hoping he makes it all the way back for the start of next season.
Campbell showed a lot of promise as a freshman last winter and coach Doug Hoak was expecting two strong building blocks between Campbell and classmate James Foye. Campbell’s absence has meant the Generals are completely in rebuilding mode, but the team could be in great shape next season if Campbell makes it all the way back and can play alongside Foye and Henry Eagar, who has emerged so far this season.
4. Peabody’s sophomore class emerges as the program’s foundation. The Tanners are only five games into their schedule, but it appears that coach Thad Broughton is facing a bridge year. Peabody may find a way to get to 10 wins this winter and qualify for the postseason, but in order to do that the Tanners may need the sophomore class to emerge.
Point guard Matt Correale has been a solid player for the Tanners off the bench so far, and Broughton called up classmates David Hoar, Mike Raymond, and Bobby Sullivan for the team’s last game against North Shore Tech, which happened to be their first win. Correale scored 14 points in the victory, while the sophomore call-up trio produced a combined 12 points and 13 rebounds.
5. Salem gets hot for the postseason and returns to the Garden. Senior point guard Christian Dunston was just a freshman when Antonio Reyes and Raphy Medrano guided the Witches to a Division 2 North title and a trip to Boston. Dunston, who saw a few minutes of action in that game on the parquet, and his running mates this year have the potential to duplicate that run if they get hot at the right time.
Dunston has been difficult for teams to defend this season, and with players like Marvin Baez, Billy Muse, and Jared Louf-Woods helping out, Salem could have a very successful season.
6. Beverly continues to get solid balance and once again contends for the Northeastern Conference Large title. The Panthers are off to a 4-1 start and that’s due in large part to having the North Shore’s most balanced attack.
Beverly may lack a true go-to scorer, but it does have five players who are capable scorers. Jonangel Franco, Josh Cairns, Nick Cross, Jon Berchoff, and Cam Rogers are each averaging between eight and 12 points per game.
Rogers (11.8) and Berchoff (11.6) are currently the only two averaging double figures, but the way the Panthers play that could change after their next game. Cross is third on the team averaging 9.8, while Cairns is just under 10 points per game at 9.6. Franco comes in at 8.8 per game.
That type of production makes the Panthers very difficult to defend, and it’s an excellent reason why they’ll be in the hunt for a league title all season.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @MattJenkins_SN.
Five for Thought ...
Here are five must-see games on the early part of the 2013 schedule:
1. B.C. High at St. John's Prep, Friday, Jan. 4, 7 p.m.: This is the Prep's first real "measuring stick" game against one of the Catholic Conference heavyweights.
2. Beverly at Salem, Monday, Jan. 7, 7 p.m.: This rivalry game should live up to the hype with two teams very capable of winning the NEC Large.
3. Lynn English at Danvers, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 7 p.m.: The Falcons open their crossover schedule with a difficult matchup.
4. Salem at Danvers, Friday, Jan. 11, 7 p.m.: The Witches backcourt against the Danvers pressure is a subplot worth the price of admission.
5. Marblehead at Salem, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 7 p.m.: No matter what the Magicians' record is they always give themselves a chance to win.