NEPSAC AAA Preview
In preparation for the premier season of class AAA in the NEPSAC we take one final look at the eight schools that form the league and examine their strengths, areas for concern, and bottom line heading into the season.
Brewster Academy – Complete Prep Profile
Season Opener – Monday, November 8th vs. CJEOTO
Strengths: Point guard Naadir Tharpe returns to run the show for the defending NEPSAC and champions and once again the maestro from Worcester will have plenty of passing targets to choose from as head coach Jason Smith’s squad has the top overall talent and depth in the league. While everything begins with Tharpe at the point, Brewster will also have an edge up front as no other team should be able to match their three high-major big men in Markus Kennedy, Mitch McGary, and Jakarr Sampson. They’re no slouch on the wing either as Deonte Burton, Durand Johnson, and Max Hooper form a terrific trio of their own while Elijah Carter helps Tharpe in the backcourt. As for Smith, he is often credited for his recruiting prowess but rarely given his due for being able to motivate his team and always having them peak at just the right time in the season.
Concerns: When you have so many highly talented players on one team the most obvious concern is that there is only one basketball. Ultimately that problem is a consequence of great talent which is a necessity for any title contender but Brewster’s success this year will depend on their ability to share the ball and on many of their players accepting secondary roles for the first time in their careers.
Bottom Line: The title appears to be Brewster’s for the taking as there is little denying that they start the season as the favorite in AAA.
Bridgton Academy – Complete Prep Profile
Season Opener – Thursday, November 11th vs. Robinson School
Strengths: No one in the league has won more championships than Bridgton head coach Whit Lesure and his ability to maximize his team’s talents is a constant asset for the Wolverines. This year’s squad has good firepower in the frontcourt with a high-low tandem of Daniel Franca and Donnie Hale and another talented, and equally versatile forward, in Ryan Martin. Kareem Canty should also provide a weapon at the point. Role recognition will also be an asset for this squad as there is no mistaking the playmakers from the role players and that’s the type of detail that can play an important role down the stretch of a prep school season.
Concerns: While playing inside-out typically works in the NBA and in college, the NEPSAC has historically been a guard dominated league and so Bridgton is going against the grain a little bit by building around their frontline. The fact that they don’t have a true creator on the wing could be a cause for concern late in the shot-clock and their bench will need to maximize their abilities in order to give them the depth to contend in this league.
Bottom Line: They may not be the most talented team in the league but they have enough firepower to contend, and they wouldn’t be the first Bridgton team to turn that recipe into a championship.
Maine Central Institute – Complete Prep Profile
Season Opener – Saturday, November 6th vs. Edison
Strengths: This year’s MCI roster has more versatility and balance across their line-up then a year ago. There is enough size up front to contend, a good balance of bigs and littles, and an assortment of players who are multi-talented with complimentary weapons. While guys like Rafael Maia, Dominique Wilson, Khristian Smith, Omari Grier, and Daison Knight make this one of the most talented first fives that Dave Campbell has had at MCI, he also has some of the best role players in the league in guys like Neal Beshears and Adam Thoseby who are skilled and cerebral enough to contribute in a variety of different areas. Discipline in the half-court will continue to be a weapon for MCI as Campbell’s teams are always capable of grinding opposing defenses out with their half-court offense.
Concerns: While this team is more talented and balanced then a year ago it still remains to be seen who the clear cut leader will be late in the second half or down the stretch of the shot clock. Wilson may be the highest level prospect but is also the youngest player on the team and so may not yet be ready to accept a starring role. Frontcourt depth is also a bit of a concern in a league as physical as AAA as they will lack a true big man off the bench if both Maia and Wilson start the game.
Bottom Line: MCI will be improved from a year ago but one thing that will stay consistent is that they will continue to improve throughout the course of the season and be someone that no one wants to play come February.
New Hampton – Complete Prep Profile
Season Opener – Tuesday, November 16th vs. Harvard J.V.
Strengths: New Hampton will be the best shooting team in the AAA this year and could also have the highest collective basketball I.Q. With a roster full of skilled and cerebral players, head coach Pete Hutchins should be able to run a variety of good action in the half-court set. With the court spaced by so many good shooters guys like Jordan Laguerre and Zach Auguste should find themselves with a lot of room to operate as opposing defenses will have to be very strategic about when to help off their men. If the open run we saw was any indication this will also be one of the best passing teams in the league as they not only share the ball, but also move without it, as well as anyone we’ve seen.
Concerns: For as skilled and cerebral as this team will be they will be equally undersized. Auguste and Will Davis are the only players on the roster above 6’7” and after Nick Paulos and Travis Souza everyone else is 6’3” or under. Consequently the most obvious concerns for the Huskies will be in defending the interior against bigger and more physical competition as well as being able to hold their own on the glass.
Bottom Line: New Hampton’s shot making prowess gives them the ability to knock off any team in the country on any given night and that combined with their collective I.Q. and skill set could make them this year’s giant slayer in AAA.
Northfield Mount Hermon – Complete Prep Profile
Season Opener – Friday, November 19th vs. Fork Union
Strengths: NMH could have the deepest roster in AAA with a whopping 13 division I prospects on this year’s team. They also have great size as 11 of those 13 players check in at 6’5” or above. This is also a more athletic bunch than we’ve seen in years past as newcomers like Armani Cotton, John Golden, and DeKeeba Battee make the group more dangerous in transition as well as on the defensive end. Continuity continues to be a big weapon for John Carroll’s squad as they bring players into the program at an early age and groom them for starring roles. This year is no different with Aaron Cosby, Vince Van Nes, and Joe Sharkey headlining a group of six returning contributors.
Concerns: Ironically, this team may have a little too much depth up front and not enough in the backcourt. Cosby and Sharkey are the only true guards on the roster meaning guys like Cotton, Golden, and Tommy Carpenter will all need to not only be able to handle and pass the ball but also hold their own defensively against opposing guards. And while the team is more athletic and better defensively than last year, they won’t have nearly the same amount of firepower from behind the three-point line.
South Kent – Complete Prep Profile
Season Opener – Saturday, November 13th vs. CJEOTO
Strengths: Kelvin Jefferson continues to bring the highest caliber of talent into the program as South Kent’s first five will take a backseat to no one. Maurice Harkless and Ricardo Ledo form the league’s most explosive scoring tandem from the wing as both players are capable of going off at virtually anytime. The supporting cast features a good three-man interior unit with Nemanja Djurisic, Derrick Randall, and Egi Gjikondi capable of banging with anyone and two compatible guards in the backcourt with the powerful GeLawn Guyn and slippery playmaker Anthony Jernigan. This is also a physically tough and competitive group who will back down from no one and draw strength from those intangibles.
Concerns: Depth will be this team’s most immediate concern. If everyone stays healthy they will have an ideal eight man rotation but they’re one sprained ankle away from having to scramble and with a long season of 40 minute games that means they will need some good luck as much as anything else. Perimeter shooting will be another important factor as Harkless and Ledo are sure to create lots of mismatch problems and scramble situations for opposing defenses.
Bottom Line: You’re only as good as the five players you put on the court and South Kent’s first five are as good as anyone. If they stay healthy, they’ll be right in the thick of the race for the title.
St. Thomas More – Complete Prep Profile
Season Opener – Wednesday, November 17th vs. West Point Prep
Strengths: Jere’s Quinn’s squads are always well coached, disciplined on both ends, and fundamentally sound This team is no different except they’ll have added weapons among their personnel. Andre Drummond is the most obvious of those as the big man should be ready to dominate the paint after having a year of experience. The others are more subtle but no less important with pure point guard Indianna Faithful, complimentary big man Adam Jones, two slashing scorers in Damion Lee and Elijah Bonsignore, instant offense guard Whis Grant, stretch four B.J. Cardarelli, tough and hard-nosed utility guard Roy Mabrey, versatile forward Jarell Byrd, and more contributors off the bench.
Concerns: Not unlike other teams in the league, St. Thomas More has limited frontcourt depth and no true big men off the bench to spell Drummond and Jones. That puts a lot of pressure on their starting frontcourt as both players will not only need to stay healthy but also learn to balance their aggression on the court with an understanding of how to stay out of foul trouble. The Chancellors will undoubtedly go ten deep and that means they’ll be vulnerable to teams who can bring better size off the bench.
Winchendon – Complete Prep Profile
Season Opener – Saturday, November 13th vs. Lee Academy
Strengths: Winchendon seems to be a team that no one is talking about heading into the season. While they are obviously much different from a year ago, they are a tough and resilient squad who are going to play with a chip on their shoulder and surprise some people. Expect Matt Quinn and his squad to take on all comers and turn the weakness of their lack of size into a strength by using their quickness to push the tempo and create mismatch problems all over the court. Xavier Pollard and Dennis Green are both capable of thriving in that type of style and the rest of the roster is built by players like Jamil Ebo, Amadou Bah, and Varum Ram who may not have big names but are still very dangerous.
Concerns: Of all the team’s in the league their size differential is the most noticeable. James Carbonne is their biggest player at 6’6” and Ebo is the only other player on the roster above 6’4”. They will need to be resilient as their success is going to depend on their ability to out-hustle, out-run, and out-scrap teams who may have more size or more division I prospects.
Bottom Line: Winchendon may not win the AAA championship this year but you can bet they’ll knock off some people along the way and maximize the talent they have in their program.