NEPSAC AA Preview
Tilton’s run of four consecutive NEPSAC championships is bound to end sometime…but it might not be this year.
Head coach Marcus O’Neil’s club was nothing short of dominant when they took the court for their season debut at last week’s National Prep Showcase and picked up right where they left off at this week’s State Farm Tournament of Champions in Illinois.
It doesn’t get any easier when the Rams return home as they have match-ups with Worcester Academy and South Kent on the horizon.
On paper, the team isn’t without their vulnerabilities. They lack a true point guard for the first time in several years and may not have the same level of depth we’ve seen in their recent championship runs.
What they do have, however, is perhaps the most dominant starting five in all of New England. Nerlens Noel appears to be on a level of its own right now. Since Tilton’s season ended last March his body has strengthened and his offensive tools sharpened, all while maintaining the same levels of mobility, agility, and athleticism.
Georges Niang returns with his complete offensive repertoire, putting up big points both inside and out, and is joined by Goodluck Okonoboh, another explosive big man who changes the game on both ends of the floor.
The backcourt is equally impressive led by ESPNU Terrific 25 sophomore Wayne Selden, who is 100% recovered from off-season leg surgery, future Missouri guard Domonique Bull, and future Dartmouth sharpshooter Kevin Crescenzi.
Off course, class AA is ripe with talent and so Tilton will have their work cut out for them if they’re to capture their fifth straight NEPSAC title.
St. Mark’s – With Kaleb Tarczewski anchoring the middle and Nikolas Stauskas returning to lead the backcourt, head coach Dave Lubick has the type of one-two punch that most head coaches can only dream of. The supporting cast is equally solid with Holy Cross bound guard Eric Green, former Colgate pledge Eli Lubick, and two-sport star Jaymie Spears in the backcourt. There’s young talent on hand as well with Aaron Falzon and Aaron McLean in the class of 2015, meaning the future will continue to be bright in Southboro. If St. Mark’s can play an inside-out style and their guards can learn to capitalize off the attention that Tarczewski will be shown in the post, this year’s squad could be poised to make another trip to the NEPSAC finals this year.
Vermont Academy – Outside of St. Mark’s, Vermont Academy is the only other team in the league with a true center to challenge Noel. That interior presence is junior big man Dominic Woodson and he’s a mountain of a man. But Woodson is hardly a one man show as fellow juniors Jamel Artis and Daquein McNeil also own wide ranging high-major recruitment along with the offensive repertoires to put points on the board in high volume. Vermont’s “big three” is supplementing by sharp-shooting swingman Donnelle Munda and UMass bound point guard Trey Davis, giving them the league’s next best starting five. Depth isn’t a problem either for Jesse Bopp’s club as Troy Davine, Jack Mackey, and Tom Snyder are all capable of making contributions off the bench.
Hotchkiss School – Fred Benjamin has had a number of highly talented teams during his time at the Hotchkiss School but this group is by far his best and appears to have all the components necessary to make a run. The interior duo of Kyle Washington and Austin Colbert, two newly arrived juniors who are both resident members of ESPNU’s Super 60 club, gives them a frontline that is long, athletic, and skilled while newly arrived Canadian imports, Patrick Steeves and Noah Daoust, only further add to that in the class of 2013 and 2014 respectively. Leading scorer Clyde Smith returns in the backcourt, as does last year’s fabulous freshman Makai Mason. Crafty forward Christopher Campbell is also back for his junior year giving Hotchkiss a team that is talented, deep, and versatile.
Best of the Rest
Cushing Academy – If depth and character prove decisive then Cushing belongs in the above category, but they’re probably not given the credit, or respect, they deserve to start the season. It starts up front where Andrew Chrabascz and Tyler McFarland might not have the size of opposing frontlines but compensate with toughness, work ethic, and sheer productivity. The backcourt is full of weapons including Alex Furness, Treaven Duffy, Kaleb Joseph, and Idris Taqqee. There are ample reserves off the bench as well with skilled big man Andrew Esancy, sharp-shooter Chris Mullin Jr., slasher Bernard Mokum, and up and coming freshman Jaime Carey. Moral of the story is don’t sleep on Barry Connors’ club, else you might find them making a run come late February.
Marianapolis Prep – Aside from Tilton and St. Mark’s, they have more history of success than any other class AA club in recent years. This season, Andrew Vitale returns for his second season at the helm of the program, again armed with pieces to make a run. Last year’s leading scorer, Kristian Medina, returns to put points on the board while sophomore Bobby Ahearn is also back and apparently poised to take the next step in his development. The newcomers will be key though and lots are riding on Greg Senat’s ability to hold his own on the interior along with Nigel Sydnor’s ability to run the show as a point guard. Also on board this year is New Mission graduate Kachi Nzerem who will be depended on to make contributions in a variety of categories.
Wilbraham & Monson – If games are won and lost with guards then head coach Chris Sparks has to like his chances this year. Wilbraham & Monson owns the league’s best pure point guard in Jaylen Brantley along with two highly talented international prospects in Alex Ramone and Naodo Lo, not to mention Boston native Robinson Vilmont. Joey OConnell and Mike Boornazian provide two jacks of all trades on the wings while the key to the club’s success will likely be determined up front where the return of Kamali Bey from injury could be the team’s biggest addition. Otherwise Wilbraham will be counting on the development of 7’3” New Zealand native Mark Overderost along with a host of youngsters led by Marcel Pettway but also including Darnay Gray and Djery Baptiste.
Worcester Academy – Jamie Sullivan slides over a spot to the head coach’s chair this year after serving as Ed Reilly’s top assistant for more than a decade. Sullivan’s first squad has the speed and quickness to play at his desired tempo with Olivier Paul Betu, Ausar Madison, and Rene Castro forming a potentially deadly three-guard tandem. Thomas Rivard could end up being one of the league’s most improved players this year while the contributions of newcomers Matt Cimino and Andrew Scocca will be crucial to Worcester Academy’s chances this year. Additional depth will be provided by Ben Mesuda in the back-court along with Tyriek McCauley and Sam Joquin up front.
On the Brink
St. Andrew’s – McDonald’s All-American Michael Carter-Williams has moved on to Syracuse and so this year’s team is noticeably different but head coach Mike Hart has the size to be a factor beginning with Brown commit Cedric Kuakumensah. Hart’s sophomore class may be his most talented group and St. Andrew’s success may depend on Edson Dascy, Bonzie Colson, and Henry Bolton all being able to grow up in a hurry.
Kimball Union – They’re a group that no one seems to be talking about right now and ultimately that may play right into head coach Mike Olson’s hands as he has a club that may be young, but is undeniably talented. Jesse Chuku, Rick Naylor, and Devin Thomas all return from last year’s squad while the additions of Abdul-Malik Abu and Duby Maduegbunam will be crucial to the team’s success. Don’t discount the importance of fellow newcomers Devin Gilligan and Danny Eiber off the bench.
Brimmer & May – Tom Nelson takes over a Brimmer & May squad that has three notable weapons in the junior class with Fordham bound swingman Jake Fay, forward John Powell, and point guard Adrian Oliveira. The trio holds the keys to the team’s season in their hands as they’ll need to embrace leadership roles and commit to being good on a daily basis. Justin Turner and K.J. Baptiste headline the supporting cast.
Lawrence Academy – One of the more tradition rich programs in AA, Lawrence Academy has a long history of success, but this season is one of their bigger rebuilding efforts in recent years with Jalen Myrie being the only notable returner from last year’s roster. Keep an eye out for a talented newcomer to assert himself right off the bat.
Holderness Academy – They are a bit of an unknown heading into this season but we’ll find out soon enough as Holderness opens with their annual match-up with Brewster Academy. They’ll need to become more than the sum of their parts to contend in this league.
Proctor Academy – Gregor Makechnie’s club looks to return to their winning ways this season and has some weapons in place to rebuild with six-foot-six senior forward Darrias Sime along with six-foot-nine junior big man Vuk Baletic. The returning core of Mike Lombard and Blake Joppy will provide leadership and experience as Proctor looks to restore their program’s winning tradition this year.
Master’s School – Ralph Auriental’s squad always seems to be a little bit of an unknown heading into the season and this year is no different. The element of surprise works to their advantage and so does the presence of talent like Austin Carter and fabulous freshman Devin Marsh. Ryan Sutherland, Maliek Miles, and Dontae Gittens provide added firepower.
Christian Heritage – Rick Viera’s squad will rely on the firepower of their backcourt to compensate for their lack of size up front. Junior Bryan Jones returns as one of the team’s returning scorers from a year ago, as does fellow guard Aaron Bartley. Jacob Clark provides another true weapon in the backcourt as a heady shot-maker capable of making a notable impact.