This post has 5 parts. First is my take on tonight's Salem/West game. Next is the latest on the Joe Gallant injury. Then some insider info on West's Richard Valentin and Greg Asselin. After that a look at a young player who could be the next Richard Valentin. Finally, find out how West has been getting some extra motivation lately. You're gonna want to read this.
My Take on Salem vs. West
Heading into tonight, I thought that BG/Trinity was the game of the night. I also thought that Dover/Pinkerton was a more high profile game. Now even though Salem vs. West was probably the third biggest game of the night, I still thought it would be a good one. After-all, it's been a season of surprises and thrillers in Class L thus far. And this was a match-up of the team's currently ranked #7 and #8 in my Class L Power Rankings. West was at home, but Salem is the team that cam into this one on a 5 game winning streak, with two of those wins coming against BG and Merrimack.
But before the game even started, something happened that instantly made the Blue Knights decided favorites. During halftime of the JV game, the Salem payers were shooting around. One of their players was noticeably absent. Joe Gallant. Moments later, Gallant arrived in the gym...on crutches. Gallant, the 6'4" junior forward, is the Blue Devils second best player. He's a very good rebounder, low-post scorer and runs the floor well for a big. He was able to play, and that really hurt Salem this evening.
Even if Gallant did play, the match-up that everyone would be watching in this one would not involve the big men. It was on the perimeter. Richard Valentin from West and Alex LaRosa from Salem. Two of the top 4 guards in NH (Along with Alex Burt and Jake Nelson).
It was a lot of fun watching the two of them go at it for 32 minutes. Valentin finished with 20 points and 5 assists, while LaRosa scored 18 of Salem's 33. Overall, Valentin got the better of the matchup. He was able to play some shut-down defense on LaRosa at times and force some turnovers. LaRosa still scored 18, but he had to take a lot of shots to do it. And a lot of those points came either in transition or running off a screen where he ended up being guarded by someone besides Valentin. Sometimes though, Valentin was switched off of LaRosa defensively.
"It's not easy to cover their best player and still run the offense and everything on the other end too" said the star senior guard.
On the other end, LaRosa didn't cover Valentin most of the game. Most of the game it was either Joseph Klecan, Matt Cannone or Jeff Meisser who got the assignment. Regardless of who it was, Valentin continues to show that he is the most explosive player off the dribble in Class L. He has a killer crossover dribble and is able to get into the lane and make plays at will.
"When Richie plays well, we play well" remarked West Coach Sam Carey. "In our losses he's gotten in foul trouble or lost his head a little bit. But tonight he did it all for us."
Like Coach Carey said, Valentin is the key for them. When this team is on, they're as good as anybody. Like I've said before, West is the fastest, most athletic team in the state. After tonight, I am even more convinced of that fact. Even though it's tough to take too much from this game when one of the teams played without their second best player, I was still impressed with the way the blue Knights played. Just like in the Trinity game, they were flying around the court, diving on the floor, getting every loose ball, always a step quicker than the opposition. They used their aggressiveness and quickness on defense to force turnovers and turn them into easy scores on the other end. Salem turned it over 7 times in the first quarter alone, leading to Blue Knight baskets going the other way.
When West is not on however is when they can lose games. All three of their losses have come on the road. They lost all 3 of those games by 14 points or more. Are they only a home team? Time will tell...
For Salem, being undersized hurt them. The two big men for West, 6'4" senior Greg Asselin and 6'3" junior Jose Gonzalez (I don't care what the roster says that's how tall they are!) combined for 20 point and 22 rebounds. They were just too big, too strong and too quick for whoever they were matched up with tonight. With Gallant being 6'4 and junior Mike Lorenz being 6'3", clearly Salem would have matched up better with Gallant in there. Replacing Gallant in the starting lineup was senior Kyle Henrick, who has a large frame but is only 6'0" MAYBE 6'1" and could not keep up with the speed of either West big man.
Also, Salem needed to have at least one other player and be a solid second scoring option with Gallant being out to have a chance in this one. The candidates were Lorenz, Cannone and Meisser, who have each scored 15 or more points in a game this year. But the three of them combined for just 9 points. LaRosa can't do it himself. Not against a team this good.
Joe Gallant Injury Update
Alright, so before the game tonight I asked Gallant what his status was. Here's what he had to say:
"I've got a sprained ankle. It happened in the Alvirne game on Tuesday. It hurt so I came out of the game. I went back in though, but then it got worse. I'm out til at least next Thursday. I'll get re-evaluated then and find out if I can come back or not."
Well there you have it. Salem's game with Alvirne on Tuesday was an overtime thriller. I have to believe that if it weren't such a close game Gallant wouldn't have gone back in and injured his ankle even more. So he goes back in, and Salem wins that game. But they lose Gallant. For at least 2 games, maybe more. One thing's for sure though, Salem is a MUCH different team without him in the lineup. He was a HUGE part of the 5 game winning streak they had heading into tonight's game.
Valentin and Asselin. They're Seniors...Right?
So you go and see Manchester West play. You look at the roster. You see Richard Valentin and Greg Asselin are both listed as seniors. So that's that that, right? This is their last season of high school ball, right? Well, maybe not. I spoke to both Valentin and Asselin after tonight's game. There is a possibility that both players will be back in a Blue Knight uniform again next season. Although they're both listed as seniors on the West High roster, neither player will be graduating this spring. They both plan on returning to school next fall. Now, whether or not they will be able to play basketball is a different question. They'll have to file a petition with the NHIAA in order to gain eligibility for next season. So at this point it's still up in the air.
"That's next year. Right now we're just focused on this year" Carey jumped in and said. "That other stuff can wait."
Still, it is an interesting thing to think about. West relies almost exclusively on 6 players. Valentin and Asselin are the only seniors in that group (The others are juniors Samy Abdalla, Jose Gonzalez, Quintin Hunter and sophomore Aaron Martin). So if they both come back, the Blue Knights will return the top 6 players from a team that could easily end up with a top 4 seed this year. That would likely make West the Class L favorites in 2011. Stay tuned...
The Next Richard Valentin?
During the JV game tonight between Salem and West I saw a player for the Blue Knight who reminded me a lot like a freshman version of Valentin. Stephen Gomez, a 5'6" freshman guard was recently moved up from the freshman team to the JV. He played the majority of the JV game tonight for West, and did an excellent job of controlling the game's tempo. Gomez is lightning quick, can handle the ball well against defensive pressure and has a strong body for a 5'6" kid. He doesn't have a great jump shot, but he did a very good job of taking his man off the dribble, getting in the lane and finding open teammates. Also like Valentin, he played lock-down defense on the opposing team's point guard. Gomez is a player to keep an eye over the next couple of years. I know it was just a JV game, and he is small. But for a freshman he definitely has some skills to build on. And he could be a scary player in 2013 when he's a senior.
Bulletin Board Material
A funny thing happened on my way out of West High this evening. I finished speaking with Coach Carey, Valentin and Asselin, left the locker room and started to exit when one of the Blue Knight assistant coaches stopped me. He said that they saw my write-up about their game with Winnacunnet last Tuesday. They lost that game 61-46. West didn't play well that game. I said that they didn't play well. I also said that Winnacunnet played smart, disciplined basketball and West did not.
Just then, Coach Carey came out of the locker room. "We saw that article" he said to me. "It's been hanging up in our locker room ever since."