SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 11, 2012

Defending state champion Falcons focusing on future

By Matt Jenkins
Staff Writer

---- — Living in the past is not something that will happen this winter in Danvers.

Boys basketball coach John Walsh simply won’t allow it.

The Falcons completed a meteoric two-year rise under Walsh’s guidance by capturing the Division 3 state title last March. But the coach’s goal now is for everyone to put that memory aside. As far as he’s concerned, the Falcons can live in the past and suffer in the present — or leave the past behind and thrive in the future.

“Nobody cares what happened last year. It stinks, but it’s true,” Walsh, now in his third year, said. “It doesn’t even feel like it ever happened. What are you going to do, be 0-4 and say, ‘Oh wait, we won a state title last year.’ You gotta forget, like it never happened. Once this season starts, I know we won’t be thinking about last year.”

Danvers may be successful in its bid to forget its recent history, but opponents may have a hard time doing the same. The Falcons will be hunted this winter. There are some noticeable differences with their lineup, but four of the top six players return.

Senior forward Danny Connors, senior wing Nick Bates and senior point guard Eric Martin started in the state title win over St. Joseph Central of Pittsfield, and senior guard Nick McKenna (who played the sixth man role late in the season) poured in a game-high 18 points in the title clincher.

That quartet will make it very hard for Danvers’ opponents to forget last season, and it also makes the Falcons a preseason favorite in the Northeastern Conference Small again.

“A lot went our way last year, and we know we’re going to have a target on our back in the NEC. We’re not 2-18 Danvers anymore, sneaking up on anybody,” Walsh said. “We’re going to get people’s best shot. We were very successful in the Large (games) last year. You gotta think that those teams are going to be ready to go against us.”

Danvers does have the two holes to fill left behind by 6-foot-8 center George Merry and defensive specialist Jon Amico. Merry was one of the North Shore’s best two-way threats last year, while Amico often drew the assignment of covering the opposition’s best scorer.

“Those two losses are huge. We could always count on Jon to shut down the best player. Eric would cover the point guard and Jon would shut down the other best player. Ninety percent of the time, that’s how it worked,” Walsh said. “George erased so many more mistakes. People wouldn’t even try to enter the paint.”

Junior guard Kieran Beck and sophomore guard Vinny Clifford are in line to get some of the minutes left behind by Merry and Amico. Seniors Evan Eldridge and Duncan D’Hemecourt will also be fighting for playing time this winter.

Overall, Danvers appears to be in good shape to keep the program operating at a high level, but Walsh can’t say that the Falcons have a true winning tradition yet.

“I’d like to think so, but I don’t know yet. It’s only been two years. Other schools have put two good years together,” Walsh said. “I think that it’s very important that this senior class passes it down to the other kids and that they buy in. Winning does breed winning, but you also have to have talented players.”