Doing my previews for Class L and Class I, I found that a common theme throughout was how I kept saying that certain players were underrated. So I figured I would make a list of all of them. These are all players you probably have not heard much about, or maybe haven't heard of them at all. But I think they will all make a big impact on their teams this season, and some of them could really have breakout years. Sure, everybody knows about the Nelsons, the Burts, the Greens and the Madols. But it's the kids on this list - the breakout candidates, the role players, who will really decide who wins games.
The players are listed alphabetically. They're not listed in order of ability.
Samy Abdalla, Jr., Manchester West - Abdalla is only 5'8", but he's very quick and athletic. He can handle the ball, drive, shoot and run the point. Sometimes he needs to be more decisive out there, and sometimes he's actually too unselfish. I think this year with an big increase in playing time that could change and he'll really take his game to the next level.
Dalton Cheney, Sr., Pembroke - This 5'11" guard plays the game the right way. He just plays hard, keeps his mouth shut, hustles and does all of the little things to help his team win. Nothing flashy about his game, but he's tough, and he's a winner.
Seth Cordts, Jr., Souhegan - A 6'2" guard who has really improved a lot since last year. A very good shooter, and a player who's going to bust his butt every minute he's out there. Solid ball handler, and a very hard worker.
Brandon Cox, Sr., Nashua South - Tough player, good ball handler, makes good decisions with the ball. Makes clutch plays, you can count on him late in a close game. Not the fastest or most athletic kid, but he plays hard and plays with heart. Also a solid outside shooter. I expect him to have a good senior year for South.
Brian Cronin, Jr., Spaulding - Again, not the fastest or most athletic player out there. But Cronin, the son of Spaulding Head Coach Tim Cronin, is a heck of a player. He's 6'2", but built like a linebacker. Tough and strong, can do the dirty work inside. But at the same time he has the ability to step out and knock down the three. What sets him apart though is his leadership and intelligence. He's constantly talking out on the floor. Communicating with his teammates, telling them where to be on offense, where the pick is coming from on defense. He's very disciplined, makes good decisions on the floor and is a great leader.
Kevin Cyr, Sr., Milford - Hard to believe anyone on Milford could be underrated with how much hype they've been getting, but Cyr is just that. He knows he's not the star. He knows he's not as strong as Desmairas, as big as Nelson, as talented as Milford's "Big 3", as athletic as Philbrick or as good of a shooter as McCallum. But he doesn't care. He doesn't mind being overshadowed, he just goes out and works hard. Cyr is the team's workhorse. He's the glue that keeps them together. He brings experience, stability and discipline. And if you leave him open because you're worried about the Spartan's other guys, he'll make you pay.
Derek Defranzo, So., Pelham - He's only a sophomore, but he plays lie he's much older. I have been very impressed by this kid's toughness. For a kid who's only 5'8", he's very strong, and he's also exceptionally quick. He plays extremely hard, especially on the defensive end. A hard nosed player who is strong with the ball and makes good decisions with it as well.
Gordan Duffley, Sr., Trinity - His transfer dramatically shifted the balance of power in Class L. His move made Central a MUCH worse basketball team, and it made Trinity a MUCH better basketball team. I saw Trinity play a lot before Duffley arrived, and a lot after Duffley arrived. And it is clear to me that he was the final piece in the puzzle that they needed, he completes that team. I think many people will look at the fact that he rarely got off the bench in close games last year for Central and say what's the big deal about this kid. But he's the real deal, and I know that I say this about a lot of the players on this list, but he IS one of NH's most improved players. He just does so many different things well. Even though he's only 6'1", he plays much bigger than that. He's very strong, and is able to bag around down low, get rebounds and score inside. At the same time, he also has the skills and quickness of a guard. He's able to step out and hit the three. And if Hayden is not in the game, Duffley is the second best option the Pioneers have at running the point. He can play all five positions. He also drives the ball strong the bucket and is an excellent defender.
Rory Duffy, Sr., Dover - Flat out, one of the best defenders in NH. I love this kids game. Here's a bold prediction for ya. Rory Duffy will take more charges than any other player in the state this season...guaranteed. This kid does all the little things. Diving on the floor, hustling after loose balls, taking charges. He plays with such passion, and fire, and it rubs off on his Green Wave teammates. He leaves it all out on the floor every time he plays. He can also knock down the three if you leave him open.
Trent Fontanella, Sr., Bishop Guertin - Similar situation to Cyr of Milford. Hard to believe anyone could be underrated on BG with all of their hype. But with all of the talented players on Guertin's roster, Fontanella is the perfect role player. He just shows up, does his job, doesn't try to do too much, or try to be the star. He makes the simple play. He has strong fundamentals. And he's also very unselfish.
Matt Hardwick, Sr., Merrimack - Hardwick is the heart and soul of the Merrimack basketball team. When he's out there, everything seems to go so much more smoothly. He handles the ball well, and makes very good decisions with the ball. If you leave him open he'll score, but scoring is the last thing on his mind. He's one of the most unselfish players in the state. He realizes has other kids on his team who are much better scorers, so he not only gets them the ball, but gets them the ball where they can score. The consummate team player.
Quentin Hunter, Jr., Manchester West - Another much improved player, and another breakout year candidate. At 6'2", close to 6'3", he has good size on the wing. He's fast, athletic, and one of the most explosive players in NH off the dribble going to the basket. If he can improve his jump shot he'll really be tough.
Steve Johnstone, Jr., John Stark - Boy is this a fun player to watch. Even in summer league, this kid was giving it his all, diving on the floor for loose balls, busting his tail back on defense and pushing the ball hard up the court on offense. He plays the game with reckless abandon, and somehow manages to do so while maintaining control. One of the best defenders in Class I. Solid player off the dribble going to the hoop, not as good of a shooter, though. He's the heart and soul of a feisty John Stark team.
Greg LeBlond, Jr., John Stark - One of the more underrated shooters in the state. Funny, three of the kids on this list just might be the three best shooters in Class I (LeBlond, Cordts and Walker). LeBlond is not as strong driving to the hoop, but he is an exceptional long range, or mid-range shooter. He's a good defender, and a smart player.
Joey Maher, Jr., Bedford - It's a shame that Maher suffered an early season ankle injury. Because after seeing Bedford scrimmage West recently, I came away convinced he was in for a breakout year. And I still think that if he can come back healthy soon enough that he can. He's a 6'4" forward center who is tenacious on the boards as well as in the paint offensively. He has a good combination of size, toughness, strength, quickness and skill.
Nick McGrail, Sr., Winnacunnet - Another kid who is one of the most underrated shooters in the state. And he's also another one of the most improved players in NH. He barely ever got off the bench for a deep and talented Warrior team last year. But he has not only been starting in preseason scrimmages, but he's been playing almost the entire game. He's a very good leader, and one of the smartest players in the state. He's not very tall, fast or athletic. But this kid plays his butt off, he's a very hard worker, he makes very good decisions. Plus he's a great shooter with a quick release. Winnacunnet has been a team with a lot of behavior problems over the last couple years, but it is obvious that McGrail, along with Ryan Dunn are a coach's dream for McKenna. McGrail flat out listens to his coach, and gets it done. He doesn't try to do too much, or make the flashy play. He's fundamentally sound.
Jeff Meisser, Jr., Salem - Flat out, the best shooter in the state you've never heard of. Even I had never heard of him until a few weeks ago. That was before he drained six three's in a Riv. League game in a Salem upset win over BG. To prove it wasn't a fluke, he hit four more the following week including the game winning three at the buzzer. He has great form on his shot, and great confidence in it as well. He's not great driving to the bucket, but he's a solid defender and a smart player. And I expect him to make a lot of Class L teams pay for leaving him open this season.
Shomari Morgan, Jr. Manchester Memorial - Another player who is one of the more improved players is the state since last year. Morgan will start on the wing for Memorial, a year after riding the pine all season. On a team with a ton of good shooters, but no good slashers, Morgan fits in perfectly, because well, slashing to the basket is the best part of his game. He plays very hard all the time, and he provides quickness and athleticism to a team that is lacking in those areas. He's a much better player than people think, and I think he will show that this season.
Zach Nadeau, Sr., Nashua North - On a team with so much firepower and talented scorers, it's refreshing to see someone who is content in staying in the painted area, getting rebounds and doing the dirty work. Nadeau is very unselfish, doesn't worry about his stats, just worries about winning and playing hard. He's a forward/center, even though he's only 6'1", maybe 6'2". So he's always at least an inch or two smaller than the players he's matched up with, but he's still down there banging around, and diving on the floor.
David Skinner, Sr., Alvirne - Another kid that does the dirty work for his team. Fundamentally sound, nothing flashy about his game. Hard nosed player. He's only 6'1", but plays down low a lot. Still able to battle down there and get boards, because he plays bigger than he is. A scrappy hustler, who can also score if if you focus your defense too much on guys like Sweeney and Donnelly.
Theo Speas, Jr., Keene - This kid is the most underrated player in the state. Mark it down. He was quiet last year, because Keene had two of the top scorers in NH with Brian Troy and Ray Boulay, and Speas was only a sophomore then. But he is by far the best player on Keene this year, and he will be called upon to carry them. He's a 6'3" wing who can play inside or outside. He's strong, quick, athletic, solid defender and very tough to stop driving to the bucket. Not the best shooter, though. It might be tough for him to fully display his ability, because with his lack of a supporting cast on the Blackbirds teams will really key on him defensively. If he was on a better team though he would possibly be a preseason all-state pick.
Chris Walker, Jr., Oyster River - When most people talk about Oyster River, they talk about McDonnell and Nadeau. Maybe they bring up Goodwin and how he's coming back from the knee injury, or maybe the inside presence of Hennessey. But Walker, a 6'0" two guard, could be their secret weapon. He's not the fastest or most athletic player out there, but he's a knock down shooter. He hit five three's in one game when I saw the Bobcats play at the RAC Fall League. He has a quick release on his shot, he's cool under pressure, and if he gets in the zone from long range, watch out.
Vinnie Zenni, Sr., Manchester Memorial - The 5'11" guard might be the most improved player in the state since last season. He rode the bench all season for Memorial a year ago. But he got major minutes over the summer and fall.During the regular season he'll either start or be the Crusader's 6th man. He is very quick, an excellent ball handler and an above average defender. He can play either guard position, is good at driving to the bucket and has a jumper that is getting better by the day.