WAREHAM, Mass. -- After a nearly-unblemished run in 2011-12, which ended in their second Division 3 South championship in three seasons, the five-time defending South Coast Conference champion Wareham Vikings have reloaded, and are one of several favorites to capture another South crown. Last night, they hosted a scrimmage against Taunton, which is moving to the Hockomock League this season and is considered a sleeper in D1 South.
A few notes and observations:
Fernandez easing back in: The player everyone most looked forward to seeing last night was point guard Darien Fernandez, a 5-foot-6 waterbug who made ESPN Boston's All-State Team last season and starred this summer with the Boston Amateur Basketball Club (BABC) on the AAU circuit.
When Fernandez is in his element, he is one of the more fascinating players to watch in MIAA competition, with his fervent tempo on the fast break, flair for the no-look passes, physical on-ball defense, and his dramatic high-arching three-pointers. Last night was just his third day of practicing, after sitting out most of last week with a thigh bruise suffered at the end of football season (he set the school's all-time rushing touchdown record on Thanksgiving, against rival Bourne).
Some of his passes were not clean, hitting them with darts that either fumbled off teammates' hands or forced them out of position. Other times they were smooth, including one sequence of transition plays where he followed up a no-look pass with a bounce pass for consecutive easy baskets.
"He's about a week behind right now," Wareham head coach Kevin Brogioli said. "We've been conservative in bringing him back, but he'll be alright."
The Vikings did well in half-court sets, but there is one play in particular they ran several times that sticks out. Overloading to one side, Fernandez takes a handoff at the strong side wing and throws a lob over the top of the defense to a guard running off a screen to the weak side post.
"We've been running that for a few years now, and we try to hide it off of different sets," Brogioli said. "We usually try to save it for when we really need it."
Two Towers: Make no mistake, it's same as it ever was with the Vikings' offensive philosophy -- run and gun, and run some more. Of interest, though, will be how they utilize 6-foot-7 forwards Jeff Houde and Quentin Silveira. Houde looks to have added some muscle from the end of last season, while Silveira is more of a bruiser down low, borne of his alternate duty as an offensive lineman for the Vikings' football squad.
Several times, Brogioli put both players on the floor at once, which allowed Houde to play out on the wing more, and run a two-man game with Fernandez. In one sequence, Fernandez fed Houde off a high pick-and-roll for an easy layup. On another, the two nearly connected for an alley-oop off a fast break.
"We're fooling around with lineups right now to see what clicks the most," Brogioli said. "We actually did more with [the Silveira-Houde lineup] last scrimmage than we did this scrimmage, but we're still figuring out what kind of team this is. [Houde] has a decent handle, and he's quick and athletic for his size, so it does free him up a bit."
Almost, but not quite: The Tigers showed some good flashes, especially on the defensive end, where forwards Fuaz Mass and Gerald Cortijo plugged the lane and forced a shot clock violation in the second quarter. But there is also plenty of work to be done.
After guard Shaquille Davis led the Tigers on a surprise run in D1 South last season, the Tigers are pegged as a contender in the Hockomock League's Kelly-Rex division. But if they are to hang with the likes of Franklin and Mansfield, there needs to be improvement following last night's performance.
"We should have played better," Tigers head coach Charlie Dacey said. "Our practices have been good, and obviously we've got the kind of depth that we can go 5-on-5 in practices. But we couldn't handle their game speed. They play fast, and we want to play fast, too, but we couldn't handle their speed. And obviously, we couldn't handle Fernandez. He's just a different dimension."
Long distance: Wareham nailed a slew of three-pointers, some of them coming in bunches. To end the first quarter, Fernandez broke off his man to the top of the key and his a high-arching fall-away three just before the buzzer. In the fourth quarter, the Vikings hit four 3's in a row to take an 18-2 lead in the stanza.
"We don't have the same shooters that we had last year," Brogioli said. "But we've got to find some people to step up, because Darien will create and hit people for open shots, because Darien's going to get so much attention."