Yags’ Point Forward: Mid-Season Review & Rankings Primer
With our updated rankings right around the corner and the season now close to its midpoint, this is a perfect time to take a look back at the first half of the ’16-’17 season and what it means as we head down the stretch into March, looking to crown champions at the state, prep and national level.
David Duke and Cushing Academy – The team’s success and player’s rise have a familiar catalyst driving each one hard to reach their respective potential. Virginia Tech-bound senior point guard Wabissa Bede has led, and at times dragged, both to tremendous improvement that few outside the program could’ve seen coming in the preseason.
The coinciding improvement of Duke’s skillset and his functional explosive ability have turned the 6-foot-4 junior into one of New England’s biggest stock risers. It has also given first year head coach James Cormier a backcourt combo that is among the region’s best and not just on reputation alone. Cushing suffered their first loss of the season last weekend at HoopHall, a 61-53 rockfight against Commonwealth Academy, with Duke sidelined by a sprained ankle. They carried an 11-1 record into the weekend.
Vermont Academy’s Struggles – On paper, Vermont has one of the most loaded rosters that you’ll find anywhere in the country. Games aren’t played on paper though. The combination of a tough schedule, injuries to key players, and the lack of a demonstrative leader who takes over in crunch time while also holding himself accountable when his team struggles, has left the star-studded squad with a record of 8-7.
Vermont has lost four games by a total of just 7 points (three by 2-points, one by 1-point) but it is still a trend that has to end soon for coach Alex Popp’s crew. The road does not get any easier though as Vermont plays at New Hampton next Wednesday, before heading into matchups with Cheshire and Worcester Academy at the National Prep School Invitational next weekend.
A successful stretch can certainly get Vermont headed in the right direction at the right time of year. At some point though, this group has to realize that their individual achievements mean nothing to New England opponents and only put a larger bullseyes on their collective chests every night. If a successful stretch is ever going to come to fruition, Vermont’s stars will have to step up to the challenge, look down at those bullseyes and decide whether or not their collective heart is strong enough to overcome a few early daggers that landed on target.
MID-SEASON NEW ENGLAND AWARDS/RANKINGS PRIMER
Heading into our updated rankings, here’s my way of giving a preview of some new faces that you’ll find in the 2017 class without giving away any of the newest movement.
Midseason MVP: Wabissa Bede, Cushing Academy – As previously stated, this team is reaching new heights and resetting expectations every day under the leadership of Bede. With wins over South Kent, New Hampton, Tilton, St. Andrew’s and Putnam Science, what were “upsets” early in the season have now turned into “another great win” by Cushing.
Others in the mix: Hasahn French, Commonwealth; Tremont Waters, Notre Dame-West Haven; Makai Ashton-Langford, Brewster; Anthony Gaines, New Hampton.
Best Perimeter Newcomer(s): 6’4” Curtis Haywood II, 6’2” Thomas Allen, and 6’3” Michael Okauru, Brewster Academy – This trio of wings (according to my own unique definition), along with New England staple Makai Ashton-Langford, gives Jason Smith his most explosive backcourt and dangerous team since way back in 2015. Haywood (Georgia Tech-commit) is the ultimate competitor who digs in on both ends and physically, mentally and emotionally beats you down over the course of a game. Allen (NC State) is a deadeye marksman who almost toys with opposing defenses by lulling them to sleep, happily allowing them to go under screens and then burying daggers from wherever he feels fit. Okauru (Florida), meanwhile, has such a versatile skillset that he allows the individual game flow to dictate his impact and seems to contribute wherever and whenever Brewster needs him to. They’re a big reason Brewster is out to a 15-0 start to the season.
Others in the mix: Jordan Nwora, Vermont Academy; D.J. Jones, Notre Dame Prep; Bobby Planutis, Bridgton; Melo Eggleston, Notre Dame Prep; Shaquille Walters, Lee; Maceo Jack, St Thomas More; Luka Vasic, Avon Old Farms
Best Interior Newcomer(s): 6’10” Malik Ondigo, 6’8” Alexis Yetna and 6’8” Isaac Kante, Putnam Science – Similar to the wings at Brewster, these three dangerously diverse and consistently productive bigs have set the tone for Putnam this season. While opponents’ main focus was justifiably on the newest Kentucky Wildcat, Hamidou Diallo, for the season’s first two months, everyone was interested to see how Putnam would react in the absence of their most talented player. That question was answered emphatically at HoopHall as Ondigo took his game to another level on the offensive end before making the game-winning block as time expired and receiving an offer from the University of Minnesota shortly after. Yetna shook free from a few opposing defenders and rattled the entire arena with his early throwdowns. Kante provided energy and minutes throughout despite battling through foul trouble. The fact that 6’10” Seton Hall-committ Darnell Brodie and 6’11”, 290lb Xavier-bound beast Kentravious Jones are also a part of this positional package for Putnam is almost insane.
Others in the mix: Khalea Turner-Morris, New Hampton; Breyon Jackson, Notre Dame Prep; E.J. Anasike, St Thomas More; Jerry Ben, Kent;
YAGS’ 2017 ALL-UNCOMMITTED TEAMS
Derrick Ellis, 5’10” Point Guard, Commonwealth
Chris Duarte, 6’5” PG/Wing, Redemption Christian
Bobby Planutis, 6’7” Wing, Bridgton Academy
Alexis Yetna, 6’8” Big/Wing, Putnam Science
Malik Ondigo, 6’10” Big, Putnam Science
Jaheam Cornwall, 5’10” Point Guard, Putnam Science
DJ Jones, 6’1” PG/Wing, Notre Dame Prep
Joe Kasperzyk, 6’2” Wing, Hillhouse-New Haven
Isaac Kante, 6’8” Big, Putnam Science
Khalea Turner-Morris, 6’9” Big, New Hampton
Joe Seiger, 6’3” PG/Wing, Bridgton
M.J. Richardson, 6’ Point Guard, Master’s
Skyler Nash, 6’5” Wing, Gould Academy
Greg Kuakumensah, 6’7” Wing/Big, Cushing Academy
Breyon Jackson, 6’8” Big, Notre Dame Prep