NEPSAC AA Season Preview
NEPSAC realignment had little impact on the perennial powerhouses. The former class A schools only received a new name (AAA) and bumped two of their former brethren. But for the next tier of schools nothing could be farther from the truth.
The new AA conference features what were the most successful programs in four different conferences as well as a former class A school in Worcester Academy. The best of the class B all came over including Tilton, Marianapolis, Cushing, Kimball Union, Proctor, Brimmer & May, and Vermont Academy as did their counterparts from the former Western New England League in Hotchkiss and Wilbraham and Monson. St. Mark’s, Lawrence Academy, and Holderness moved up from class C while Boston Trinity, Christian Heritage, and Master’s all made the move from D.
The end result is a conference with 17 teams who will battle it out for only 8 spots in the post-season. Here is a breakdown of each program’s chances:
Boston Trinity – The Lions went 29-6 last year, rattling off 16 straight wins to end the season and capture the NEPSAC D championship. They will have their work cut out for them this year but return core players Kayon Mayers, Kadeem Thompson, Elijah Okagbare, and Zach Petion while adding big man Jonathan Antonsson and athletic guard Rashad Dixon.
Brimmer & May – This could be Brimmer’s best team ever and they enter AA’s inaugural season as a bit of a dark horse contender. They have plenty of experience with five seniors, terrific depth with 10+ college prospects on their roster, impact players like Marco Banegas, Ryan Canty, and Chris Sherwood, and a long and athletic team that will give opponents fits all year long.
Christian Heritage – Realignment left Christian Heritage with a tough decision – stay in class D and pound the competition or move up to AA and battle with the big boys. Christian Heritage chose the latter and will look to senior Kevin Clark and a handful of young talented guards in Bryan Jones, Jacob Clark, and Aaron Bartley to lead the way.
Cushing Academy – Domonique Bull and Egi Gjikondi are gone from last year’s squad but they return a nice inside out tandem with BU bound big man James Kennedy and guard Jared Johnson. Kyle Callanan takes the reigns as the team’s new floor general while Andrew Chrabascz and Felix Magnusson secure the frontline and freshman Idris Taqqee is good enough to contribute from day one in the backcourt.
Holderness School – Their strength will be up front as Imoh Silas, Gabas Maldunas, and Scott King form a trio of six-foot-eight seniors who will be able to hold their own with any frontcourt in the league. The question marks lie in the backcourt and in their overall depth as the Bulls can expect to see much more pressure defense than they did a year ago in class C.
Hotchkiss – With one of the most talented teams in the league, a star in senior guard Derrick Wilson, and a great second scorer in Clyde Smith, Hotchkiss should find themselves in contention this year. Their biggest challenge will be youth and inexperience as newcomers Mike Tobey, Christopher Campbell, and Makai Mason will all be asked to play important roles.
Kimball Union – KUA is one of the sleepers in the league without question. Brian Fabrizius, Jesse Chuku, and Waylan Siverand provide a frontcourt trio that will be able to compete with anyone while the backcourt will be led by Dan Brooks, Devin Thomas, Ryan Daye, and Jonny Bunyan. Bottom line – people may not be talking about them right now but that’s probably just the way they want it.
Lawrence Academy – Despite the huge losses of Shabazz Napier and Denzel Brito, it would be wrong to count out LA from the hunt for the post-season. Marcus Grant and Dan Giovacchini are two seniors who are as dependable as they come but LA will need a big year from Clay Horne inside to have a chance while freshman sensation Johnnie Vassar will have to grow up in a hurry at the point.
Marianapolis Prep – With improved depth from a year ago and a dynamic duo to lead the way in Ousmane Drame and Zach Chionuma, first year head coach Andrew Vitale should be able to keep the winning legacy in place. Returning starters Kristian Medina and Mike Neal will also play key roles while the 9 man rotation of college prospects gives them a luxury that most in the league can’t duplicate.
Master’s – They are a bit of a question mark heading into their first season in AA as there isn’t much information out there about them after sending five seniors off to the college level a year ago. One thing you can count on is that head coach Ralph Auriental always seems to land under the radar talent and have them playing their best come February.
Proctor Academy – This is another team who could find themselves in rebuilding mode this year as they return a talented, but very young, squad. Argentinean import Fabrizio Li Gambi will be asked to shoulder most of the playmaking responsibilities while junior Mike Lombard also figures to be an important player. Freshman Jibreel Faulkner headlines a trio of talented youngsters who could all see time this year.
St. Andrew’s – They have Michael Carter-Williams so they have a chance. In reality they will be far from a one man show but MCW may be the league’s top player and has the ability to take over at virtually anytime. Myles Brilhante provides a steady presence in the backcourt while Aboubacar Casse, Cedric Kuakumensah, and Kalusha Ndoumbe Ngollo will hold down the fort inside the paint.
St. Mark’s – While their talent is undeniable so is their relative youth and inexperience. If last weekend’s debut was any indication St. Mark’s will be a team to be reckoned with. Kaleb Tarczewski and Alex Murphy are both ready to play starring roles while Nikolas Stauskas and Kevin Zabo will be huge additions in the backcourt. Throw in Eric Green, Peter Kazikias, Jarred Reuter, Eli Lubick, and Jaymie Spears and depth is an asset as well.
Tilton – The Rams made a big statement in their season opening win over Wilbraham & Monson last weekend. They may be young but their talent is overwhelming, especially up front with the likes of Nerlens Noel, Goodluck Okonoboh, and Georges Niang not to mention Domonique Bull, Wayne Selden, Tony Lester and Aaron Law in the backcourt.
Vermont Academy – First year head coach Jesse Bopp has brought the program back to respectability before even coaching his first game by upgraded both the team’s roster and schedule. The truth of the matter is that the Vermont Academy of old might not win a game in AA but with local post-grads Ryan Romich and Connor Merrill along with talented youngsters like Martin Dixon-Green and Daquein McNeil, this isn’t the Vermont Academy of old.
Wilbraham & Monson – Anytime your frontline is made up of two Big East bound post-grads you should be pretty good and that’s exactly what W&M has in Enosch Wolf and Braeden Anderson. With a solid backcourt of Andrej Pajovic and Jaylen Brantley, and undeniable depth at every position on the floor, this team has all the pieces to be among the contenders by the time the post-season rolls around.
Worcester Academy – The class A holdovers are undoubtedly one of the favorites this year. With six fifth year players on their roster, they have more experience than any other team in the league, especially up front with the likes of Patrick Ackerman, Jordan Wejnert, David Mack, and Jose Cruz, not to mention two big wings in Tavon Allen and Jerel Scott. The backcourt has more youth and inexperience but no less talent with Asur Madison and Olivier Paul-Betu.