NEPSAC Class B Preview
Class B is wide open this year with no less than eight programs having legitimate championship aspirations. The New England Recruiting Report has already profiled many of the top teams in the conference, but with the season officially getting under way last week we thought we would take one last look at the favorites.
Tilton School – Tilton, New Hampshire
Whenever you are coming off back to back titles you have to be considered the favorites until someone proves otherwise. Well Tilton isn’t living on the merits of last season’s success after a great couple of opening weeks to this year’s schedule. They had Bridgton beat at the National Prep Showcase until missing free-throws late and losing on a half-court buzzer beater and then scored a tremendously impressive road victory over St. Mark’s this weekend. Gerard Coleman looks unstoppable, Georges Niang one of the most improved players in 2012, and Ryan Canty able to anchor the interior defensively and on the glass. Life won’t get any easier for the Rams in the next week as they play three consecutive road games against Class A opponents Exeter, Brewster, and either Notre Dame Prep or MCI.
When Michael Carter-Williams went down in the first half of St. Andrew’s opening game of the year it looked like the Saints’ championship aspirations could be in jeopardy. Luckily the Syracuse bound guard will return next month and head coach Mike Hart’s team has proven their resilience by beating Cushing and Trinity Pawling without their star. Ricardo Ledo has been outstanding while Mike Laplante is also much improved. Youri Dascy and Myles Brilhante have been very solid at the center and point positions respectively and Eric Sherman is stepping out and giving great contributions at the power forward spot.
Hotchkiss School – Lakeville, Connecticut
Hotchkiss may have the most talented starting five in the league and with Derrick Wilson, Jason Morris, and Clyde Smith there perimeter talent is better than anyone’s. Hotchkiss’ season began this weekend with a trip to Blair Academy’s Coaches vs. Cancer event where they fell to Blair, by a similar margin as St. Andrew’s did in their opener, and then scored a good win over a tough Hun School team. With so much perimeter firepower it is easy to overlook center Monty Brown but anytime you have a 6’11” five man with mid-major recruitment and inside out skills in Class B you know he’ll be a weapon. There’s plenty of depth up front too with Ron Schruerfer, Emi Bassaw, and Michael Rogers.
Dave Vitale’s squad dispatched any notions that this may be a down year with wins over Proctor Academy and Suffield Academy this weekend. It’s true they may not be as deep from 1-9 as in years past but they play extremely hard and are very organized, two musts for any high school team. Ike Azotam has improved tremendously and appears poised to take on the starring role this year while Gediminas Bertasius, Kristian Medina, and Matt Barboza are all capable of getting 20 points on any given night. Mike Neal isn’t the scorer, but he is as important as anyone anchoring the interior on both ends of the floor. History is on their side as well as Coach Vitale’s squad has been to three straight Class B finals.
With early losses to Wilbraham & Monson and Marianapolis Prep, Proctor hasn’t had the start to the season they hoped for, but ultimately what’s important is how you finish a season not start it. There were signs this weekend that this group was starting to gel and when they do, they have all the tools to go on a run. They have good size and talent at each of the five positions and kids that are naturally hungry and competitive. With Grandy Glaze, Kevin Thomas, Amir Tarif, and Pat Donnelly, few teams will be able to compete with their strength inside while Taevaunn Prince, Ben Bartoldus, and R.J. Stephens give them three talented players in the backcourt to match.
Cushing dropped an early road test to St. Andrew’s but rebounded beautifully to earn a commanding win over Brimmer & May this weekend. With James Kennedy, Egi Gjikondi, and Domonique Bull, the Penguins appeared to have one of the league’s best frontcourts coming into the season but ironically they took their strength from the perimeter on Sunday. Football player Rob Hollomon provides a tremendous spark while Jared Johnson deserves praise for playing his role beautifully. Bull has put in the work to develop into the team’s go to scorer and can also handle the ball when needed. Up front, we have no doubt that Kennedy and Gjikondi will emerge as a dynamic duo but David Hastings is the unsung hero and hard working role player that every coach dreams about.
This team has the pieces to beat anyone in the league on any given night. They have elite level shooters in Derek Retos, Jared Fay, and Jake Fay; great athletes in Troy Robinson, Chris Sherwood, Oliver Nazon, and Patrick Pierre Victor; and a creator in Eric Alleyne. Cushing got the better of them this weekend because they weren’t able to create the tempo they need in order to be successful, but when they get the game going up and down they will be as dangerous as anyone.
Kimball Union Academy – Meriden, New Hampshire
KUA may be the dark horse in Class B. They have two players already committed to division I programs in point guard Leslie Smith (Lafayette) and center David Hahn (Texas State), and a number of other talented players surrounding them. They dropped a somewhat surprising season opener to BB&N but rebounded to score a victory over Deerfield this weekend. With a brand new team and first year head coach it will take some time for this team to gel, but once they do they could end up surprising some people.
Keep an Eye on
• Vermont Academy (VT) – With a couple of talented post-grads joining the program they are hoping to return to the Class B tournament this year.
• Tabor Academy (MA) – They will be well coached with plenty of veteran experience as first year head coach Chris Millette leads five returning seniors.