NEWTON, Mass. -- It's a season of change at Newton North High School. Last year's Division 1 South runner-up is going small, after a nice run the last few years with big men Greg Kelley, Tevin Falzon, and his younger brother Aaron Falzon. With both Falzons off to prep school, the Tigers are for once without ideal height, and are adopting a most fast-paced mentality as they get set to run the Bay State Carey gauntlet.
With a reloaded squad in defending champ Weymouth, as well as improvements from Brookline, Needham and Braintree, it's expected to be one of the most wide-open Carey Division races in recent memoery. Leading the charges is guard Michael Thorpe, a returning Bay State Conference All-Star who will be taking a new role this season as one of the lead scoring options, rather than a distributor.
Thorpe had a pretty good run over the offseason with the Middlesex Magic AAU squad, capped with a win over the powerhouse Boston Amateur Basketball Club (BABC) last October. Head coach Mike Crotty Jr. had the following to say about Thorpe following the summer run:
"Thorpe emerged as a terrific combo guard for the Magic all season long. He has blazing speed and quickness which he uses to bother opposing guards and to create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. He has a very good shooting touch from deep and a great ability to finish in traffic. Thorpe will provide a versatile guard with great scoring ability at the next level."
Thorpe spoke with ESPNBoston.com following a Tuesday afternoon practice, to talk about his preparation for the upcoming season.
Q: What kind of goals have you set for yourselves this year?
A: "Just try to do the best we can. Last season was last season, we can never say we're going to go that far again this year. As a team, I think we'll do pretty well."
Q: The theme this year for many of the top MIAA schools is going to be what they do in spite of their lack of size. You guys are probably one of the prime examples of this. How does the gameplan change with this personnel?
A: "We want to get up and down, pressure. We're not as big as recent years, so we're going to have to use our speed and athleticism to get up and down and make teams play faster then they would like."
Q: How has it changed for you? The last couple years, you've had a pretty good high-low game with Greg Kelley and then the Falzon brothers. This year it's a different look in the frontcourt.
A: "It is. It makes me want to shoot a little more, because we don't have the scoring presence that we used to. I'm not bringing the ball up as much. I'm more getting out on the wing, out on the break to score a little more, so that's a bit of a different look."
Q: How competitive do you guys anticipate the Bay State Conference being this year?
A: "I think it'll be pretty competitive. Needham just beat Lexington, that's a big win for the league. It looks like Braintree will be pretty good, Weymouth, Brookline, so the league's going to be very competitive."
Q: You went off in a game against the BABC this fall. How exciting was that?
A: "It was huge. BABC was the national champs, obviously they were down a little bit, but whenever you get a shot at them you've got to play your best. We came out big, and it was huge, really huge. Especially going into the season, knocking off BABC and going right into the season."
Q: Where would you say you've improved the most?
A: "It's hard to say. I think just making my overall game efficient. Not over-dribbling, or taking the forced shot. I just think efficiency is where I've improved the most."
Q: What's your favorite play to run?
A: "I don't know. I just like getting out on the break and having the game flow. Not really a play per se, but just having the game go up and down."
Q: How do you prepare for the game?
A: "I like a good snack, usually something with honey because honey is a good supplement that gives you energy. It's not like sugar, where you get energy and then you crash afterwards. So I like to get a really good snack, and then I just focus. I talk to my team, talk to my coaches about what the [other] team is going to bring, then I just go out and play."
Q: What's going to be the biggest keys for you guys as a team this season?
A: "As coach [Paul Connolly] says, communication. It's a brand new team than last year, got a lot of young kids, and we've just got to communicate and work through it. We're going to win games, yeah, but we have to communicate. How many we win, who knows?"
Q: Can you tell us about the tattoos on your upper left arm?
A: "I've got "Family First" [just above the elbow], because no matter what happens, basketball, whatever, your family's always going to be there. Then I have the sun rise [across the lower bicep] -- like early in the day, the sun rises and family's the first thing you think about. Then up top I have a basketball and then night, because I like to end the night with basketball. But I always have family first at the beginning of the day. So it's kind of like a day -- an ellipse. [On each letter of 'Family' is a different family member's name] Susan's my mother, Jason's my brother, Latoya's my sister, Walker's my brother, Emily's my sister, and then Patrick is my brother."
Q: Did that hurt?
A: "Not as much as people think. After a while, it gets numb, and then it's fine after that."
Q: How excited are you for the first game?
A: "Aw, extremely excited. We're going to Norwood, they've got a brand new gym, it's going to be the first game ever there at that gym, so it's going to be huge. I'm very excited."