Sunday, July 22, 2012

Summertime Snapshot: D-II Boys Basketball

Our Summertime Snapshot Series Continues today with Division II boys basketball. We’ll be taking a brief look at who the top teams and players will be in the upcoming 2012-2013 season.

It is safe to say that things will be a little different at the top this season. The two teams who met in last season’s title game were Portsmouth and Bedford. But Portsmouth graduated their top six players off that team including D-II Player of the Year Kamahl Walker. Meanwhile, Bedford is moving up to Division I.

The other two teams who made it to the final four in 2012 were Coe-Brown and Hanover. Coe-Brown graduated four starters including their three best players (Darren Doyon, Skyler Mitchell and Tommy Darling) and Hanover also graduates their three best players (Dan Gorman, Alex Krass and Roland Hermann-Stanzel). So the door is open for some new teams to get their chance to move up the ranks.

Pembroke is the Hands Down Favorite
Let’s not beat around the bush here – Pembroke is the heavy favorite to win this thing. They are deeper and have more talent than anybody in D-II and possibly in the entire state. The Spartans have a legit shot at an undefeated season. Head coach Matt Alosa (one of the best guards to ever come out of NH) won a state title but is still looking for his first as a coach. This could definitely be the year.

Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves though. After all, Pembroke was one of the favorites to win the title last season (along with Portsmouth) but they ended up losing in the quarterfinals. That’s why they play the games.

With that being said, this really should be Pembroke’s year. The other top teams from last year either lost their best players are moving up a division. Meanwhile, the Spartans return their three best players, four of their starters and seven kids who played key roles on last year’s squad.

Leading the way is their ‘Big Three’ of Patrick Welch, Rene Maher and Matt Persons. Welch is only a junior but will likely eclipse the 1,000 point mark this winter. He could be the NHIAA’s best player for each of the next two years.

Maher is a tough, scrappy point guard who can drive and kick to open shooter or take it all the way to the rim. He has a very good handle and a solid jumper. Maher enters his fourth season as Pembroke’s starting point guard - he’s played in a lot of big games and there isn’t any kind of defense he hasn’t seen by now.

Persons was the team’s 6th man as a freshman and now enters his third year as a starter. He can stretch the defense with the ability to shoot the basketball and if you play up on him too much he’ll either cut back door for a layup or drive past his man off the dribble. When you have Persons on wing and Welch on the other wing firing threes and Maher driving into the lane and kicking it out to them it is a very difficult offense to defend as there is always going to be someone open.

In the paint you have a pair of 6-foot-3 forwards in junior Jordan Williams and sophomore Andrew Houde, who are both young but very talented players. Williams is strong and athletic and is more of an inside player, while Houde is more versatile and has the ability to not only battle in the post but also step outside and handle the rock or shoot the outside shot.

Junior guard Brad Rhoades and sophomore forward Dominic Timbas were both key players off the bench last season and will once again provide depth to a stacked team.
This is a very fast team, they have a lot of kids who can handle the basketball and shoot it. They play an up-tempo type game which is fun to watch.

The other advantage they have is playing together year round, as each of their top seven players also plays for the same AAU team – the GS Raiders, which is coached by Matt Alosa’s father Frank Alosa and Pembroke assistant coach Dave Segal. They not only play together as a unit year round, but they get to work on their half court sets and defenses year round as well.

Souhegan and Lebanon are the Top Challengers
Yes, Pembroke is the heavy favorite. And yes, they might be on the verge of an undefeated championship season. But nothing is certain. These are teenage kids here, and anything can happen. Pembroke could slip up. And if they do, it will probably be either Souhegan or Lebanon who beats them.

Souhegan – Senior point guard Brandon Len is a preseason Player of the Year candidate at point guard for the Sabers. Len was a solid player as a junior but really had a breakout season last year as a junior, making 1st team all-state. He has gotten even better though, and this summer in the BST Summer League he scored 50 points in one game vs. Milford.

The other key returning players are guard Tyler Ford, wing Zach Simmonds and forward Jake Kennedy. Len, Ford, Simmonds and Kennedy are all seniors, they’ve all been playing together for a LONG time and they have good chemistry together on the court. Len, Ford and Simmonds can all shoot the rock, Len makes his teammates better with great passing ability and Kennedy is the big man in the middle who can score, rebound and defend the paint.

Head coach Mike Heaney enters his 5th season at the helm and has done a great job of turning around a program that had been struggling. His teams are always tough, physical and rebound well. Incidentally, that is the one weakness that Pembroke has and it’s why the Sabers have a shot at beating them. Good luck to anyone on Pembroke (or on any team for that matter) trying to box out or drive into the lane against Kennedy, who is a rock solid 6-foot-4 and over 280 lbs.

Lebanon – Lebanon is another team that over the years has played a tough, physical style. Last winter when I made my annual trip to the Upper Valley for the Lebanon vs. Hanover girls/boys doubleheader in the boys game it was one of the most physical games I saw all year.

This year look for 6-foot-4 forward Matt Cowles and Dominick Morrill to be the guys who will be mixing it up in the paint and getting physical with opponents. Cowles and guard David Hampton give Lebanon a dynamic scoring duo, with Cowles punishing opponents inside and Hampton draining threes from the outside. Not many teams in D-II will be able to match up with this duo. Hampton is a four year varsity player, a three year starter and will go over 1,000 points at some point this winter. More than likely he will be a 1st team all-state player and Cowles will make the 2nd team.

Other key players coming back are junior wing Nic Shepherd and senior guard Vincent Guerin. Both players started some games last year, and in the other games they were key players off the bench. Opposing teams will probably press Lebanon or at least throw double teams at Hampton near half court to get the ball out of his hands. So Shepherd, Guerin and also Kalin Sou will have to step up and make plays to keep defenses honest and take the pressure off Hampton.

Also Watch Out for These Teams
Bishop Brady – They are definitely a team on the rise. Point guard Jourdain Bell was a freshman sensation last season for Giants. Not only is he back, but joining him now is his little brother Joe who will be a freshman this year. The Bell brothers were nearly unbeatable when they played together in middle school, and they’re hoping to have the same success at the high school level, where they’ll be able to play together for the next three years.

Senior Stephen Desmarais is a versatile player who can play inside or out. He is one of the many former Concord High players who has transferred to another school over the last few years. Desmarais can rebound, take it to the rim or stick the mid-range jumper. Him and the Bell brothers is Bishop Brady’s version of the ‘Big Three.’ That’s a lot of B’s! It’s also ironic that the Bell brothers go to Bishop Brady considering they both play AAU for the Bishop Elite. There’s always Bishop on their uniforms!

Another player who has been playing well this summer for Brady is junior guard Gary Clark. Mark Yeaton enters his third season as head coach and he has done a nice job of turning the program around since taking over. This definitely has a chance to be a dangerous squad.

John Stark – Not many teams will have an answer for the size inside of 6-foot-8 center Zach Grattan. Not many teams will have an answer for the quickness and all-out hustle of point guard Nicolas Lloyd either. So good luck to opposing teams, since they will have to defend both of these guys at the same time.

Grattan and Lloyd will be one of the best duos in the division, and they’re both seniors. Grattan has a rapidly developing post game, and is very active in the paint. Lloyd is only about 5-foot-8, but plays is lightning quick, has a very good handle and plays with a ton of heart.

Stark has a solid group of veteran players to support their star duo, and a coach in Mike Smith who has been there for a long time and will have his kids well prepared every time out.

Hanover – Yes, they may have graduated their three best players. But this is a team that simply does not have down years. They have a strong feeder program and one of the most underrated coaches in the state in Tim Winslow.
Returning for the Marauders is senior forward Cyrus Rothwell-Ferraris, senior wing Liam Gantrish and the back court of senior Ryan O’Rourke and junior John Flory. All four of them played valuable roles on a team that went 16-2 during the regular season and made it to the final four.

Rothwell-Ferraris was one of the team’s leading scorers last year. He can shoot it from the outside and is also a very tough defender. Flory is a quick slasher, O’Rourke is a steady player who can hit shots and has a high basketball I.Q. (he’s the son of Hanover girls coach Dan O’Rourke). Gantrish does a little bit of everything. All of these guys will have to take on bigger roles than they had last season due to the graduation losses.

Portsmouth – The defending champs will slide down the standings a little bit, and that’s understandable considering they graduated their top six players. But don’t expect them to slide too much. The back court of junior Ben Landry and senior Jack Mackey were key players off the bench last year. They got very good experience by not only playing in some BIG games but also by practicing everyday against Kamahl Walker and Billy Lane.

Senior Travis MacDonald and junior Patrick Glynn are also returning varsity players who practiced everyday against the likes of Kyle DiCesare and Gregg Tsougranis.
Portsmouth also has one of the best coaches in the state in Jim Mulvey. The guy just knows how to win games, how to prepare his teams and how to get the most out of his players. They also had a VERY good JV team last season, players like junior guard Nick Mackey, sophomore wing Justis Mattis and sophomore forward Devon Wilson-Miles to move up to the varsity and make an impact.

Windham – This could be the surprise team of the 2012-2013 season. Yes, they’re only a third year varsity program and yes, they only won 6 games last year. But hey, there’s not much depth this year in D-II so these guys could actually get a home playoff game. They return 12 kids of last year’s team, including four starters. The returning starters are Joe Lorenz, Andrew Lowman, Danny Cannone and Conor Redmond. Lowman could be one of the breakout players in D-II this season, as he has really been working hard and showing rapid improvements in his game. Cannone is a good shooter and one of D-II’s best defenders, while Redmond and Lorenz can both score inside and rebound. Tucker Lippold is anoher kid who can stretch defenses and shoot it.

Others…
Pelham loses a lot of talent to graduation, but junior guard Jake Vaiknoras will be one of the top player in D-II. Kevin Cheam, Joe McArthur, Alex Newton and Brad Pomerleau are also solid players. Pelham has a good coach in Matt Regan and a bunch of tough, blue collar kids…Coe-Brown is another team that got hit hard by graduation losses and will be a little down but they are always competitive and Josh Jackman and Damon Doyle give them a nice returning duo…Merrimack valley will once again be a competitive team, led by junior point guard Ryan Otis (son of head coach Rich Otis)…St. Thomas is currently looking for a new head coach after Pat Quinn stepped down after just one season. Regardless of who the coach ends up being you can look for senior wing Jon Nartiff to have a big year…Goffstown shooting guard Jake Mount and Oyster River's Anthony Shea should both also be in for big senior seasons. And Hollis-Brookline will also be a solid team, led by the senior back court of Connor Walsh and PJ Flaum.

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