BOSTON –- Notes, thoughts and observations from the second day of the Shooting Touch Shootout, at Emmanuel College, where a capacity crowd watched Central Catholic nearly pull off the unthinkable:
The Miracle of Central Catholic: Just how good was Central Catholic tonight against legendary St. Anthony (N.J.), one of the nation’s best high school basketball programs? After shaking hands with legendary Friars coach Bob Hurley, Central coach Rick Nault was greeted by a fan looking for an autograph -– not from stars Tyler Nelson or Nick Cambio, but from Nault himself.
That’s right, the person coaching opposite renowned Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley signed an autograph in the post-game.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” chuckled Central football coach Chuck Adamopoulos from over his shoulder, along with about a half-dozen others, as Nault penned the first John Hancock of his coaching career on the back of a roster.
Hurley won’t hesitate to let you know this is not your typical St. Anthony, devoid of any superstars; but if Central had lost by even 20 in this one, folks would have left the Yawkey Center talking about what a moral victory it might have been.
So how did it come to this? Nault admitted he didn’t have a detailed scouting report on the Friars (and, coming off an emotional win over archrival Andover the night before, can you blame him?), but it wasn’t like the Raiders did anything tricky to catch them off-guard. They didn’t hit a barrage of three’s. They didn’t score quick points off of a press. They simply went right at the Friars, going elbow for elbow and matching their physicality.
“It was one of those games where we weren’t real sure about them. This is a veteran team," Hurley said. "They’ve got two good handlers in the backcourt and then their front court guys can all put it on the floor. The biggest plus for us in this game was that Berroa was in foul trouble. If Berroa had played, Berroa’s got a motor. I don’t know what we would’ve done with him out there, with the way the young kid Cambio, I thought played terrific.
"And the kid inside, [Doug] Gemmell, is a horse. He’s one of those kids you love to coach in high school. So the pieces for them fit very well. We are at best, a work in progress. I mean, a pretty good work in progress. We have some depth, but we’re not defined as to what we’re good at, and what individuals we can count on from game to game.”
And maybe the answer lies somewhere in that quote. Gemmell, a captain for the Raiders, isn't so much a power forward as much as he is an offensive lineman -- or better yet, a pugilist. Going up against the Friars' bigs, he was fearless, digging right into players' midsections and brawling for loose balls and rebounds. On the wing, he demonstrated a surprising amount of skill handling the ball, and showed his range from 20 feet out.
And every night, all of it is sprinkled with frenetic energy. An hour before tipoff, he's already fidgeting in place, twitching about, hyperventilating.
"Six-three power forward, he's old man basketball, but he gets it done," Nault said. "Tough, tough kid. The kids feed off of him. He's our leader, he's strong, and he gets it done on both ends."
Minutes before gametime in the locker room, Raiders folks will tell you, is when he sets the tone. In settings like tonight, he'll scream "No fear" repeatedly at his teammates, telling them, "If you have any fear, get out of this locker room."
"He goes nuts, he goes absolutely nuts, he gets us going," said junior Nick Cambio. "He goes crazy, he doesn't care what he says, he just does what he has to do. That's why he's our captain and our leader."
Said Nault, "I ask you to spend a few minutes in our locker room before a game, just witness what his energy's like. Very emotional kid, puts his heart and soul into everything we do every day. He does all of the little things for us."
Classical Conditioning: The pace with which Central opened its contest tonight was, in short, frenetic. The Raiders were at times kamikaze-like in their man-to-man defense, to the point where even players like Tyler Nelson and Lucas Hammel -- guards normally lauded for their offensive production -- were prying balls loose and harrassing their men all over the halfcourt.
It was wondered aloud by several on press row whether the Raiders could keep this pace up over 32 minutes. As usual, the answer is never as simple as just "Team A wanted it more than Team B".
A rigorous practice regimen seemed to have Central prepared for St. Anthony's methodical but explosive style of basketball. There's a good amount of emphasis on conditioning and defense in Central's practices, a mantra perhaps best explicated in their full-court "shell" defensive pressure drills. For sometimes as much as a half-hour straight, players will pair up with one another and take turns pressuring the offense from end to end, at high intensity, with a reduction in conditioning rewarded to the best performers.
"We're pretty exhausted [by the end], but doing it every day gets your stamina up," Cambio said. "You just get better every day."
Hill steadily making strides: One of the most fun players to watch this season will be Mansfield sophomore forward Brendan Hill, considered one of the best Class of 2015 prospects in the MIAA. He's already made a name for himself as a wide receiver during the fall, with plays like this. Tonight, he entertained with plays like the Larry Bird-esque one he made in the fourth quarter, stealing a long outlet pass at halfcourt and driving all the way in, flipping the ball behind his back and finishing at the rim with a soft touch.
After the first quarter against New Mission, he was on pace for 36 points and 24 rebounds (he finished with 22 and 12), cleaning up around the boards and stretching the defense with perimeter shots. Yesterday against Amityville (N.Y.), he drew 6-foot-9 center Zack Tannis, but went right at his midsection, helping shore up a Hornets defense that rallied for an overtime win.
On the gridiron, his name is already being tossed around as a Division 1 FBS prospect, either at wide receiver or tight end. On the hardwood, his ceiling is high, able to fit multiple roles on the floor like seemingly everyone else in the Hornets' lineup.
The next step? In the eyes of head coach Mike Vaughan, it's adjusting to pressure.
"The second half, they [Mission] came out, they were still in man but his man was really overplaying," Vaughan said. "He's got to learn how to find a way to score in those situations. But his game sense, and his ability to play inside and out, and pass, is just outstanding in that regard."