Prep Profile - Cushing Academy
As practice begins this week at Cushing Academy there will be a lot of familiar faces in the gym.
Makai Ashton-Langford will be back to run the point, Jarrod Simmons will anchor the team in the paint and other experienced players like Jordan Heywood and Michael Stamas will also return to the line-up.
There will be one very big change though.
Longtime head coach Barry Connors is no longer roaming the sidelines in Ashburnham. Connors and his family relocated to Florida over the summer and he now heads the program at the Pinecrest School. Instead, the Penguins will now be guided by Michael Wolf, a longtime college coach who has roots in the northeast but spent the better part of the last decade coaching on the west coast at the University of Portland.
He inherits a team that is young, but still has one of the most talented cores in all of Class AA.
Ashton-Langford has been a well-known talent in the New England ranks for a long time but played his way onto the national stage in a big way this summer with a huge performance at the Adidas Summer Championships in Las Vegas and a spot in the ESPN 60 as a result. He should be one of the most dynamic playmakers in AA this season and gives Wolf a terrific weapon to utilize in his attack.
Simmons has improved by leaps and bounds in the last year. Twelve months ago he was a celebrated young prospect, loaded with potential, but not yet a consistently productive contributor. This year, he’s been among the team’s hardest workers, and leads the Penguins in 6am workouts according to Wolf. He’s playing with a strong motor, showing good touch around the rim, starting to develop his mid-post face-up game and still owning the same collection of physical tools that initially made him so intriguing.
Wolf isn’t the only important newcomer this year. In fact, the addition of Wabissa Bede and Greg Kuakumensah was Connors’ last gift to the program before his departure. Bede, like Simmons, continues to take his game to new levels. He spent the summer the same way he’ll spend the upcoming winter, teaming up with Ashton-Langford in the backcourt, but the two have gone head-to-head for most of the fall, and that’s done nothing but bring the best out of Bede. The junior point guard is continuing to take his game to new levels as he’s both shooting it well and making plays off the bounce while also continuing to show his leadership abilities.
Kuakumensah figures to make his best impact with his motor. The active southpaw might be best known for his ability to make athletic plays, both around the rim and on the defensive end, and when you combine that motor and athleticism you have a recipe for a very impactful player.
Two other players that are cut from a similar cloth are post-graduate swingman Daylon Carter and junior forward Francis Uzorh. Carter is another athlete and rangy defender who scored a lot of points in high school and has the potential to spark Cushing with his motor and two-way impact. Uzorh is a high level athlete with an incredible frame. He’s long, chiseled and strong and should be able to impact the game defensive, on the glass and with his ability to change ends.
Heywood and Stamas are both talented enough on the offensive end to be secondary scoring threats. Heywood is good with the ball and creates mismatch problems with his wide frame while Stamas is a valuable court-spacer and shot-maker. William Peterson is a local New Hampshire product who will also compete for time within the rotation while Carl ZeZolles is a post-graduate from North Carolina who could fight for time as well.
While Wolf obviously has plenty of talent at his disposal, Cushing will get thrown into the fire right away with their first game just six days away at the National Prep Showcase when they compete against Blair Academy, another well coached squad with a loaded junior class.
Things don’t get much easier from there as the Penguins jump right into their NEPSAC schedule with games against Millbrook and MacDuffie on tap for the Hoop Mountain Prep Classic, Tabor Academy at the Scholar Roundball before finishing their December schedule with a pair of AA clashes at the St. Andrew’s Holiday Tournament with the host Saints followed by Commonwealth Academy.