NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -- Still sleeping on the Knights?
Time to wake up. Thought by several media outlets -- including us -- to be a dark horse in a competitive MIAA Division 2 field this season, North Andover is quickly eroding that perception as the wins continue to pile up. Contender might be the more appropriate term after the Knights knocked off East Boston tonight after trailing by double-digits in the first half.
At the heart of it all is senior captain Zach Karalis, an even-keeled scorer with a sweet stroke from deep, who is currently averaging 17 points, six rebounds and four assists. The WPI commit gave the Knights the lead for good with a three-pointer that made it 45-41 with three minutes to go in the game. After the exciting win, Karalis talked to ESPNBoston.com about some of his favorite plays to run, his improving big men, and what it's like facing arguably the best shot-blocker in the country.
Q: In the preseason, some of us were calling you guys sleepers in Division 2. What kind of goals did you guys set for yourselves?
A: "We came out and wanted to win the [Greater Lawrence] Christmas Tournament. We didn't do that, we had a tough loss to Lawrence, but we thought that made us stronger as a team. And then we definitely wanted to go undefeated, but didn't keep that. But we wanted to beat East Boston tonight, and prove to everyone that we can play."
Q: You've got a nice stroke from long range. How many shots do you put up in a typical day?
A: "Usually before practice, I'll do some form shooting. Then after practice, I'll take like 100-200 shots from the three-point line."
Q: Do you practice outside of your scheduled time?
A: "Yeah, I play basketball year-round, so basically every day."
Q: By that I mean, do you go back home and hit the driveway?
A: "Oh yeah, I've got myself a nice driveway, so I do it like every day."
Q: What's the sense of school pride with you guys this year?
A: "Yeah, our school has a good history, a lot of great teams. We've been in the [MIAA] tournament like 46, 47 years in a row, so we just want to keep it going as long as we can."
Q: Not a lot of teams in the MIAA have size this year, but you've got several nice post players to work with, that seem to move well around the floor.
A: "Mike Moroney and Isaiah Nelsen have been playing great for us. John [Miller] coming off the bench, has played great minutes for us, too. They're just getting stronger physically, and better. They've played really well so far."
Q: What's your favorite play to run?
A: "I like 'Gonzaga'. It's like, a double-screen for a three. I like it because I get to shoot at three, so..[laughter]."
Q: Who are some of the best players you've faced in your high school career?
A: "In AAU [with the New England Storm] I faced Nerlens Noel, I faced all those guys. Basically, anyone on BABC that I faced, Nerlens Noel especially."
Q: Since you mentioned Nerlens, I don't know if you caught some of the news over the weekend, but people are starting to compare him to NBA-caliber shot blockers -- Ewing, Mourning, etc. Where does he rank as far as players you've faced?
A: "He's definitely No. 1. I remember he blocked my shot pretty badly one time [laughter]."
Q: Do you think the comparisons are fair?
A: "Definitely. He's a great player."
Q: Take me through your pre-game routine on game day.
A: "Usually, I go home, I get a bite to eat, usually pasta and noodles. Then I come real early to the gym, usually get shots up on this hoop right here (points to opposite end of court). That's at probably 4, and the game's at 7, so usually I go upstairs and jump rope. Then I relax with the team, and go over the game plan with coach."
Q: Your team in one word.
A: "I don't want to say underrated anymore. I just want to say very good. Talented."