NHIAA Boys' Basketball Previews: Portsmouth, Memorial thinking big
By JOE DUBALL New Hampshire Union Leader
The Scoop: Boys' basketball
Players to watch (as determined after consultation with area coaches): Alex Tavares, senior, Portsmouth; Manny Alisandro, senior, Manchester Memorial; Cody Morissette, senior, Exeter; Josh Morissette, freshman, Exeter; Ian Cummings, senior, Merrimack; Cody Graham, senior, Portsmouth; Max Bonney-Liles, senior, Alvirne; Max Chartier, senior, Bedford; Jack Anderson, sophomore, Londonderry; Yannis Nyantenji, senior, Bishop Guertin; Arie Breakfield, junior, Spaulding; Nolan Anderson, senior, Bedford; Mike Sanborn, senior, Portsmouth; Casey Lane, senior, Nashua North; Zach Dagan, senior, Trinity; Mike Roumraj, senior, Manchester Memorial; Jack Schaake, junior, Winnacunnet; Chris Nulty, senior, Lebanon; Tayler Mattos, senior, Kearsarge; Tommy Johnson, senior, Kearsarge; Drew Brown, sophomore, Pelham; Matt Simco, senior, Hollis/Brookline; Scott Spenard, senior, Coe-Brown; Bryce Johnson, senior, Bishop Brady; Kevin Newton-Delgado, sophomore, Hopkinton; Bryton Early, senior, Somersworth; Evan Arsenault, senior, Berlin; Zach Signor, senior, Hopkinton; Kevin McGrath, senior, Hopkinton; Evan Gray, junior, Somersworth; Matt Pluskis, senior, Belmont; Joe Minson, senior, Monadnock; Cam Darrah, senior, Pittsfield; Garrett Olsen, senior, Woodsville; Anthony Senesombath, senior, Newmarket; Josh Woods, senior, Lisbon; Danny Kubkowski, sophomore, Littleton; Andrew Dubreuil, senior, Derryfield; River Baker, senior, Profile; Josh Whittier, senior, Pittsfield; Reese Swedberg, senior, Moultonborough
Notable quote: “Coming in here was refreshing and has really just rejuvenated me. I coached my heart out (at West) every year I was there, but this is new and different. These guys are going to enjoy this run as much as I am.” — Memorial coach Danny Bryson on joining the Crusaders after 15 years at Manchester West.
Key games: Exeter at Bedford, Dec. 19; Lebanon at Kearsarge, Jan. 2; Conant at Hopkinton, Jan. 11; Portsmouth at Bedford, Jan. 19; Hollis/Brookline at Lebanon, Jan. 19; Manchester Memorial at Manchester Central, Jan. 26; Pinkerton at Londonderry, Jan. 26; Berlin at Somersworth, Feb. 2; Portsmouth at Exeter, Feb. 6; Pittsfield at Newmarket, Feb. 6; Newmarket at Derryfield, Feb. 13; Littleton at Moultonborough, Feb 21; Exeter at Manchester Memorial, Feb. 23; Bedford at Bishop Guertin, Mar. 3; Pelham at Goffstown, Mar. 3.
Last year’s NHIAA Division I boys’ basketball season was all about Portsmouth High School.
Despite playing in Division II in 2015-16, the Clippers were deemed the title favorites by their D-I opponents before games started. They fulfilled their label with a 23-0 championship season. However, no one should expect any one team to dominate the league this season.
The 2017-18 campaign, which starts for most clubs on Friday, appears to offer more balance than most seasons, a reality Portsmouth coach Jim Mulvey is excited about.
“The state as a whole is just so much better, which makes it tough,” Mulvey said. “We’re not the favorites for sure. … We’ll be in there somewhere, but it’s definitely widespread now with a lot of teams getting better.”
The Clippers lost three of their top six players, but they’ll have offensive firepower returning with Cody Graham and Mike Sanborn arguably the best jump-shooting tandem in the division.
Portsmouth will be small, though, following the graduation of starting center and New Hampshire Gatorade Player of the year Joey Glynn. Alex Tavares, who opened eyes playing down low with Glynn, will take over the show with his dynamic skill set, which includes post play and working off the dribble.
“I think Alex is our best all-around player and most valuable,” Mulvey said. “He does a lot of things that not every fan realizes. He’s rebounding, gets loose balls and just grinds it out. He’s shown he can score it, too, and the skill level has risen a lot over the summer.”
Portsmouth’s problem will be depth, Mulvey said; the school’s title runs over the last two seasons haven’t allowed younger players to get minutes and experience.
Depth will not be a problem for Manchester Memorial, which has 10 seniors back and a new but familiar face guiding them. Danny Bryson returns to his alma mater after 15 years at Manchester West to take the reins from retired Crusaders coach Jack Quirk.
“I have high expectations for us,” Bryson said. “There isn’t too much of an adjustment here since I have a philosophy of playing full-court and up-tempo, which they were already doing. More discipline on both ends is really what I’m looking for.”
Memorial can score and defend outside with Jake Santiago, Mike Roumraj and Elvin Barbosa, but it can do the same around the basket with Alec Ross, Zac Lubin and Dino Adumene.
“We can go fast, big or go with 3-point shooting,” Bryson said. “That’s why I’m planning to play up-tempo. We can just throw bodies at you all game because we have enough and aren’t skipping much of a beat with players No. 1-10.”
Even with so many options, Manny Alisandro figures to be Memorial’s key. The senior is a positionless player who can score from a variety of spots and defend any opposing player with his height (6 feet, 2 inches) and athleticism.
“He’s a special player that really gives you everything,” Bryson said. “I haven’t had a player of his caliber since Aaron Martin at West. He’s a leader that can score, is coachable and really plays for his team.”
Mulvey and Bryson both indicated that Exeter and Bedford are likely to join their clubs in the contenders conversation.
Senior Cody Morissette and the Blue Hawks lost a couple key components from their 12-6 club from last year, but reinforcements are on the way. Freshman Josh Morissette, Cody’s younger brother, is a heralded, well-known talent who gives Exeter a swing player to go along with Cody’s solid guard play. Bobby Cliche and Cam Clark will also push Exeter to the top of the standings.
Bedford’s loss in last year’s final against Portsmouth added fuel to the fire of a team that returns a heap of experience. Max Chartier will look to duplicate his offense from last season. The Bulldogs should also get good production again from Nik Mokas and Nolan Anderson.
Tim Goodridge has a tough duo in Merrimack with the always-steady senior Ian Cummings and sharp-shooting Owen Ploss leading a very young club. Londonderry will find its way into the conversation if Nate Stanton can get consistency from its big men to go along with a good backcourt of Jack Anderson and Cole Britting.
Bryson said Manchester Central is another team to watch after his Crusaders took some lumps against them during the summer. Second-year Central coach Dave Keefe had a full offseason to prepare his Little Green, which wasn’t the case after taking his post just before last season.
The landscape of this division was undefined before 2016-17 D-III champion Kearsarge of North Sutton jumped up from Division III. No team separated itself from the other, but the Cougars certainly do with 6-foot-7 senior center Tayler Mattos leading the charge. Mattos, who has committed to play at the University of New Hampshire, improved his mid-range game last season and it’s safe to assume another offseason of grooming will have the big man at his best while Kearsarge seeks a second consecutive state title.
Mattos isn’t all that Kearsarge coach Nate Camp has to work with. Camp has the second half of last year’s two-man game back as well, with guard Tommy Johnson returning. Johnson creates his own shot and is a major threat from the outside when defenses cave on Mattos. Kearsarge also has starters Kyle Hernon (6-foot-4) and Joe Storozuk back.
Lebanon is the defending Division II champion but is far from the team that finally exorcised its playoff demons. They were rewarded by losing their top three guards to graduation. Returning for the Raiders are forwards Chris Nulty and Matt Eyelander, who may be the best post duo D-II has to offer.
Cole Etten is the new head coach at Hollis/Brookline as Mike Soucy is now the director of athletics at Merrimack. Etten, who was previously at Bishop Brady of Concord, inherits a team that returns some players who helped the Cavaliers to the semifinals last season. Matt Simco will be the focal point for Hollis/Brookline while Scott VanCoughnett and Matt Dowling round out the team’s returning starters.
Pelham was firmly in the hunt last season and has the potential to do the same this winter. Drew Brown, little brother of former Gatorade Player of the Year Keith Brown, is a year older and settling into his brother’s role as a scorer for the Pythons, who also have Blake Woekel as a solid player to rely on.
Kearsarge’s exit from the division is every team’s gain as the new season gets going. A handful of contenders that would’ve sat behind Kearsarge while developing more depth are now in a position to work through their issues without falling behind.
“It definitely does open things up,” said Hopkinton coach Steve Signor, who added that he, like most coaches, is happy he doesn’t have to plan for Mattos anymore. “There would’ve been a couple teams still with a good shot of beating them. That means that there are still frontrunners and if they stay healthy, they’ll make their runs.”
Signor’s Hawks are among those top clubs in the D-III hunt. Zach Signor, Kevin McGrath and Kevin Newton-Delgado are Hopkinton’s only experienced players, but Steve Signor believes the crew he has will find a way to thrive with their speed.
“We’re faster than we were last year with guys that like to run, get out in the open floor and attack the rim,” Steve Signor said. “That’s certainly helping us out in our transition game, but we’re also not deep yet.”
McGrath and Newton-Delgado are two pieces to watch as the season goes. Steve Signor is very high on McGrath’s versatility while Newton-Delgado, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, is coming into his own in the post.
Somersworth fell short of a title game appearance at the hands of Kearsarge last winter and has its eyes on taking the next step despite some frontcourt losses. Mitigating the lack of height will be guards Bryton Early and Evan Gray, who are both working through injuries to start the season, while Colby Grant will be expected to do more in the post.
Hilltoppers coach Rob Fauci said his team went through similar adversity last season and found a way to persevere, suggesting a case of deja vu could be in the cards.
“There was turmoil and uncertainty to start last season, but it helped us figure out the character of the team,” Fauci said. “It really had us looking at who to go to. From day No. 1 this year we’ve preached that this is a team game. … The big thing in the first few weeks is to figure out the pieces that I have.”
Fauci and Steve Signor both agree that if a team were to assume Kearsarge’s role of heavy favorites, then it would be Berlin. The Mountaineers and coach Dave Morrissette are equipped with useful pieces at every position, including arguably D-III best point guard and player in Evan Arsenault.
“You’re not just talking about size in terms of height. Their guys are just big,” said Steve Signor about Berlin. Arsenault is 6-foot-2 while Joey Fodor (6-foot-4) and Seth Balderrama (6-foot-1) are further examples of the size advantage. “It’s tough to move them inside. They’re good at creating space and getting you in foul trouble while Evan can run the floor and create opportunities from the outside.”
Young teams with veteran coaches like Eric Saucier at Conant of Jaffrey or Sudi Lett at Campbell of Litchfield are definitely groups worth keeping tabs on.
You’re likely not going to find a team hungrier or more equipped for a Division IV championship than Pittsfield. The combination of desire and experience will work in favor of the Eagles, who finished 16-2 a year ago before their playoff run ended with a first-round exit. The tough ending resulted in an offseason resurgence, according to Pittsfield coach Jay Darrah.
“We hit it pretty hard during the summer,” Darrah said. “In past years, we’ve played just to play (during the summer). The attitude was different this time with everyone playing and preparing for the season. It’s nice and something we should always do, but this year especially.”
The work ethic is paired with experience, which starts with reigning D-IV player of the Year Cam Darrah. The guard is back for his senior campaign with opposing defenses ready to hound him again, which is something Jay Darrah, Cam’s dad, said he’s dealt with since fifth grade. However, Jay Darrah finds the attention on his son as a strength for the club.
“We’ve taken it in and learned to move along with it,” Jay Darrah said. “We’ve used it to our advantage as we’ve been progressing other players, developing spot-up shooters and putting big guys in the right areas. We’re going to continue to encourage the extra coverage on Cam with it opening other guys up.”
Cam Darrah will play both guard spots, but the installation of high-energy Garrett Guerrero-Hadley at the point adds a wrinkle for Pittsfield. Among the other key returners for Pittsfield are shooters Casey Clark and Dylan Bocash as well as forwards Josh Whittier and Brandon Bojarsky, both of whom are 6-foot-4.
Another father-son duo to watch comes out of Moultonborough as Matt Swedberg gets his 6-foot-6 son Reese back from a year at St. Paul’s School of Concord. Pairing Reese Swedberg with guard Joey McClay should put the Panthers in contention.
Defending champion Groveton, 2015-16 champ Littleton and Woodsville will reprise their roles as perennial contenders out of the north.
Newmarket will lead southern teams with a lot of experience coming back for coach Jamie Hayes, including the experienced backcourt of Simon Cote and Anthony Senesombath. Derryfield of Manchester faces some hurdles with the graduation of Sam Anderson, but guards Jeff Pratt and Andrew Dubreuil have the championship pedigree to help the Cougars rise following their D-IV soccer title in the fall.