I think that this post is long overdue. I am finally getting around to recognizing the top DEFENSIVE players in the state. These players might not lead their team in scoring. But whether it's shutting down the opponents top scorer, coming over from the weak side and blocking shots, or taking charges on the fast break, these players all make HUGE contributions to the success of their respective teams. Now, without any further ado...
The Top Dogs
1. Anthony Floras - Merrimack...The job that Floras has done defensively this season has been well documented. He held Richard Valentin and Alex Burt (The two best scoring guards in the state) to a combined total of 15 points. His little brother Dimitri might score points, but Anthony is just as valuable to the Tomahawk's success.
2. Richard Valentin - Manchester West...What can you say, this kid was blessed with some incredible speed and athleticism. The job he does on defense isn't just about his raw skills though. It's also about effort. Watch him play defense and you'll see not only is he faster than anyone else in the state, but he busts his butt on defense every minute he's out there, getting right up in the face of the player he's guarding.
3. Jake Nelson - Nashua South...In case you're wondering why Nelson is so high on this list despite only playing in 2 games so far this season; this list is NH's Best Defenders, NOT the best defensive players of the season so far. Anyone who has seen Nelson play ball multiple times knows that he is one of the top 3 defenders our state has to offer. When healthy, Nelson routinely makes the opposing point guard's life a nightmare, getting right in his face and really making him work, for every pass and every shot.
4. Zach Mathieu - Pinkerton...Nobody has more blocked shots over the last 3 years than Mathieu. Whether it's blocking his man's shot or coming over from the weak side, he has a knack for being in the right place and swatting the ball away. He's 6'7" and built and has solid quickness for his size. This season he has also gotten bigger, and is now built like a lumberjack. Good luck to opponents scoring in the paint when he's in the game.
5. Rory Duffy - Dover...One of the most improved players in the state this season, Duffy has also emerge as one of the better defenders around. He can defend out on the perimeter as well as down low. He has the strength to battle with anybody. He just flat out tries harder than anyone else out there. But the real reason he's ranked this high is this. NOBODY take more charges than Rory Duffy.
6. James Holler - Exeter...To really be an elite defender, I think you have to be a little mean. It's an intangible that you can't really teach. James Holler has that. He plays with a swagger and an edge that few others possess. He'll play right up close to his man, even 30 feet from the basket. And he knows that the player still won't go by hm. Fun player to watch.
7. Jayson Martin - Lebanon...Very underrated defender. Nothing flashy about this kid's game. He's fine with not being the star or scoring the most points. Very unselfish player, makes the extra pass. On defense he guards the opponent's toughest wing player, ad flat out locks him down. Very tough defender, and a disciplined ballplayer.
8. Hunter Viscarello - Trinity...At one of Trinity's games in the Queen City tournament, when the Pioneer starting lineup was introduced someone said to me, "Who's that?" when Viscarello's name was called. That right there tells you how underrated this kid is. The reason why he starts for Trinity is because of his defense. Anything they get from him offensively is a bonus. His job is to cover the opponent's best perimeter scorer. And he has done a fantastic job so far. What's more impressive is that he's only a sophomore. Two years from now I expect him to be #1 on this list.
Other Elite Defenders Who Also Belong in the Discussion
9. Sheldon Benson - Pembroke...You have to give a kid credit who is only 6'0", MAYBE 6'1" but is not only battling down low with the opposing team's center (players who are sometimes 6 or 7 inches taller than him) but he's actually holding these players to low scoring totals. Benson has the ability to defend all 5 positions on the floor. Now that's what I call versatility!
10. Audie Melendez - Manchester Central...Another fun player to watch. One of the many players on the Central roster where you're looking at it and saying to yourself, "Who?". But this kid flat out leaves everything he has out on the floor, plays the game harder than almost anybody else and really gets after it on the defensive end. He's only about 5'9", but he is one of the more underrated defensive guards around. He embodies the ball pressure defensive that Coach Doc Wheeler preaches at Central.
11. Jamie Holder - Milford...Like Valentin, Holder is another player who was blessed with great physical ability. More specifically, speed and athleticism. He uses those two qualities to really make his man work on offense, getting right in his man's grill, making him work and forcing a ton of turnovers.
12. Ryan Dunn - Winnacunnet...Two words come to mind when describing the kind of player Ryan Dunn is. Heart and desire. Few players in NH have more of those two than he does. He's not the fastest player, and he can't jump out of the gym. But few players play with as much effort on defense as done. He's constantly diving on the floor for loose balls, taking charges and always covers the best scorer on the other team.
13. Sylvere Aluko - Trinity...It's no secret that Aluko is still very much a work in progress. His game is still very raw. And even on defense, he doesn't have the whole package. But if you watch Trinity, play there's no denying the impact that this kid has on the defensive end. He's 6'9", with extremely long arms. Coach Keefe keeps telling him to not leave the paint. That's why Aluko is in there. So that any shot an opponent takes within 15 feet of the basket, Aluko will either block it, deflect it or alter it. And oh by the way, in all three of those scenarios the shot doesn't go in. You flat out cannot shoot the basketball over him when he puts his arms up. Aluko still has a lot of work to do, but even right now he is a huge asset to the Pioneers on defense.
14. Tom Poitras - Bow...Excellent shot blocker who uses his size and muscle on the low block to prevent points in the paint.
15. Steve Johnstone - John Stark...A gritty, hard nosed player. Similar to Dunn. Johnstone is always diving for loose balls, taking charges and really gets after it on the defensive end. Plays harder than almost anybody is Class I.
16. Matt Cannone - Salem...An excellent athlete and a lock down defender on the wing. He's flat out stronger than pretty much any wing player that he'll cover in Class L. And he also has the quickness to stay with them off the dribble.
17. Morgan Faustino - Dover...One of the better post defenders in the state. With him it's about effort and it's about muscle. He's also quicker than almost any center in Class L which doesn't hurt.
18. Dillon McCarthy - Lebanon...Combines with Martin to form possibly the best defensive backcourt in the state. Another player who relies in fundamentals and discipline. A defender who can lock down on the opponent's point guard.
19. Steve Spirou - Pelham...He's known for his scoring, especially this season. But watch him play and you'll see he makes it VERY tough on which ever player he's covering.
20. Glenn Roderick - Spaulding...If Duffy takes more charges than anyone in the state, Roderick has got to be second in that category. Another undersized big man. Roderick, is only 6'0", MAYBE 6'1" but plays much bigger than that. He doesn't mind doing the dirty work down low, banging around with kids much bigger than him.
Other Players Worth Mentioning (in no particular order)
Phil Hayden - Trinity
Vinnie Zenni - Manchester Memorial
Matt Couture - Manchester Memorial
Ben Proulx - Pinkerton
Justin Dube - Dover
Jimmy Peard - Conant
Kemph Kim - Conant
No Bishop Guertin players are mentioned here, but that is not to say they're not a good defensive team. They have about 12 players who all really get after it on the defensive end. They also have a system in place which allows them to force a lot of turnovers. While they're an excellent defensive TEAM, that's not the same as having top INDIVIDUAL defenders.