"Courtside" is a column that will inform and educate basketball players parents and fans of all ages about the High School and College game, teams to watch and helpful information about the game of Basketball...
By Bob Whitney
Nexbball sports columnist
Happy New Year to all! The winter basketball season is in full tilt on multiple fronts; youth, high school and college. I have had the opportunity to see and also referee a ton of games, some good and unfortunately, some not.
I am going to start right out with my picks for the top high school teams and Player of the Year candidates. My apologies to the schools in central and western Mass, as I don’t know enough about you, but I promise to catch up with you next month. Let me know what you think, I welcome the feedback…
THE TOP FIVE
Braintree – The Wamps’ have steamrolled their way to an impressive 11-0 start, courtesy of a variety of smothering defensive schemes, plus incredible energy and intensity. Coach Kristen McDonnell’s team has yet to play their best basketball which is a bad omen to those that are interested in derailing the Wamps’ drive to a second consecutive south sectional crown.
Sophomore Ashley Russell has been masterful at the point. Along with Captain Rachel Norton (Bowdoin-bound), sophomore’s Bridget Herlihy and Molly Reagan and freshman pup Brianna Herlihy, Braintree’s starting five is as good as it gets.
Amazingly, the Wamps have lost five players (sadly 3 season-ending to seniors) to injury off their varsity roster and still have yet to be challenged for a full 32 minutes, although Fontbonne and Jen Gemma gave them a brief first quarter scare last week.
Consistent outside shooting, depth and their own youth are open items on my “To Do” list if they are to reach full potential.
OLIVER AMES - Caitlyn Abela, a POY candidate, is all that is advertised and more as she finishes a great career for the unbeaten Tigers. The 6’1” Abela (Scared Heart-bound) can work in-the-paint, drain the three with amazing consistency or take it to the rack. A true triple threat and with her size and skill set is almost impossible to guard straight up. Gimmicked defenses to stop Abela will allow other Tigers like Kaitlyn Lievi and Kristin Ellis to shine.
Senior leader Asia Minet-Mitchell, is a proven point guard who can run an offense with the best of them. The Tigers made an early statement with a “W” over last year’s south sectional finalist, Franklin (57-48). Sharon recently gave them a scare, 45-43.
The Tigers were able to handle a very tough North Attleboro squad on January 15.
With good health, OA is the front-runner for the D 2 south sectional crown.
PENTUCKET- What else can you say about this well-coached D 3 machine, they are unbeaten, including an impressive 59-39 thrashing of highly-regarded Billerica. They have performed at a consistently high level both in-state and out. I’d like to see them come on down south to play the likes of Braintree and Oliver Ames during the regular season. Better yet, how about a state semifinal date in “The GAHDEN” against Archbishop Williams?
ARCHBISHOP WILLIAMS- The Bishops Sarah Ryan is one of my favorite players to watch; unflappable poise and style. Leah Spencer has had some great games to spark the Bishops attack. The team is loaded with talent and looks like they have the horsepower, both inside and out, to make it to UMass Boston. A matchup with Pentucket in the state semi’s would be a dream come true.
BILLERICA- The Indians picked up a monster win over Central Catholic, 57-55, on January 11. Pentucket gave them a huge 59-39 beat down for their only loss of the season. They made a huge statement up north with the win over Central but must remain focused with another stiff test upcoming against Westford.
Other Top 20 teams:
Newton North (D1)
Central Catholic (D1)
North Attleborough (D1)
Lincoln Sudbury (D1)
Bishop Feehan (D2)
PLAYER OF THE YEAR CANDIDATES
Kelly Martin- SR – Scituate High School
Martin is one of the most intense competitors to lace em up in the last decade. The Stonehill-bound senior is poised for a signature season. After an offseason where she buffed up and worked hard to improve her outside shooting, Martin has led her team to a fast start which included a 33 point outing in a thrashing of previously unbeaten Abington. Although the Sailors fell from the ranks of the unbeaten, (Patriot League foe Duxbury), Martin’s play has reached another level that is head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. An athlete, leader and brilliant student she is my top pick for Player of the Year.
Caitlyn Abela- SR – Oliver Ames HighighHighH School
At 6’1”, Abela, is one of the most versatile players in the state for a player of her size. Has a deft touch from the outside, sleek moves down low and can take it to the hoop when required. If Martin falters, Abela is my next choice.
Olivia Healy- SR – Reading High School
I first saw Healy play in last year’s Garden semifinal thriller against Scituate. She impressed me then and continues to impress this season. Healy has terrific all-around basketball skill and poise. Like Abela, has the complete package, as well as a very sound basketball IQ. I would love to see another epic Garden battle with Martin this year. Healy is clearly the Best of the Best up north!
Jen Gemma- SR – Fontbonne Academy
A highly-skilled 6’ senior, who dominates play in the paint, but can score from beyond the arc if called upon. Gemma has impressed me with her silky smooth post play. She can score at will down low, with either hand, which is a rarity in the high school ranks. Bentley University should be very glad that she will be playing for them next year.
Infiniti Thomas-Waheed – JR – Newton North
A strong breakout season for this multi-talented, triple threat junior. After a shaky early December outing against Braintree Thomas-Waheed has been on a roll – scoring, rebounding and leading the Tigers defense. We will see how she does in the upcoming rematch with Braintree.
Others to watch:
Maddie Ganser – SR – Needham
Morgan Lamb – SR – N. Andover
Ashley Lutz – SR – Lincoln Sudbury
Brittany Lommano – SR – Billerica
Michaela North – SR- Duxbury
Ashley Russell – Soph – Braintree
Molly Bent – Soph – Barnstable
Bridget Herlihy – Soph – Braintree
Molly Reagan – Soph – Braintree
Leah Spencer – JR – Archbishop Williams
Lauren Petit – JR – Medfield
Samantha Hyslip – JR – Westford
Maggie Mulligan – JR – Boston Latin
Anyone can be an MVP
Here is some helpful advice on how you can become an MVP type player and that’s not MOST Valuable Player but MORE VALUABLE PLAYER!
Here are a few tips for players on how they can make themselves more valuable to their team and their coach!
1) Arrive at practice early and be the last one off the floor.
To be more valuable you have to act more valuable and that starts with putting in the extra time to work on your fundamentals to get better!
2) Talk with your coach and ask what two or three things you need to do to become more valuable and start working on those things immediately.
3) Put maximum effort in practice. Success in practice is essential to success in games. Again the fundamentals!
4) Talk and communicate on defense. The best coaches demand on-court communication. This is a key ingredient to successful team defense and successful team defense means winning programs!
5) Learn how to be a GREAT TEAMMATE in practice and on and off the court. Be an encourager not a discourager! Coaches at all levels love players with great attitudes; in practice, on the court and on the bench!
It’s all about the 2’s
Here is some valuable advice from basketball training guru Alan Stein:
-It takes 2 minutes to learn a new skill or move
-It takes 2 weeks to work on it daily until you have confidence in it
-It takes 2 months to be competent to use it in a game
If you haven’t already, catch a local college game in your area to watch what it takes to play at the next level if you are a developing youth or high school basketball player.
Some the teams that are having sensational seasons are:
Bentley College is currently the No 2 ranked team in Division 2. Bentley’s roster includes a number of home grown talent including; Lauren Battista (Oliver Ames), Caleigh Crowell (Worcester Academy) and Carlene Kluge (Reading).
Stonehill College is having a top 20 type year in Division 2 and has a bunch of former local high school stars on their roster.
These two NE-10 teams will collide for the second time this year on February 23, at Stonehill College.
Babson College and Tufts University are two of the top Division 3 teams in the eastern part of Massachusetts. Babson College senior Sarah Collins (Weymouth) is an All American. If you are interested in playing down low in college, Collins is the gold standard in these parts for how to be a great post player.
For those in the western part of the state, take in an Amherst College game. The Lord Jeffs are a perennial NCAA D 3 Final Four participant and this year is no different. They are loaded!
See you next month and don’t forget to work on those fundamentals!
P.S. Register for the March Player Showcase at Tabor Academy! Division 2 and 3 college coaches will be watching!
You can also follow Bob on Twitter: @WhitneyBob