With the majority of teams about a third of the way through their regular season schedule, we reflect on individuals who have stepped up for their team when the lights are bright, underclassmen who have exceeded expectations, and breakout players to keep an eye on for the rest of the season. Included also are comments from opposing MIAA coaches, on the condition of confidentiality.
REASSERTING THEIR TALENT
Nate Anderson, 6-7 Sr. F, New Mission
Anderson’s improvement has been well documented this year, especially in his rebounding and effort on the defensive end of the floor. New Mission lacked floor leadership last year, as seen with their early bounce from the Division 2 North tournament, but Anderson has stepped up in a big way this year for the Titans, who have perhaps the toughest schedule in all of MIAA hoops. How far supremely-talented New Mission goes in this tournament this year will ride largely on the shoulders of their senior forward.
Opposing coach’s take: “I always thought Nate was talented and wondered why he never played more. He’s about 6-6, 6-7, which is a center at this level, but he handles the ball and is mobile like a guard. Now that he is a senior and he has become older, more experienced, and is coming out of his shell, I think he has the potential to be dominant.”
Sam Dowden, 6-5 Sr. F, Andover
Expectations were high for Andover coming into this season, with several veteran guards back and one of the area’s more formidable frontcourt duos in Dowden and sophomore Connor Merinder. Merinder has been out of action since mid-December with a wrist injury, and since then Dowden has stepped up in a big way for the Golden Warriors. Andover sits at 5-2, with their only losses coming by a point to top-ranked Central Catholic and by ten to second-ranked Lowell. Dowden has led them in scoring and rebounding thus far, but he and the Warriors have their toughest challenges ahead of them with four MVC teams ranked in the top 15.
Opposing coach’s take: “A matchup nightmare because he can post up against smaller players and is extremely skilled on the perimeter when you try to match up with a bigger player on him. Sam never seems to get rattled or take bad shots during a game. Plays the game the right way and is always a class act on and off the court.”
Tyler Nelson, 6-2 Jr. G, Central Catholic
Nelson is the most dangerous shooter in the state, undoubted and no questions asked, but what has made him stand out so far this year is how versatile he has become. Playing AAU this summer with BABC, Nelson had a significant opportunity to improve his ball handling, his ability to run an offense, and his defensive reliability. At the end of last season Nelson’s name was always came accompanied by remarks about his shooting ability, but he has become one of the better all-around scorers in the area and a reliable floor leader for Coach Rick Nault.
Opposing coach’s take: “I think he's very crafty. I think that he has high IQ. You cannot relax at any time, because he'll knock down three's. If you over-close on him, he's crafty enough to take that extra dribble and get by you and make a play for somebody else or use his pull-up. So that's what I'd say, very crafty, intelligent, high IQ, smart basketball player.”
Derek Collins, 6-1 Sr. G, North Andover
Yes, another sniper from the Merrimack Valley. Collins came back and is having a solid year for the Scarlet Knights after missing the majority of last season with a back injury. North Andover is one of the best teams in Division 2 this year, currently sitting at No. 14 in ESPNBoston.com's poll, and while their strongpoint is in their frontcourt with Isaiah Nelsen and Chris Bardwell, Collins prevents other teams to be able to double down on Nelsen and Bardwell very often because that would leave the sharpshooting Collins open in his favorite part of the floor.
Opposing coach’s take: “Extremely confident player who can take over the game at any point. Derek has learned how to move without the ball which makes him a much more dangerous offensive player. As a 6-2 guard Derek is much bigger and stronger than most guards he matches up with so he is able to to use his size and strength to score in the paint.”
Riyadh Asad, 6-1 Sr. G, West Springfield
Springfield Central got a lot of the pre-season hype following their 24-1 state championship season, starting this season at No. 1 in our preseason poll. However, West Side has emerged in the opening weeks of the season as the potential favorite in Western Mass. Division 1, and Asad is a big reason why. He’s averaging just over 21 points per game and has shown to be one of the best guards in Western Mass. With Central looking particularly unreliable early on, we could be in for an adventure in Western Mass the rest of the way, and if Asad can keep up with his high-scoring efficiency, West Springfield is a team to keep an eye on from here on out.
Opposing coach’s take: “Asad is one of the more talented players in western Mass. His ability to create and make shots is what stood out to me. He's also been working on his off ball movement ( using screens, cutting hard. etc) which will carry over well for him at the next level. Preparing for him you have to tell your team to be prepared at all times because he loves to shoot!”
Brendan Hill, 6-5 Soph. F, Mansfield
Mansfield is one of the favorites to take Division 1 South, and Hill is a big reason why. Also a football star, Hill’s strong hands, crafty footwork, and innate competitiveness have translated to the basketball court this winter season, as perhaps the most reliable player on one of the best teams in the state. Hill got minutes last year as a freshman, but really broke out this summer playing for BABC, where he was able to work on his post moves and improve his outside shot.
Opposing coach’s take: “Brendan Hill is the most unselfish player in the MIAA. I don't know what kid comes off a summer playing with BABC and doesn't demand the ball every possession. He's a raw Pat Connaughton without the athleticism. He can stretch you, suck the help in and make the right kick out almost all the time. He can dominate offensively but has to get stronger to absorb the banging he will have to take in the Hock league.”
FRESH ON THE SCENE
Kareem Davis, 5-8 Soph. G, Lowell
Like any sophomore, he needs to continue to hit the weights so that he doesn’t get pushed around by stronger guards, but Davis has proven to be one of the state’s best young point guards. Lowell sits as the second-ranked team in the state right now, with a showdown on Jan. 18 with top-ranked Central Catholic coming up quickly. Going up against one of the state’s best guards in that game in Tyler Nelson, we’ll soon see how for real Davis is.
Opposing coach’s take: “Kareem is an excellent ballhandler who sees the floor well. He has complete confidence in his abilities and isn't afraid of anything. What makes him hard to cover is that not only does he push the ball up the floor so quickly, but he can also shoot.”
Adham Floyd, 6-1 Fr. G, St. John's (Shrewsbury)
In going through the top 25 poll, there are few freshmen, if any, who are bringing more to their team right now than Floyd; through six games, he is the Pioneers’ second-leading scorer with 9 points per game. With senior captain Ken Harrington out injured for the near future, St. John’s will somehow need to make up for that productivity in the backcourt – the crafty freshman will take his lumps, but he’ll be better for it in the Division 1 tournament, where the Pioneers are infamous for out-executing their opponents.
Opposing coach’s take: “Adham is a very talented young man who works hard on his game. He has a very good skill set. He can handle the ball with both hands, he rebounds well and is not afraid to take the big shot. He also plays with poise beyond his years...He is going to be a handful for years to come.”
Ben Judson, 6-4 Soph. F, St. John's Prep
Judson’s coming-out party was Friday night against BC High, where the sharpshooting sophomore led the Prep with 20 points on their way to their most important win of the season -– he had five threes. This St. John’s Prep team has bought into Coach Sean Connolly’s system and has no problem scrapping on defense; if Judson can continue his standout scoring performances, this team is a legitimate contender to knock off Central Catholic in Division 1 North.
Opposing coaches’ take: “He really didn’t get a lot of time last year, they had a lot of older guys and he had to wait his turn. But already this year he has been one of the best shooters in the area. He’s big and long for a guard. If he gets bigger and improves off the dribble, we’re talking about a scholarship-level player.”
Giulien Smith, 6-1 Soph. G, Catholic Memorial
Smith has been the scorer that Catholic Memorial needed this season, especially after the Knights graduated two thousand-point scorers in Dan Powers and Matt Droney. The crafty left-hander has been one of the state’s biggest breakout stars thus far, scoring 21 against Lincoln-Sudbury, 16 against Rhode Island power St. Raphael’s, and exploding for 28 points in a win over Bay State Conference favorite Newton North. The Knights have emerged as a legitimate top 10 team behind Smith, and have the potential to stay in the top 10 from here on out if their high-scoring sophomore can keep up his effort.
Opposing coach’s take: “He’s a terrific player, and is really, really smooth. He shoots it, handles it, gets to the basket, has great poise and a pretty good tempo to he’s game. I think he’s got a big upside.”
Allijah Robinson, 6-7 Jr. F, Charlestown
He’s bounced around high schools, but it appears that Robinson has found his niche and is becoming quite the on-court leader at Charlestown. With forward Freddy Oliviera playing the post, Robinson has had the opportunity to play his more natural position on the wing -– where he can create his own shot and beat defenders to the rim off the dribble.
Opposing coach’s take: “At 6-foot-7, Alijah Robinson is clearly a matchup problem for any opponent in the state. I was impressed by his nice shooting stroke. Once he beefs up a little more and bangs inside more, he will be even more of a force than he already is.”
Charles Collins, 6-0 Sr. G, BC High
On most other teams in the state, Collins would be a star. The Eagles have their scorer in Jameilen Jones, but so far Collins has been the perfect complement to his good friend and backcourt mate. His outside jumper needs improving, but Collins has been a floor general for BC High at point guard, often showing to be an extension of Coach Bill Loughnane on the floor. Because of his high basketball IQ, matched with his gifted athleticism, he is one of the more college-ready prospects in the state.
Opposing coach’s take: “Charles Collins is a consistent jump shot away from being the MIAA’s most versatile player. He can beat you many ways off the drive as well. He is a coaches’ point guard because he can not only put offensive pressure on another team, defensively he can take an opposing teams’ point guard completely out of his game.”
Drew Healy, 6-7 Sr. C, Lowell
Healy can block shots, hit the mid-range jumper, he rebounds at a high rate, and he runs the floor like a deer. Lowell has one of the most talented assortment of guards in the state, and Healy’s low post skills make it difficult for opposing defenses to focus on one or two players. Veteran guards always win ballgames in the MIAA, but when thrown together with a 6-foot-7 big man with standout upper body strength, this Lowell team has state title potential written all over it.
Opposing coach’s take: “Drew is interesting because he is nowhere near Lowell's top option. He played limited minutes in the Greater Lowell Holiday Tournament, but is very effective when he is on the court. He rebounds well and blocks shots well. He would score much more if Lowell focused on him in the paint and got him the ball. I understand why -- Jonathan Perez and the other Kareem Davis are the focus of the team.”
Alex Cooper, 6-6 Sr. C, Wachusett
If you’re Central Mass. team trying to earn respect, the one and only way to do that is to beat St. John’s, and behind Cooper, the Mountaineers did just that, knocking off the Pioneers last week at the Laska Invitational. Cooper’s game isn’t always pretty, but he seems to have a knack for getting it done when Wachusett needs him the most, getting double digits in both points and rebounds in wins over St. John’s and Doherty. Wachusett shot up the polls to No. 8 after beating the Pioneers, but they have plenty of challenges ahead, with Algonquin, Worcester South, Brockton, St. John’s, BC High, and Cambridge still on their regular season schedule.
Opposing coach’s take: “He doesn't get outworked. For what he lacks in skill, he makes up for in hustle, and he leads by example.”
Dakari Hannahwornum, 6-7 Sr. F, Dorchester
26 points and 28 rebounds. Yes, you read that correctly, Dorchester’s standout big man put up 26 and 28 when they beat previously-ranked Madison Park on Dec. 21. Hannahwornum can be an X-factor for the Bears in their run to a Division 2 South title, especially with his ability to take over games from the low block and overpower teams on the glass. Dorchester has been the breakout team in the Boston City League this year, and behind their skilled big man, they have the talent to be in a game with any given team in the state on any given night.
Opposing coach’s take: “He’s raw but has good potential, he needs to go to a juco or a D2 [college] where they can work with him year round. He erases a lot of defensive mistakes by tossing shots away from the rim.”