Saturday, July 10, 2010
NH/VT Rotary Basketball Recap
Just got back from Vermont. What a weekend. I've gotta say, I had a blast and I feel fortunate to have been a part of this year's Rotary Game festivities. In the girls game New Hampshire won it 60-56, and Vermont took the boys contest by a final of 88-73.
This post will have all kinds of good stuff. My recap of both the boys and girls games, my review of the Sheraton hotel I stayed in. Plus the story of how I got my heart broken Friday night at a bar in downtown Burlington called "Nectar's" (Just kidding on the last one! Well, not really. It did happen, I'm just not going to write about it).
Boys Game Recap
Ok, so Vermont won it 88-73. The buzz leading up to the game was about this kid Joe O'Shea for Vermont. O'Shea has a full ride to play hoops at Holy Cross...and he played like it today. The 6'5" O'Shea finished the afternoon with 21 points and 7 rebounds in just 23 minutes of action. He is a very tough matchup for any team to deal with. He has the size and strength to play in the post, but he can also step out and hit the outside jumper as well as put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. If NH put one of their bigs on him he drove right by them, and if they put a guard on him he took them down low. Plus he was a very good defender and rebounder.
As for the game itself, NH kept it close early, but Vermont really started to pull away towards the end of the first half to lead 50-28 at the half. The NH kids were playing their tails off, but they missed some easy shots early in the game which hurt. Early in the first half they missed some shots in close that were make-able, and later in half the pace started to pick up (which favored NH) and they started to get out and run. There was a 3 minute stretch there where NH got about 5 or 6 very good looks from 18-20 feet away but they just weren't falling from them. This was a team of shooters for the Granite State. Vermont's advantage was inside, with their size and strength on the post and on the boards. They played to their strengths VERY well. For NH their advantage was that they had more speed, more players who can handle the basketball and more players who can shoot the basketball. Based on that, when NH did get open jump shot looks, they HAD to cash in on them.
Another factor in the first half was foul trouble. NH was in the penalty halfway before the halfway mark, and in the double penalty. Rather than taking outside shots, Vermont was driving to the rim all game. That combined with NH being foul prone resulted in a total of 41 free throw attempts for the VT team. They were 33-41 from the line, while NH was just 9-14. Ouch!
The 22 point deficit was the largest of the game for the NH team. It wasn't however, insurmountable. If NH could pick the tempo back up, get out and press full court, force some turnovers, get out in transition and get some easy baskets and knock down some three's they would have a shot. Like I said, ball handling was not the strength of VT's team. So if NH pressed, and if VT did happen to get it across half court they extended their half court defense and really get out and pressure VT's guards they could take away the advantage on the glass that Vermont had.
So what happened? Well, for the most part NH coach EJ Perry did all of the things I just described. However to Vermont's credit they still held tough. NH was cutting into the lead, but not enough. When you're down by that many points, you can't just trade baskets. You have to make a run. Maybe a 10-2 or 8-0 run to really get the momentum on your side and get back in the game. NH cut the lead to just 15 with about 10 minutes to play. Just when it looked like the Granite Staters were making a run, VT answered back and pushed the lead back up to 20.
That's when NH made their run. They finally started to hit some outside shots, forced some turnovers and got some easy baskets on the other end. They shot 7-17 from 3 point range in the second half (41%). With about 8:30 left in regulation Vermont lead 73-61. It wasn't over yet, folks.
Unfortunately, 12 points is the closest NH would get to VT in the second half as they go down by the 88-73 final.
After the game, one player from each team was awarded an MVP award. Salem's Alex LaRosa won it for NH and O'Shea took the honor for the VT team. LaRosa netted a team-high 12 points, and was the lone member of the NH squad to score in double figures. LaRosa did a nice job of running the point, getting the team into its offensive sets, and distributing the basketball.
O'Shea was good, but he definitely had plenty of help. Adam Boyle (Brattleboro Union HS), Conor Merrill (Vergennes Union HS), Demir Smajovic (Essex HS) and Billy Boyd (Hazen Union HS) all came up BIG as well for VT. This Vermont team was loaded with big, strong, burly, tough, physical kids who controlled the glass and made it very difficult for NH to get any inside scoring at all and limited the amount of second shot opportunities that NH was able to get.
As for team New Hampshire, they have nothing to hang their heads about. They played their tails off the entire 40 minutes. They played with pride and they played with heart. They could have done a little better on the boards and they missed some shots they normally would make. But the effort was there. Vermont was just a better team. Not only that, but just playing in this game is a tremendous honor and something that all 13 players on the team should be proud of.
Two players from NH who stood out to me were Tommy McDonnell (Oyster River) and Sean Martin (Conant). Everyone for New Hampshire played hard, but these two played the hardest. They flat out gave it everything they had, and left it all out on the floor. Martin was taking charges, diving on the floor for loose balls, and just hustling all over the court. McDonnell played just as hard as Martin, as he showed that he could get up and down the floor faster than anyone in the gym. McDonnell was on a mission out there, doing literally everything in his power to help his team. I also learned at the banquet Friday night that McDonnell has a strange obsession with Justin Beiber.
I was also impressed by the play of Scott St. Lawrence (Bishop Guertin), especially in the second half. He played a vital role in the mini-run that NH made in the second half when they cut the VT lead to 12 with 2 big baskets in the span of a minute. St. Lawrence was also the team's top rebounder, with 8 boards on the game (5 of them were offensive rebounds).
Tom Poitras (Bow) also had a solid game for NH, finishing with 9 points and 6 rebounds. He was perhaps the team's best inside player, and also showed his versatility by facing up from 20 feet away and putting the ball on the floor and driving hard to the rim. Poitras is the only player in the state chosen to play in the NH/VT Rotary basketball game AND the football Shrine Game. The 6'6" Poitras is headed to Rivier College in the fall, where he will play on the school's hoops team alongside his older brother Greg who will be a senior.
Two other players who played extremely hard for were Jimmy Peard (Conant) and Alex Burt (Dover). Burt shot just 1-11 from the floor, but played hard on both ends of the floor ever minute he was out there, and made some strong drives to the rim. Peard brought the team a physical presence inside and also ran the floor hard on the break. Peard was one of 4 players on the team to foul out. Cormac Fitzpatrick (Manchester Memorial) hit 3 three's, 2 of which came during the second half run.
Congratulations to the entire team on excellent high school basketball careers. The rest of the squad that I haven't mentioned yet included Sheldon Benson (Pembroke), Kevin Cressy (Merrimack Valley), Cam Heffron (Kearsarge), Alex Pratt (Nashua North) and Sean Henriquez (Campbell). It should also be noted that all 13 players on the NH roster made it into the scoring column.
Not to take anything away from the 13 young men who suited up for New Hampshire yesterday, but one can't help but wonder what could have been. Jake Nelson, the state's top point guard, missed the game with an ankle injury. Zach Mathieu, who was the best player in the state this season, didn't play in this game either because he is off playing AAU baseball, and getting ready to attend Franklin Pierce University in the fall on a baseball scholarship. If Mathieu wasn't a Major League prospect in baseball, he would have been a scholarship player in basketball. Jordan Laguerre committed to play basketball at UMass this past week. Laguerre transferred from Trinity to the New Hampton School a year ago. If he stayed at Trinity, not only would he have played in this game for NH, but he would have been the best player in the gym. Then there's Carson Desrosiers. For those who don't know, Desrosiers is a Windham resident and would have played for Salem over the past 4 years but instead went to Central Catholic in Lawrence, MA. He's 6'11" and is headed to Wake Forest in the fall on a full basketball scholarship. If he went to Salem instead of Central, he would have also been playing in this game for NH...and HE would have been the best player in the gym. Then there's Scott King, another projected scholarship player. The 6'8" King would have been eligible to play in this game for the Granite State had he not left Pinkerton for the prep school ranks last summer and went to the Holderness School. Think about a lineup of Nelson at the 1, Laguerre at the 2, King at the 3, Mathieu at the 4 and Desrosiers at the 5. 2 Division I players, 4 scholarship players and a frontcourt that goes 6'8", 6'7" and 6'11". Now THAT's scary!
Lastly, on behalf of the NH basketball community, I say farewell to the 13 players who did play for NH yesterday. They might not have won the game, but they represented their state with pride. Farewell to them, and good luck in college and with all of their future endeavors.
Also, farewell and good luck to EJ Perry. Yesterday Perry coached NH players for the final team as he will now serve as the head football coach at Andover High School. In his time at Salem, he built a boys volleyball dynasty, and won back-back-to-back Class L basketball titles (including an undefeated season). There's no question New Hampshire is losing one of it's top coaches. He will be missed at Salem, and by the entire state in general. Best of luck to him at Andover.
Girls Game Recap
In the first game of the day yesterday over at the University of Vermont, the NH girls won it 60-56. The first half of this game was very sloppy on both sides, but it had a very good finish. NH was led by Tiffany Ruffin and Cammie Warner, who are 2 of the 3 players on the team who are going on to play Division I college basketball (Emily Siegart is the other).
Before this game the matchup folks were buzzing about was matchup between Ruffin (headed to Boston College) and Vermont's Abbey Lalime (headed to UMass). Both players are 5'7", strong, athletic guards. And the two were matched up quite a bit. The two of them really went after each other hard. There was some bumping, pushing and physical play between the two and at a couple different points Ruffin broke into a smile in the midst of all of the contact. You could tell that neither player wanted to be out-shined by the other. In the end however, there's no question that Ruffin got the better of the matchup. Lalime scored 0 points on the afternoon and went 0-7 from the field, while Ruffin lead all scorers with 16 points to go with 4 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 block.
Now like I said, the first half of this game was very sloppy. Between the two squads, there were 36 turnovers, 23 fouls and 13 missed free throws...in the first half alone! Now to be fair, both teams did play excellent defense. No basket came easy on either end and both teams extended their half court defense, really getting after it and pressuring the basketball. New Hampshire led Vermont 28-19 at the half. You got the sense that both teams were glad the half was over, and they were eager to get back out there and play some better basketball in the second half after regrouping in the locker room.
To open the second half, NH cleaned their play up, but VT dd not. They continued making turnovers, and the NH girls took advantage, turning them into easy baskets on the other end. Ruffin (Winnacunnet), Warner (Keene), Samantha Walker (Manchester Central) and Jordan Ferland (Fall Mountain) all played vital roles in this run as NH went up 37-22 (their largest lead of the game).
What happened next was an unfortunate incident. NH was on the fast break, the 5'3" Walker went up for a layup and was blocked from behind by a bigger VT player. Walker came down hard on her knee and was down on the floor in pain. She had to be carried off the floor by asst. coach Nick Hill and didn't return to the game. The last time I saw a play similar to this (a player going up for a breakaway layup, getting hit from behind by a bigger player and coming down hard on their knee and leaving the game) was when Trinity's Zach Stevens tore his ACL when Pinkerton's Ben Proulx fouled him from behind on the break. I can only hope that Walker's diagnosis isn't the same as Stevens'. If so, it would likely result in Walker missing her entire freshman season this year for the girls basketball team at Plymouth State.
Following the injury timeout is when VT started to clean up their sloppy play, and make a comeback. After trailing by as many as 15 points in the second half, VT tied the game up with under 3 minutes to play. Their comeback charge was led by guards Tonya Conley (little sister of UNH guard Tyrone Conley), Elizabeth Douglas, Brittany Pfaff and forward Kaitlin Geary. Surprisingly, Lalime was a non-factor in the second half for Vermont. Warner fouled out of the game with about 3 minutes left, and this also worked in VT's favor.
However, that is also when Ruffin asserted herself, making some big baskets and free throws down the stretch. The last 2 or 3 minutes of this game were very exciting, with both teams going back and forth trading BIG buckets. In the end, the NH girls made more plays and free throws when it counted, and they won it 60-56. Anna Prohl (Kearsarge) had a strong all around game for NH, and was especially effective down the stretch providing steady play.
Warner, who is headed to Quinnipiac on a basketball scholarship, won the MVP award for NH. She had 11 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, to go with 3 steals, 2 assists and 2 blocks. She did however, have 8 turnovers and she fouled out with 3 minutes left so she wasn't on the floor during crunch time. This is why some folks thought Ruffin should have gotten the award. Personally, I would have given it to Ruffin, but both her and Warner were both deserving of the honor.
Prohl and Ferland are a couple of players who are definitely underrated because of where they go to school, but I was impressed with both in yesterday's contest. In the fall, Prohl is headed to Bowdoin and Ferland will be attending Endicott.
Other players who performed well for NH were Siegart (Winnacunnet), Callie King (Londonderry), AJ Guidi (Pinkerton) and Rosa Drummond (Portsmouth).
I said it in my boys game recap, but I'll say it here as well. Each player on the NH girls team should be proud to be on this squad. They all worked extremely hard during their careers to get to this point. The rest of the team included Kyla Gustavson (Nashua North), Sara Peterson (Lebanon), Skyler Makkinje (Hillsboro-Deering) and Emily Pelletier (Groveton).
For the boys recap, mentioned some players who could have made their team better. It isn't quite the same on the girls side, but there are still 4 girls who would have certainly made a difference for NH. One is Christiana Bakolas from Manchester Central. Bakolas combined with Sammie Walker to form one of the best backcourts in the state. Bakolas has a full ride to play hoops at Bentley, and some "basketball people" have told me that they feel she's just as good as Ruffin. Then there's Karima Gabriel, an athletic 6'2" post player who went from Trinity High to prep school before last season. And two players who many would argue are 2 of the top 10 players in this class (Laura Pierce of Pinkerton and Lindsey Mahoney of Winnacunnet) were left off the squad.
Again, not taking anything away from the girls who did represent NH yesterday over at UVM. In fact it is even more impressive for the NH girls that they won the game yesterday without those 4 players I just mentioned.
Ok, so I want to keep the discussion here about basketball, and about the 26 New Hampshire athletes who played in the games yesterday. But I know that I promised to review the Sheraton hotel that I (as well as the players, their families and the coaches) stayed in...so I'll keep it brief. (I'll also keep it brief because according to statistics on Wikipedia, this post is already way too long for the average American's attention span!)
First, the positives. Very friendly, helpful staff. Plenty of available parking. Very convenient location, right in downtown Burlington. You leave the place, and you're about a 20 second drive from Patrick Gymnasium (where the games were played). You're also about a 20 second drive away from getting on route 89-South (which is the way to get home). Other positives, the inside of the hotel is very spacious, and also elegant. There is a nice lobby, as well as a heated pool and fitness center available. The rooms are very nice and well kept. The beds are comfortable. It's nice and cool throughout the hotel, especially in the rooms where you can pump the AC all you want.
Now for the negatives. I will keep these to a minimum, since I would like to be invited back again next year to broadcast the games and the hotel is very gracious to host all of the folks involved in the games. All I will say is this...no tooth paste available in the rooms. If you want tooth paste you have to go up to front desk where they'll give you a tiny packet of it. I didn't bring any of my own, because I figured there would be some in my room. Also, there's no fan in the bathroom either. Because of this and the hot temperatures and it took me forever to dry off after getting out of the shower. The swimming pool could be cleaner. The bottom is a little dirty, and while I was working on my breast-stroke I ended up with a clump of a random person's hair on my hand (I know it wasn't my hair because I have a buzz cut). Lastly, no wireless internet available in the rooms. It is available in the lobby though. If you want it in your room you have to pay $10 a day, no thanks.
Ok, so that does it. All in all, a very nice hotel and a very memorable weekend. The folks who ran the event (Steve Gentile and George Benton, Jr.) run a first class operation. I was glad to be a part of it. hey took great care of me, and hope they'll have me back again next year to work the broadcasts. I also enjoyed working with George Commo, who was my broadcast partner. The banquet on Friday night was a real pleasure.
And as for my adventures downtown Friday night after the banquet was over...well what happens in Burlington stays in Burlington!