NEPSAC AAA Preview
The NEPSAC once again appears to be the pre-eminent, non-collegiate amateur basketball league in the United States.
In other words, you can travel all fifty states and you won’t find a more talent laden league in high school or prep competition. While we have already profiled each of class AAA’s eight individual schools (click the respective links to view), today we’ll take a collective look at the league and analyze the strengths and concerns of each respective program.
Sheer Talent – They’ve got six high-major players on their roster in Mitch McGary, T.J. Warren, Aaron Thomas, Jalen Reynolds, Semaj Christon, and Jakarr Sampson, and when you bring a high-major player off the bench there’s a reason why you’re consider to be the league’s most talented team.
Role Players – Equally important as the team’s first six will be role players extraordinaire Joe Bramanti and John Edwards. Both bring all the toughness and intangibles possible, will push the first five on a daily basis, and end up playing as big a role as anyone.
Size – They may not have anybody over 6’9”, but McGary is immovable in the paint and with Reynolds, Sampson, and Warren, head coach Jason Smith could elect to go big and put four guys on the court together who are all 6’8” or above.
Game Winners – With so much talent the only question is who takes the final shot. McGary is the most notable prospect on the team but not necessarily the best pure scorer. One of the few negative consequences of so much talent is keeping everyone satisfied.
Being Hunted – Because Brewster is well known to be the league’s most talented team again this year, they’ll be hunted throughout the season. Every time they take the court it will be the biggest game of the year for the opposition and they’ll have to be prepared for everyone’s best shot.
First Five – Their starting five appears to be as talented as we have seen in recent years with Jarryn Skeete, Malik Nichols, Darrick Wood, Amir Garrett, and Markus Crider, and collectively they should have no problem holding their own with any starting line-up in the league.
Team Spirit – This group does not lack for personality and historically that’s been a recipe that head coach Whit Lesure has thrived with. There are bound to be some growing pains along the way, but if the team gets united in a common goal they won’t back down from anyone.
Duplicate Parts – The roster is full of guys ranging between 6’3” and 6’6” with plenty of length and athleticism. That will allow Lesure to do some things defensively that we haven’t seen as much of in recent years with potential for switching and full court pressure.
Depth – While the starting five appears very solid, there are many more questions in regards to the bench, and if Bridgton is to make a run they’ll need to establish at least a few dependable contributors in their second unit.
Mid-Year Losses – Perhaps the biggest question facing the team is whether or not they’ll have Garrett for the duration of the year. When he first arrived, he publicly stated that he hoped to enroll at St. John’s for the second semester. If he does it would be a blow to the Wolverines.
Discipline – Head coach Dave Campbell runs a tight ship and year in and year out the result is a team that works incredibly hard, competes, shares the ball, and continues to improve throughout the course of the season.
Half-Court Defense – Their discipline is never better exemplified than on the defensive end of the floor. Their weak-side positioning and ball pressure is annually as good as anyone in the league and last year propelled them to a NEPSAC championship.
Perimeter Shooting – This may be the best shooting team in the league with a surplus of guards who can all drill it from downtown including Tristan Thomas, Peter Zannes-Fatland, Dylan Leazier, Joey Boyle, Dustin Smith, Casey Perrin, and Sean James.
Frontcourt Depth – While Tobe Okafor and James Farr will be able to go blow for blow with any frontcourt tandem in the league, there isn’t another true post-player on the bench, leaving MCI particularly thin up front.
Length/Athleticism – This squad was built for skill, toughness, and basketball I.Q. Length and athleticism were lower priorities and while the recipe worked last year it means that MCI will need to keep the tempo of their games under control.
Sheer Talent – With the likes of Zach Auguste, Olivier Hanlan, Noah Vonleh, Jared Terrell, and Jeremy Miller, New Hampton has five high-major prospects on their roster. That’s not even taking into account Barrington Alston, the 6’8” big man who could very well be a bit of a steal for Towson.
Leadership – When it comes to being a point guard, in the purest form of the definition, there isn’t a more efficient guy than Hanlan, both in terms of his play on the court as well as his intangibles and ability to guide the team.
Size – Auguste and Alston form a very solid interior duo while putting the 6’8” Vonleh in the three spot gives them size, length, and athleticism across their frontline. There’s also size off the bench in 6’8” shooter Lew Evans, 6’6” tough guy Mike Auger, and 6’9 freshman Miller.
Youth – While the group is undeniable talented, they’re also the youngest in the league with three sophomore and one freshman, all of whom are likely to contend for spots in the rotation, if not the starting line-up.
Half-Court Defense – No matter how talented these youngsters are, there is going to be a major adjustment transitioning to 40 minute games against this level of talent. It will also be a crash course in learning the game and they’ll have to pick things up quickly, especially on the defensive end of the floor.
Depth – With thirteen potential division I prospects on their roster, NMH may be the deepest team in the entire league as the luxury of going at least two deep at every position on the floor is something that no other team can match.
Intelligence – Their collective basketball I.Q. is off the charts. Guys like Anthony Dallier, Evan Cummins, and Tommy Carpenter are widely considered to be three of the headiest players in New England while Ethan ODay, Spike Albrecht, Sam Donahue, Ryan Oliver, and Pete Miller aren’t far behind.
Size – There depth is especially prevalent along the frontline with six guys on the roster who are 6’8” or above. As if that weren’t enough, there guards are also big with a total of ten players measuring at 6’3” or above.
Back-Up Point Guard – Aaron Cosby was the team’s lone true point guard last year and this year that distinction goes to Albrecht. Carpenter and Dallier are both capable of handling some of the ball-handling responsibilities but neither is a true point guard.
Game Winners – Cosby wasn’t only the team’s point guard he was also their undisputed go-to scorer down the stretch. With this year’s roster featuring so much depth and parity, there are several roles still left to be claimed with the go-to scorer being tops among them.
Dynamic Backcourt – There isn’t a more explosive scoring tandem anywhere in the country than Ricardo Ledo and Chris Thomas. Both are capable of getting their own shot at any given point and collectively they could very well average close to 60 points per game.
Size – Head coach Kelvin Jefferson’s squads have always been able to score points but this group also has size up front to content. It begins with a pair of seven-footers in Laimonas Chatkevicius and Isaac Freeman and continues with Chris Ortiz and even Ledo and Thomas in the backcourt.
Game Winners – When the game is on the line there isn’t a more dependable creator or scorer than Ledo. His ability to create his own offense is unrivaled and Thomas could very well be the next best in New England.
Continuity – Ledo and Thomas are both scorers and the big men will need to get their fair share of shots as well. Similar to Brewster, the price of South Kent’s talent will be a longer line of mouths to feed in the scoring column, and they’ll all need to sacrifice individually to reach their collective potential.
Stops vs. Steals – This is a team of playmakers, on both ends of the floor, but there comes a point in every close game when you need to bunker down and get tough stops, without necessarily gambling for steals or deflections. If South Kent can do this, they’ll be able to go far this year.
Quickness – Head coach Jere Quinn has a collection of quick and athletic guards that should allow him pressure defensively for the length of the court and really push the tempo of the game. Defensively, they’re going to be a team that no one wants to play.
Guard Play – There is depth and talent alike in the backcourt with point guard Barrington Stephens running the show, A.J. English making shots, Curtis Jones scoring points, Ky Howard providing his high I.Q., and Arthur Edwards, Torin Childs-Harris, and Anthony Walker giving length and athleticism.
Tenacity – This is a feisty group with a collectively high motor to maximize their speed, quickness, and athleticism in the backcourt. Expect them to be flying around the court and filling up the stat sheet for deflections, steals, loose balls, and long rebounds.
Star Power – This is a much different team than last year’s National Prep Champions as big presences like that of Andre Drummond and even Damion Lee will be replaced more by committee than they will any one or two individuals.
Frontcourt Depth – While Stuart McEwn and Chier Ajou give them some notable weapons up, front there isn’t the same overall size and presence on the interior as there was a year ago as most of their bigger bodies are more naturally suited to play on the perimeter.
Mentality – Matt Quinn did a great job of establishing a culture of toughness and tenacity in his first year at the helm of the Winchendon program. Expect that to once again be their calling card this year as they appear poised to slay a couple of giants along the way.
Team Skill – The overall team skill is far improved from last year. Akosa Maduegbunam, Joseph Kiely, and Tre Tipton lead a deep back-court while the Tevin Falzon and Nicholas Victor are both highly skilled frontcourt players who will dictate numerous match-up problems.
Perimeter Shooting – Virtually everyone on this team is capable of making open shots from the three-point line and that’s going to make them very difficult to defend if they learn to spread the floor and share the basketball.
Sheer Talent – Similar to last year, Winchendon isn’t beating anyone on paper, but expect Quinn to once again make that a point to rally his troops around as he looks to make his team greater than the sum of their individual parts.
Size – While Winchendon could be difficult to defend because of the depth of their guards and the skills of their forwards, there isn’t a true big man on the roster. Consequently, they’re going to have to compensate against bigger teams virtually on a nightly basis.