Hoop Mountain/Arc of Mass Holiday Challenge preview
Earlier this month, the TD Garden hosted a slew of high school basketball games in an event that was the highlight of the season for many schools and towns of the season. This Monday, scholastic basketball returns to the Garden for the Hoop Mountain/Arc of Mass Holiday Challenge. This event will put prep schools in the spotlight on the bright lights of the Garden. The schedule of games will be as follows:
9:00am-- Pingree vs. Lexington Christian Academy
10:30am-- Pingree vs. BB&N (girls)
12:00pm-- Belmont Hill vs. BB&N
1:30pm-- Thayer Academy vs. Providence Country Day
3:00pm-- Rivers School vs. Nobles (girls)
4:30pm-- Rivers School vs. Brooks School
6:00pm-- Lawrence Academy vs. Thayer Academy (girls)
7:30pm-- Cheshire Academy vs. Lawrence Academy
9:00am: Pingree Schol vs. Lexington Christian Academy
Both schools will take the floor first on Monday looking for a key victory. Pingree is coming in on a roll, sporting a 5-1 record and a win over two-time defending NEPSAC Class C champions Green Farms to win the inaugural Pingree Holiday Festival. Head coach Steve Gibbs is very pleased with his squad so far. "We had to replace over 3,000 points in career scoring in Johnnie Spears, Kyle Lentini, Connor Reardon," Gibbs told NERR. "So far the new players have gelled very quickly, lead by Justin Assad. He is averaging 22 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game. He has been supported by 2-guard junior Griffin Beal, who is averaging 12 points and 5 rebounds per game. The new point guard replacing Johnnie Spears in Chad DiCenzo. He is a sophomore who is averaging 7 points and 7 assists per game. Transfer junior guard Jeff Olivera avg 9 points per game."
Gibbs is also excited about the experience for his student-athletes. "Last year we took our kids down to Orlando for a holiday trip, which was sensational for the players," Gibbs said. "This year, we wanted to find a way to have a similar experience. We thought playing our game vs a long-standing rival at the Boston Garden would be a lifetime worth of memories in a place where all our players spent last weekend at the Goodsports Invitational. We are honored to be invited to play at the most famous arena in the world."
12:00pm: Belmont Hill vs. BB&N
This long-standing rivalry will take center stage in a fitting setting. ISL rivalries are some of the longest-standing in the country, and this is no exception. BB&N head coach Nick Papas' team comes in at 5-5, including a 1-2 ISL record. "We've won the games were expected to win and we've lost some real tight games that we've had good opportunities to win. Four of our five losses have been one or two possession games. We're trying to find that little extra edge to get over the hump for the tight, competitive games. We've been very competitive, but were not satisfied with the way the seasons gone so far. It's not because of lack of effort; teams are playing well at the right times."
Two players have really stood out for BB&N so far this season. Ben Crawford, a 6'3'' forward, is their leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 19 points and 12 rebounds per game. Koby Antwi is also playing well for Papas, averaging 10 points and 5 assists per game.
For 9-2 Belmont Hill, three seniors have really stepped up. Hilal Dahleh, Jesse Wims, and Sultan Olusekun have been supported by two freshmen who will be ones to watch down the road in David Mitchell and Javon Jones.
Head coach Al Murphy is excited for Belmont Hill's opportunity in front of them. "It's a great experience for the kids. The Celtics have so much history. Even though its not the old Garden, its still a great experience."
"We are playing our archival in all sports," Papas notes. "We are playing in the Boston Garden in the backyard, and we are approaching it the same way. wW are first and foremost excited about playing Belmont Hill. A close second is the chance to play at the Garden. I've been coaching for over 40 years and never had the opportunity to coach at the Garden.
In games like this, you throw away the records. It is a typical high school rivalry. It's the name on the front of the jersey that gets each team excited."
1:30pm: Thayer Academy vs. Providence Country Day
Massachusetts vs. Rhode Island will square off at the TD Garden on Monday. Thayer is lead by two impressive sophomores in Jordan Mello-Klein, a 6'1'' point guard who has put up some big numbers this season, and Javaughn Edmonds, a 6'3'' lead guard who is getting better with each passing week.
Providence Country Day is lead by Justin LaRose. "He is an all-purpose big man," PCD coach Tom Sienkiewicz said. "He can shoot from 17 feet out and can finish around the basket. My point guard, Alex Holloway, has been controlling the team pretty well. He gets us into our sets. He converts pretty quick, defensively to offensively.
"Everybody's really excited about getting to play on the hardwood floor that they have seen so many times on TV," Sienkiewicz continued. "They are really excited about getting down there and playing on the same court as all the great players. I just think that with the court being a little bit bigger, there will certainly be more room to meneuver and more room to play defense."
4:30pm: Rivers School vs. Brooks School
Two of the most talented teams in NEPSAC Class B will square off in a key league tilt. Rivers is lead by Jermaine Samuels, one of the highest ranked sophomores in the country. With his evolving skill set and superior athleticism, he is a load for any one defender to deal with. Azar Swain, one of the better shooters in the sophomore class, has evolved into a complete offensive threat so far this season; his ability to get to the basket has been a big lift for Rivers.
Brooks has been able to sustain the loss of injured star point guard Ikenna Ndugba. Maine-commit Lavar Harewood and Dontae Christian have chipped in with Ndugba's absence. Big man Charlie Crockett has built upon his strong summer play, as has Aser Ghebremicheal up front. Look for this to be one of the more competitive games on Monday.
7:30pm: Cheshire Academy vs. Lawrence Academy
Two NEPSAC Class AA programs will square off in the nightcap. Lawrence Academy head coach Kris Johnson was very complimentary of his point guard, Tim Preston. "He is having a great year so far," Johnson said. He has really stepped up as a leader over the past four games. Nick Lynch is a good big down low; he's starting to play a little better. We didn't really know our identity before, but now we are starting to play together."
Cheshire Academy is in its first season in AA, and they have the players to make some noise. "Josh Ajayi has been playing fabulous," head coach Kevin Kehoe said. "He is a double-double kid; you can just about mail it in every night. Austin Nehls just committed to Central Connecticut State is a great shooter and plays hard and fearless. Ray Jerome is just a freak athlete; his elbows are on the rim. Those have been the main three right now that have shown up every single game. We've had other kids have periodic good outings, but those three have been the most consistent."
Both schools also hold a strong alumni base in the greater Boston area, so expect a large crowd for this one. "Obviously the opportunity to play is awesome," Johnson said. "It's once in a lifetime for these guys; something they'll remember for ever. For the cause and what were playing for, it will be a great day for our community."
"We are excited about playing on the parquet floor," Kehoe said. "Bob Cousy, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Dave Cowens, going down the list of players who have played on the parquet floor. We have a very strong alumni base in the Boston area and are using this as an opportunity to reconnect with those alumni. Being able to play in such a place and bring the alumni back from a school standpoint is a huge thing.
"I have to thank everyone who put this tournament together; it's a once and a lifetime opportunity for the kids."