HYDE PARK, Mass. -– The last three seasons, New Mission has had the luxury of being able to go long like few other teams in the Boston City League had been able to do, with 6-foot-7 wing Nate Anderson and 6-foot-4 pogo stick Isshiah Coleman manning the frontcourt.
This year’s Titans? Devoid of size, with just four players over 6-foot, head coach Cory McCarthy –- in his unapologetically colorful candor -– summed them up as “a bunch of Napoleons”.
And like one of the French emperor’s fabled invasions, when the Titans get rolling, it’s a full-on blitz. Trailing by two after one quarter to Boston City A rival Charlestown, Mission outscored the Townies 24-5 in the second quarter to blow the doors open, en route to a 76-46 win in front of a raucous home crowd.
“We’ve got a bunch of Napoleons running around. We call it ‘Napoleon Defense’,” McCarthy said. “They’re so fast, and they’re so unpredictable. They’re crazy, they’re nuts, they just want to be big so bad, but they’re just like Napoleon out there.”
Trailing 17-15 after one quarter of play, the Titans (2-0) opened the second with a 14-2 run to put the lead into double digits. Girthy 6-foot-4 senior forward Fred “Bam” Rivers (10 points) provided the spark with some electric play at both ends of the floor.
First, he rebounded his own block, took two dribbles and heaved an outlet pass upcourt to Tyrique Lee, who drew a foul as he converted a driving layup. Several possessions later, Rivers showed off his inside-out versatility with another block, then coming down the other end and stepping out for a three-pointer in the right corner, making it 27-17.
Much of their success came with breaking the Townies’ (0-1) press, carving right through the middle of their 1-2-2 and 2-2-1 sets for some easy transition baskets. But the Townies didn’t have much luck with the zone either. One sequence late in the second-quarter barnstorm left Mission’s Asante Sandiford (nine points) wide open on the left wing for an uncontested three. Daring him to shoot, the Franklin Pierce commit sank it effortlessly.
Coupled with constant man-to-man pressing from guards Shaquan Murray (23 points), Randy Glenn (10), Marcus Allen, Charles Mitchell and Lee, Charlestown struggled for most of the night. In the first half alone, they committed 16 turnovers, including nine in the first quarter.
“They [Charlestown] are a long team, so we thought we could run on them, honestly,” Murray said. “We thought once we got to the middle, we’d look opposite and it would be right there. And once the middle guy got it, we just went right up the court for a layup. It wasn’t always working, but we got it there and we broke it. We tried to slow it down as much as we could.”
Said McCarthy of the press, “I knew we could put the pressure on, and our pressure is different. You don’t know who’s gonna trap who, when and where, and if they stay as mentally focused as they did in the second half we’ll be alright… I realized from last year, I had to get better, and I had to be the one to get better. My players are always good, but I had to get better.”
Viva La Bam
As his nickname implies, the wide-bodied Rivers can be a heavy load to handle underneath on nights like tonight, giving up size and length to Townies’ 6-foot-6 senior forward Freddy Oliveira but giving him all he can handle on the boards. In the Titans’ press break, Rivers will often set up in the middle to facilitate a quick break up either sideline.
Overall, his ball-handling ability makes the Titans pretty flexible in spite of their lack of size, with Rivers able to take the ball up top and facilitate some high-low offense.
“He’s like a point forward, actually,” Murray said. “It’s been a blessing. He’s got a very nice IQ, he can pass the ball, he can rebound, and he can score, so it’s really been a huge help to our team.”
Added Sandiford, “Anything you can think of, he can do. We all believe in him, he believes in us.”
Murray noted how much Rivers has improved his dribbling skills, to which McCarthy retorted.
“He’s always been a good dribbler, it’s just like...” McCarthy began, stumbling to find the right words. “Sometimes a basketball player is really good with dribbling the ball one dribble. Once you maintain the third dribble, you can get all the way to the basket. He just had to be a three-dribble guy –- half-court, three point line, all the way to the basket. He can dribble the ball, man.”
After three seasons at Boston College High, 6-foot-4 senior forward Oliver Benner has landed at Charlestown for his senior season. Based on the early returns, he could fit a nice role for the Townies in the frontcourt.
Through the first four minutes, Benner had seven rebounds, and he finished with 15 on the night. Long and lanky, he demonstrates good battle around the basket and didn’t get caught out of position many times. His offense was limited to start, finishing 4-of-7 from the field after not attempting a field goal in the first quarter, but look for him to get more involved as the season progresses.
“We’re just trying to teach him to play our style,” Charlestown coach Edson Cardoso said of Benner, a South Boston resident. “He can be a great factor. He rebounds, he has a good mid-range shot. We’ll get him more involved in the offense.”
Mission is off until Dec. 27, when they endure a brutal stretch of three games in three days against some immensely stiff competition. First, they’ll take on Bishop Guertin (N.H.) in the first day of the BABC Holiday Classic. Then on Dec. 28, in the second day of the Shooting Touch Shootout, they’ll take on Metuchen, N.J. powerhouse St. Joseph’s, which features the No. 6 overall player in the nation, Kentucky-bound senior center Karl Towns. The Titans then conclude the three-day swing back at the BABC, where they will face defending MIAA Division 1 state champ Putnam, the current No. 1 team in ESPNBoston.com’s statewide poll.
The last time Mission faced a player as talented as Towns, current UCLA forward Kyle Anderson had his way with the Titans as Jersey City, N.J. juggernaut St. Anthony crushed them, 68-25, to conclude the 2011 Shooting Touch Shootout. But if you know anything about Mission, it’s that they will never waver in their supreme confidence. Mission players got giddy when the subject of St. Joe’s was brought up in post-game.
Rivers, the man who will most likely match up with the 7-foot-1 Towns, acknowledged the talent but said simply, “I don’t care who you are, I’m coming at you my hardest.”
With a boast, Rivers added, “We feel that they need to be ready for us.”
“They’d better be ready,” Murray chimed.
Added Sandiford, “They need to hear about us. We’re focused. We’re ready to stand as a family, stand together. We know they’re a top team, but we’re a top team as well. We’re a family. We’ve got that chemistry. We’re ready for any challenge. We’re the Titans.”
Told of his players’ remarks, McCarthy reinforced that confidence, acknowledging this is a different squad from the one last season that boasted more athleticism – and more talent – but bowed out early in the Division 2 North tournament. Clearly, McCarthy is pleased with the way this team gets after it. When asked about matching up with Towns, he went into rare form.
“He’s good, he’s gonna play for [John] Calipari –- wonderful, you know? Who is Karl Towns?” he said.
Laughing, he continued, “What do you call it, a [quintuple] team? That’s what he’s going to get. And then the guy who gets the ball is going to see five guys too. We’re just going to play ‘Napoleon Basketball’, because even our big guys are gonna be little guys compared to them.”
OK, so what about Putnam?
“What about Putnam? They’re looking in the mirror. They’re just guys that people know, and we’ve got guys that nobody knows. I think they’re ready for us, and they’re gonna be tough to beat.
“Do we think they’re going to beat us? Absolutely not. But they’re just better than us right now. I’m sure they’re better than us. You can put that on record, they’re better than us. So hey, don’t beat us too bad, we just want to have a strong showing.”