Top Players in the VPA
Our sixth and final glimpse at local state associations takes us north to Vermont where Ben Shungu and Rice Memorial High School have been as dominant a high school program as we’ve seen in New England in recent years.
Shungu, who was named Mr. Basketball by the Burlington Free Press and the Gatorade Player of the Year in Vermont following his junior campaign, has helped Rice to a state championship in each of his three seasons at the high school level. Averaging 18 points, nearly 7 boards, 5 assists and over two steals per game last year, Shungu distinguished himself on both ends of the floor while also developing a reputation for playing his best basketball in the biggest moments of the season.
While Shungu is undoubtedly the best player in the state to start his senior campaign, the quest to his fourth state championship could be his biggest challenge yet. First and foremost, while Shungu has collected the biggest accolades he’s been part of a dynamic duo his entire career, starring side by side with Kendrick Gray. That won’t be the case this season though as Gray transferred into Vermont Academy and reclassified to 2017 this fall. So while Shungu is the clear alpha-male on the team the supporting cast is led by sophomore guard Elliot Nelson and junior forward Alex Bond among others.
Nelson started on the state’s top team as a freshmen and spent the off-season traveling beyond his state’s borders to seize every opportunity to prove himself against top competition. Bond is really the only true frontcourt player on the team and so he’ll be the key to the interior, especially on the defensive end.
In other words, this team is younger and smaller than their predecessors but still among the most talented in the state. They’ve already matched their loss total from a year ago, when they went 23-1, after falling to Rutland but still figure to be one of the top contenders before it’s all said and done.
Here’s a look at some of the other top teams and players in the state:
Josh Hale, Asmin Mostarlic, Kujim Haashani & Kevin Garrison, Burlington – Rice’s arch nemesis fell to their rivals in last year’s state championship game but are off to a 6-0 start this season and currently sit atop the Burlington Free Press Power Rankings. Hale, who recently tallied his 1000th career point, seems to have been around forever and simply put, just knows how to play. Mostarlic is a 6-foot-3 match-up problem in the frontcourt while Hashani is one of the state’s top point guards in the junior class and Garrison a premier underclassmen.
Eli DiGrande, Essex – Outside of Shungu, he’s probably the second most talented prospect in the state. At 6-foot-6 with an increasingly strong frame and inside-out tools, he’s the type of scholarship caliber talent you don’t often see in Vermont. Now, his productivity doesn’t always live up to his potential just yet, but he’s also a multi-sport star who has yet to dedicate himself full time to the hardwood. If and when that happens, DiGrande will take his game to the next level.
Nathaniel Kingsley, Rutland – Rutland knocked off the defending state champions, for the second consecutive season no less, and currently sits second overall in the Burlington Free Press power rankings with a 4-1 record. The 6-foot-4 junior is a force to be reckoned with as he combines power and relative athleticism alike and is one of the top frontcourt players in Vermont’s 2017 class as a result.
Jonas Parker, Mount Anthony – A 6-foot-7 big man who joined an already experienced squad when he transferred in from Middletown (NY), Parker has made a quick impact and helped MAU get off to a 6-0 start. While he’s most effective at this level playing around the basket, Parker is also said to have some face-up game in his repertoire.
Walker Storey & Reece Pawlaczyk, Champlain Valley – Pawlaczyk has led the way in the scoring column recently but Storey is probably the team’s best long-term prospect as a good sized shot-maker on the wing. Both come from a deep and talented junior class that also includes point guard Josh Bliss, who suffered an early season injury.
Jibril Abdullahi & Eddie Lamson, Winooski – Lamson, an athletic junior guard, and Abdullahi, an experienced senior, combine to form the best backcourt in the division III ranks and have Winooski off to a 6-0 start to the season as a result.
Jackson McCoy, U-32 – He dropped 27 points on Williamstown just before the holidays but unfortunately it came in a loss. McCoy is one of the top scorers in Vermont’s senior class, especially of those players who don’t play at either Burlington or Rice, and has his club off to a 4-2 start to the season.