Prep Profile - Cushing Academy
We’ll begin our Class AA previews with the defending champions at Cushing Academy.
The Penguins made a Cinderella type run last year under first year head coach James Cormier, not just winning the AA crown but also qualifying for the National Prep Championship.
Lots has changed since last year though, most notably the graduation of Wabissa Bede, who is now a freshman at Virginia Tech.
Bede wasn’t just a consensus top 100 national prospect, but he was arguably the best leader in New England, maybe the best leader New England had seen in several years.
With Bede now gone the task of running this year’s team will fall on the shoulders of another consensus top 100 national prospect, Providence commit David Duke.
Duke had a breakout junior year as Bede’s running mate last year, emerging into a top national prospect and landing handfuls of high-major offers before opting to return to play in his hometown for the Friars.
Now, he’s one of New England’s top prospects and among that group probably the one who still has the most upside left to discover. He’s a big lead guard with size, strength, and athleticism alike. He plays both ends of the floor and shows increasing frequent flashes of brilliance. What he has yet to do is put it all together on a consistent basis to become truly dominant. If and when that happen, his game and national profile will go to different levels.
Fellow senior Maurice Carroll is also back. The burly big man played important minutes for Cushing last year and should be ready to take on even more responsibility this year. He has the strength and body type to bang with anyone in the paint but is also expanding his offensive arsenal. He’ll be expected to hold down the five spot for the defending champs this season.
A pair of post-grads, Luke Hicks and Etai Groff, will help to boost an otherwise young squad. Hicks in particular should be an important addition with his shot-making ability and seasoned feel for the game. Groff was a big scorer at the high school level in the Pittsburgh area but will have to prove himself against this much higher level of competition.
There are also a pair of incoming juniors who both promise to play important roles from day one. Daman Tate is a St. Sebastian’s transfer who brings good perimeter size and versatile scoring tools. Kyle Murphy is a heady wing who can make shots and almost operate as a point forward type at times with his ability to handle the ball and see the floor.
Matt Cross, Jaylen Smith, and Sean Okpoebo combine to form a sophomore trio that will build a definite bridge to the future. Of the three, Cross will be the one who is most ready to make an immediate contribution. He not only has good size and an advanced skill set but a physically mature frame and willingness to play through the level of contact that this level dictates. Okpoebo is a local product who returns to Cushing after making the varsity team last year as a freshman while Smith is a newcomer with versatile tools to develop on the perimeter.
What Cormier made very obvious in his first season at the helm is that his teams are going to be scrappy and they are going to defend. We should expect nothing less from this year’s version of the Penguins.
They will, however, be young relative to the rest of AA’s contenders as they’ll rely upon a number of sophomores and juniors within their core rotation. They also won’t have quite as much depth as some others, especially along the frontline, meaning we’ll likely see them go small at times and that their ability to stay healthy this year will be key.
Their strength will be on the perimeter where they’ll have multiple playmakers and good positional size as well. That size and length should be especially advantageous as they build their defense and potentially become a team that can create offense from their defense.
When you are the defending champions and you return one of the best players in New England, you aren’t going to sneak up on anyone, but this is a different Cushing team than we saw a year ago. They lost not only as impactful a high school player as there was in New England but a senior class that had been to back-to-back NEPSAC championship games. They replaced that group, largely, with sophomores and juniors. In short, Cormier is building a program that is sustainable and so while they’ll remain in the hunt this year, the foundation is also set to remain among AA’s best for the foreseeable future.