Text and photos by Steev Riccardo
Indians will open with three on the road
WEBSTER – In some ways it looks like the schedule makers weren’t too kind to the Bartlett Indians boys basketball team with the way they start their season, yet on the other hand, it may a good barometer to see just how good this team is.
The Indians open on the road against a big Hopedale team Friday (December 7) and then travel to Tantasqua and Northbridge, both excellent teams, in their next three games.
“As coaches you pencil games in,” said Indians head coach Tony Paranto, “and when it comes to your toughest opponents, and in my eyes our first three opponents, other than Quaboag, are the toughest we face all year.”
Hopedale is a very tall team with a 6’4” point guard and Tantasqua and Northbridge are, without question, two of the strongest teams in SWCL. On the other hand, everyone is talking about the Indians and how good they are.
Coming off back-to-back disappointing losses last season to Quaboag (at the buzzer) at the Clark Tournament semi-finals and to North Brookfield in the opening round of district play, the Indians finished 13-9.
They also enter this season for the first time in four year years without their leader and starting point guard Nick Kobel, a Central Mass all-star, top-ten scorer (19.4), and a career 1000-point scorer.
Ironically, despite the loss of Kobel, this could be a big year for the Indians. They have one of their biggest and most athletic teams in years. They opened some eyes in summer league play and watching them in the pre-season looked like a team built to win now.
First things first, it’s time for the green to move on from one era and into the next and Paranto said that he has purposely not mentioned his former star in practice this year, but he also knows what has lost.
“He’s irreplaceable,” said Paranto. “He meant so much to our program, not just for the aspects of his athletic ability and his basketball ability, but he just did so much being a captain for four years. Obviously no one is going to be able to step into his shoes. We hope that some of the other veteran kids can take bits and pieces of what he did and put it into their own perspective and try and get the team morale going. We hope that some of those guys can fill his shoes. He is one of those kids that maybe you get once every twenty years or so. He was a kid who played almost every minute of every game.”
Without Kobel, the team has no true experienced point guard and the coach admits that at times it will probably be “point guard by committee” for the Indians, but he is not concerned. “I think we going to be faster than we have been in the last ten years. We are going to be very athletic and we have some kids who can put the ball in the hole.”
It would be a big statement to make saying the team could actually be better this year, but not as outlandish as you might think. The Indians have four key players returning, a couple of bench guys from last year who are ready to contribute, and some new blood that could impact their season early on.
Without any hesitation, there are two guys that pop right out when you look at this team: senior small forward Akeem Belnavis (14.6) and junior power forward Alex Givins-Perry (10.5). These guys can play.
Sharpshooter Matt Huberdault
Add to the mix sharp-shooter senior Matt Huberdault (8.1) and junior defensive wiz Evan Anderson (5.3) and you are looking at a solid possible four starters. Then there is senior guard and defensive specialist Nick Terranova, who played valuable minutes last year and will be looked at as one of the guys that needs to pick up the slack left by the departure of Kobel.
Still it all starts with the highflying Belnavis, who is a great athlete and very focused. “A lot of the burden is going to be put on Belnavis’ shoulders. He is our most athletic kid, he has the most experience and he has great ability basketball-wise. He plays well above the rim and he is also a streaky shooter from the outside. We are expecting big things out of him and he knows it.”
Along side Belnavis is another superb athlete in Alex Givins-Perry, who is a “basketball player” and someone that Paranto is very excited about.
“AGP (Alex Givins-Perry) had a tremendous football season; his best sport in my eyes and his eyes is basketball. He loves basketball; he plays it year round with the AAU circuit. I didn’t realize how good his stats were last year. He averaged a double double, had over 300 rebounds for us last year. He has been working on his outside jump shot, trying to improve upon that because we know he loves going to the offensive glass. He’s quick, athletic, strong and being undersized, (6’0) he still does a great job for us.”
Sophomore transfer Jacob Mailloux could make an impact
Joining Belnavis and Givins-Perry in the frontcourt is sophomore transfer from St. Johns, Jacob Mailloux, who at 6’4” gives the Indians a legitimate center and a young player who is easy to get excited about.
“He (Mailloux) is much more athletic than I thought he was,” said Paranto, “he jumps very well, he has a good left hand, good right hand, he’s good around the basket, he’s long and he’s a shot blocker, which we haven’t had in our program for a long time. He can disrupt a lot of shots for us.”
The trio of Huberdault, who can shoot with the best of them, Anderson, and Terranova should be enough to make up for Kobel and also add intangibles that give the Indians a lot of depth.
Of the three, Anderson may be the most intriguing with his tremendous defensive prowess, which was key in the Indians huge win over Shepherd Hill last year when he drew some huge charges and sparked his team.
“Anderson is a very intelligent basketball player, he has a slew of offensive moves, he is a throwback kid that can do all the intangibles for us. He led us in charges last year and is a very good defender. He’s a gamer and a fighter.”
Paranto feels that Terranova can make the leap and also be a key contributor. “Nick really wants that point guard role, with his limited minutes that he has played, his inexperience comes through but he is very quick, the quickest player on our team and he’s a hound defensively. If he can distribute the basketball for us and get people the ball where he needs to that would be a nice for us. He needs to increase his assist-to-turnover rate.”
The Indians also have a strong bench, which includes senior Andrew Delille, who Paranto said is “a big body and he had a pretty decent football season this past year and hopefully he can fill up some spots underneath the basket for us.”
Senior Steve Dixon could also supply some instant offense from the bench at 6’1.” “He can fill it up in a hurry. He knows the ins and outs of the program. He is very intelligent player and we are hoping to get some productive minutes from him.”
The Indians also have a pair of 6’3” sophomores who played on the junior varsity team last year, Neil Flanigan and Anthony “The Bull” Cafarelli, who give them lots of length.
“Neil is a very aggressive player who likes to rebound, he will be a role player for us and hopefully his minutes will increase as the season progresses.”
Paranto has been impressed with what he has seen from Cafarelli in the pre-season as well. “The Bull has been a bright spot in the pre-season. You can’t teach size and he should be able to bang some people around on the lower block.”
Another surprise for the Indians has been 6’1” senior Kelly Chisholm, who hadn’t played basketball but decided to try out this year. “He has been a pleasant surprise, if not our biggest surprise, in the pre-season. He had two great tryouts; he is very athletic and can run like a deer jumps out of the building. He needs to improve his shooting but I think he is going to be a hound defensively for us and I am hoping with his lack of experience, his athleticism will take over for him.”
Eighth grader Anthony Grzembski has also been practicing with the varsity team and although is young looks like he might be in Paranto’s long term development plans as well.
There is no question that the Indians are tall, athletic, and will be an exciting team to watch and the fun all starts Friday night at Hopedale.
PHOTOS COMING: Senior Akeem Belnavis will be one of the Indians' leaders
Sharpshooter Matt Huberdault
Sophomore transfer Jacob Mailloux could make an impact