Prep Profile - Vermont Academy
Vermont Academy will have five players sign their National Letter of Intent on Friday as Christian David (Butler), Marcus Santos Silva (VCU), Jordan Nwora (Louisville), Bailey Patella (Vermont) and Corey Romich (Jacksonville) all finalize their D1 plans.
True to a tweet sent by head coach Alex Popp last week, virtually every member of that group has exceeded expectations.
As recently as the end of last season, no one was expecting Santos Silva to end up with high-major scholarship offers before choosing a perennial Atlantic 10 powerhouse. Nwora was bouncing around AAU teams without being able to make a consistent impact 18 months ago and now he’s a national top 100 player committed to Louisville and widely recognized as one of the top shooters in the country. Patella was a relative unknown in small town Lenox, Massachusetts before becoming a widely pursued D1 prospect and potential steal in the America East. Romich has similar small town New England roots and he in particular exceeded expectations to end up at the D1 level.
With their respective recruitments now in the past, this 2017 core now collectively shifts their focus to the coming season where their role is vastly different. No longer will they be fighting the uphill battle of the underdog and striving to prove people wrong, but now they’ll have to face the burden of expectations as they’re heavily favored to repeat in Class AA of the NEPSAC and will have the X on their back every time they step between the lines.
They’ll have experience on their side as David, Santos Silva, Patella, Romich and fellow seniors Kendrick Gray and Will Brady all return from last year’s championship team but they’ll all have to adjust to new roles after graduating a group that included Tyrique Jones and Bruce Brown, who very well might have been more important to VA than any other player in New England was to their prep team last year.
There is also the question of David’s health. A highly skilled and heady 6-foot-7 wing with true guard type abilities, he would have been the natural choice to emerge into a leadership role this season after being the Robin to Brown’s Batman for much of last year, but he hasn’t played since tearing his ACL in the finals of last year’s NEPSAC final.
The other question this team has is at the point guard position. All five of their D1 signees are a collection of bigs, forwards and wings and so it remains to be seen which line-up combination proves most efficient for Popp.
Two players that may prove to be more important than some may expect are Brady and Matt Hanna. Brady has made great strides in his 15 months in the prep ranks but what makes him uniquely capable of playing an important supporting role here is that he is perhaps the team’s best, and most willing, ball-mover as well as someone who is capable of knocking down open shots if left unchecked from three (assuming no defense would leave known marksmen like Nwora, Romich or David).
Hanna brings a winning pedigree from Catholic Memorial in the MIAA and while his mindset is typically more of an attacker than true distributor, he’s more than capable of providing minutes at the point guard spot.
Another candidate for the point guard job, or perhaps best described as point forward in his case, is Simi Shittu. To be clear, Shittu is not a guard, but he is a talented playmaker and passer who would be capable of initiating offense if Popp were to put his top five players regardless of position on the floor.
Shittu is also no stranger to expectations. A five-star national prospect who came to VA from Montverde Academy in Florida, Shittu is also the top rated 2018 prospect in his native Canada.
Roxbury Latin transfer Sebastijan Skoko is another incoming junior who could see time in the backcourt while fellow junior Jon Lyons, along with Bridgton Academy transfer Malcolm Moye, all add to what is undoubtedly the deepest roster in class AA.
Ultimately, there’s no denying that Vermont Academy is the heavy favorite to repeat in Class AA of the NEPSAC. They have one of the most talented rosters in all of prep school basketball, the experience of last year’s championship run, unmatched depth, a collection of individuals who have proven to be over-achievers and a coach who earned praise from both his players and peers alike last year. There are nonetheless still questions to be answered though. How will they adjust to life after Bruce Brown? When will David be back to 100%? Who will play the point guard position? Will so many scorers learn to share the ball?
Admittedly, those are “problems” that any other team AA team would gladly trade for, but they’re still questions that will need answers before Vermont Academy can hang another banner.