What has always made Division I the best division in the state (sorry.. I still love you, Division IV, but you’ve become a little too predictable) is the fact that every team played each other once.
Other than the odd 2-year cycle where the numbers don’t match up, you’d get every team facing each other once.
Head to head records were a real conversation point, and it was always fun for me to hear the seacoast coaches tell me they never get a call when they go to Manchester and then hear the Manchester coaches say the same thing about going to the seacoast.
I’ve been covering basketball for thirteen years; they’re both right.
That’s not going to be the case in 2021. The seacoast teams are in their bubble, as are the Nashua, Manchester, and southern schools.
And then there is Keene.
“We don’t play one game against a Division I team until the playoffs,” said their head coach Kevin Ritter, before asking me what I knew about Hanover & Lebanon.
That’s where we are. We won’t have a firm grasp on how teams stack up until March.
That, of course, doesn’t mean we won’t try, as Lance Legere & I will have weekly power rankings that promise to fill our inbox with emails titled ‘Why do you hate our team?’
No one is approaching the regular season like one long pre-season, but the truth is we aren’t even sure how they are going to rank teams after the regular season is over (if they pick out of a hat as they did for field hockey, soccer and volleyball it will be a disaster) and no one is sure the tournament will be one bracket or several.
Today in our last of eight previews and the longest in our 13-year history, we take a deep dive look at Division I, where if everything goes right, we’ll meet up together at the end of March.
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Division I Pre-Season Top 10
Lurking outside the Top 15: Londonderry, Manchester Memorial, Concord, Timberlane, Dover, Merrimack & Spaulding
Coaches have a long history of fighting a high pre-season ranking.
Former Portsmouth head coach Jim Mulvey would repeatedly tell me, ‘I’m telling you we are not that good.’
Conant head coach Eric Saucier annually has a ready-made Top 8 teams in the Division, and Conant has never been on it.
I’ve only known Bishop Guertin head coach John Fisher for two years, but that’s long enough to know he’s smart, humble, and in coaching for all the right reasons. He believes you don’t get something without earning it.
In this case, though, he also knows what can’t be denied.
“We’re the favorites going in,” said Fisher of his 2021 team. “We know that. Why run away from it?”
A year ago, BG had a lot of fun with me picking them 13th in the pre-season. A year later, they will have to go after me about something else because this is the best team in the state heading into the season.
It begins with the all-state duo of Dylan Santosuosso and Nate Kane. Both were members of the NHsportspage underclassman team (that never got to compete against BABC), and each has an all-state season on their resume.
“Dylan isn’t a secret anymore,” said Fisher. “A year ago, we knew how good he was, but it didn’t seem anyone else did. Then he went off and won four games for us almost single-handedly.”
Santosuosso has already committed to play for Bill Foti at Colby Sawyer next year, and for his senior season, his focus seems to be on ensuring BG is the last team standing in March.
“He’s worked very hard. He’s a scorer but also a very unselfish player,” said Fisher. “He’s a leader vocally and by example.”
The big move of the off-season was when Nate Kane left Nashua North for Bishop Guertin. The move had nothing to do with basketball and everything to do with being in the classroom, but it represented a shift in power the moment it happened.
Kane gives BG another all-state guard with good size. Another proven winner and good influence in the locker room.
It was a home run for the Cardinals. “Nate has been tremendous, and he has fit right in,” said Fisher. “He has known these guys forever, so it was seamless when he came on board.”
Jordan Robichaud is the floor general. A vocal leader and vastly underrated point guard who handles pressure and knows exactly where everyone on the floor needs to be. “You can’t win in this Division without a good point guard, and Jordan keeps getting better & better for us. He’s such a huge part of what we are about.”
John Sullivan is a Division I lacrosse player who has been dunking everything in practice (“He’s been putting on a show. If he gets out in transition..look out,” said Fisher) while 6’7 Javari Ellison, who also came over from Nashua North, gives the Cardinals a bona fide rim protector.
“Javari has great footwork for a big guy,” said Fisher. “He is very skilled and quick defensively. He’s going to be a problem for teams trying to get to the rim.”
Forward Ben Mullet will again contribute right away alongside 6’5 center Lucas Baker.
Giving BG what might be the best frontcourt in the state. “Ben has added an effective outside shot to his inside moves,” said Fisher. “Lucas is so in sync with what we are doing as a team, and he is a terrific athlete.”
Sophomore Matt Santosuosso would start for about fifteen other teams in the Division. He will produce right away off the bench before he takes on a lead role next season. “Matt has gotten stronger over the off-season and shoots it well. There’s no limit to what he can become for us over the next three years.”
Bishop Guertin was knocked off by a determined Salem team in the first round of the tournament a year ago. They’re going to have a target on their back from Day 1 this year. Fisher and his players welcome the challenge.
“I’ve never seen such a positive vibe in the gym in all my years of coaching. There is so much competition in practice, and at the same time, I find myself laughing every time we all get together,” said Fisher.
“We’re ready to prove ourselves. I wish we played the seacoast teams like Portsmouth, Exeter, and Winnacunnet, but the regional schedule is what it is. It’s about making up for the playoff loss last season and proving ourselves every game.”
I’ll never write it as it happens, but there are years where coaches have a group they can’t reach, and that can make for a long cold winter (TM: Cinderella’s ridiculously good 1988 album).
It could be selfish players or parents, academic issues, or just a group that doesn’t come together or work hard towards a common goal.
Then there are the other kind of teams.
“I love this group,” said Winnacunnet head coach Jay McKenna. “They work exceptionally hard, they play as a team, and we have great personalities in this group.”
Jay McKenna has one of those other kinds of teams.
No team in the Division returns more production from a year ago, an 11-7 Warriors team that lost in the first round to a very good Nashua South team in a game we covered.
The Warriors have size, speed, athleticism in spades, and experience as well. Add to that good chemistry, and this a team that will be a handful from Day 1.
It starts with 6’5 all-state forward Brett Marelli, who has already committed to play for WPI next season. “He’s very skilled, long, and athletic, but it’s his work ethic that sets him apart,” said McKenna.
“He’s poised to have a big year for us. He has a very high basketball IQ, and you see that in his instincts of where and when to cut on offense.”
6’2 James O’Hara will run the offense at point guard. O’Hara is an excellent shooter. His ability to get to the rim & finish when he arrives has improved dramatically since we first saw him as a skinny sophomore knocking down shots against Exeter in front of a packed house.
“He’s a senior now, and there is just a different look about him,” said McKenna. “He’s a leader now, he has the experience to know exactly what we are running at both ends of the floor, and he has become a vocal leader.”
“In all my twenty plus years of coaching, he might be the most athletic player I have ever coached. He has excellent speed, and he dunks with ease.”
Lucas Shaacke returns at forward after averaging 11.3 ppg. last season.
Shaacke might be the team’s best defender, and he will score, rebound, and is an underrated passer as well. “He is so versatile; he gives us a little bit of everything,” said McKenna. “He’s a great leader for us and just a great kid.”
6’5 Sam Andreottola gives the Warriors a big man who can protect the paint and finish down low. “He’s a traditional big, and you don’t see that a lot anymore,” said McKenna. “He helps us tremendously.”
6’4 Joe Allen now has the Division I body to match his Division I pitching arm. “He’s looked great for us. He’s going to play a big role for us this season.” While former Spaulding and then Arizona transfer Braeden Burns has been a very nice addition to a team already stacked with key returners. “He’s an outstanding athlete and just adds to our depth.”
Josh Shaacke (someday I’m organizing a Shaacke/Arsenault/Stauffeneker brothers only three on three tourney) will contribute right away off the bench as a sophomore along with forward Elynn Houston.
The upside: Winnacunnet belongs right here at #2.
The downside: if administrators insist on regional playoff brackets, it's going to be a war to get out of the seacoast.
The Portsmouth Clippers hit their stride sometime around early March.
After an overtime win over Goffstown, in a game we covered, John Mulvey's team ripped off road wins over Bedford, Nashua North, and Alvirne before season-ending home wins over Nashua South, Bishop Guertin, and Manchester Central in the first round.
That's five of the top twelve teams in the division and a Central team that had won four of six to end the season.
The Clippers beat them all, and let's just say they felt very good about their chances of competing for their third Division I championship since 2016.
"It's such a tough division, so who knows, but we were playing really well at the end of the season," said 3rd-year head coach John Mulvey.
The Clippers don't rebuild; they re-load, but the loss of Zach Paradis, Tommy Degnan, and especially all-state guard Cal Hewett won't be easy. "I don't think people realize how much Cal did for us," said Mulvey. "He brought up the ball, he rebounded, and a lot of times, he guarded the other team's best player. That's a lot to replace."
Please don't feel bad for Portsmouth (I'm kidding. Nobody feels bad for Portsmouth); their two leading scorers return, as does a very capable rotation. The Clippers will be in the thick of it again when we get to March.
All-State guard Coleman Brewster returns after averaging 20 points a game as a junior.
The member of the NHsportspage underclassman team is going to score points, but this year he's going to be asked to do a lot more. "He can score from anywhere. He's put the work in, and I'm confident he's going to be among the leading scorers in the division," said Mulvey. "This year, he is going to have to handle the ball and be more of a facilitator as well."
6'4 guard Kevin Cummings is a knockdown three-point shooter on the wing, and he's about to show a lot more than that. "He was strictly a catch & shoot guy two years ago," said Mulvey. "He's much better now, and he can get to the rim off the dribble pretty easily."
Matthew Minkler will step into the point guard role and will be joined in the starting lineup by 6'3 Thomas Weir. "Matthew is athletic and creates offense really well for not only himself but his teammates," said Mulvey.
"Tommy is one of our better defenders and does a really good job setting screens & rebounding for us."
There are athletes up & down the rotation as AJ Degnan ("He's gives a ton of effort and will be a good defender for us," said Mulvey), Matthew's younger brother Ryan Minkler ("He's very athletic."), Jack Radcliffe ("He probably leads our team in charges in practice."), Luke Bouchard ("Luke will have a good chance to help us this season.") and finally Carmen Zingariello ("He can shoot the ball very well and is going to step right in and play on the wing for us.") all will have a chance to help the Clippers reach their 10th final four in 11 tries.
"We are going to score points," said Mulvey. "My focus is on our defense and rebounding. It's not about effort with this group; it's more about being assertive; they're a little bit of a quiet group."
"We're just happy to be playing, and with the seacoast loaded again, it's going to be tough games up & down the schedule."
The Exeter Blue Hawks were the top seed in the Division I tournament and poised to defend their title when the season came to a sudden and permanent stop.
Three starters from that team, including player of the year Ryan Grijalva and all-state guard Mike Leonard, both off playing college basketball, have graduated, but Jeff Holmes’ team has re-loaded, and they’re not going away in 2021.
“We’re going to start five seniors, so these are players who have been together for a long time,” said Holmes.
“There is good communication and chemistry among them, and for a lot of our seniors, this is their first time getting big minutes. They’ve had to wait behind the classes in front of them, so they’re excited about their opportunity.”
6’5 forward Jacob Gibbons now takes over the lead role Grijalva played a year ago.
Gibbons has terrific range and a nose for the basket; his head coach also thinks he’s about to have a very good season. “He’s really good. He’s improved his 3-point game, and that has opened up his offensive game. He was more of a slasher last year; now he can do it all.”
Gibbons and starting point guard Matt McConnell were two ships passing in the night last season as Gibbons missed the first eight games of the season with an injury, and McConnell missed the last seven. “We never got those two out on the floor for more than a few games,” said Holmes.
McConnell has always been a smart floor general who defends well, but he has improved his shooting and is ready to make teams pay when they focus their attention elsewhere. “He has an excellent understanding of what we are looking for offensively, and his ability to knock down shots will make us pretty tough to defend,” said Holmes.
6’2 forward Tom Delgado is one of the starting seniors ready for his turn. He’s a good shooter (you can assume they’re all good shooters, this is Exeter we’re talking about), and will be joined in the rotation by Chris Heffernan. “Chris has worked his tail off,” said Holmes. “He is a really good athlete and is going to step in and help us at both ends of the floor.”
6’0 Tyler Gilbert will fit very well into the starting five, whose strength is its ability to stretch your defense with its shooting. Its weakness will be size. “We are going to be small when Jacob isn’t out there,” admits Holmes. “We will have to rebound as a team.”
A pair of sophomores, Evan Pafford and Ryan Luper are the next wave of Blue Hawks, and each has the opportunity to earn minutes. Holmes has been impressed with John Meyers, Noel Daniel & Amir Usta, who has really improved according to his head coach.
“I’m really pleased with how we’ve practiced and the attitude across the team,” said Holmes. “You win with seniors in this division, and we feel like we have a really good group this season.”
The Goffstown Grizzlies' steady climb under 3rd-year head coach Ryan Cowette saw them win six games in his first season, followed by nine games last season.
Year 3 has the look and feel of the breakout season.
"Are coaches in the division saying that?" Cowette asked me.
Yes, they are.
The Grizzlies have one of the best backcourts in the division, a glue-guy any team would want, and enough depth to take the next step in 2021. "It's a fun group to come to practice with every day," said Cowette. "There are a lot of basketball players in this group. Kids that play the game all year round."
Rob Baguidy (we're not calling him Robenson anymore) is one of the state's best point guards. As a freshman, he was fun to watch; as a sophomore, he was more than capable of handling pressure and now looks poised for big things.
"He's been in the gym non-stop over the off-season, and you can see it in practice every day," said Cowette. "He's bigger, stronger, and faster. He has another gear this season."
That's bad news for the rest of Division I. Here's more bad news.
Aiden O'Connell grew three inches over the summer.
"I don't think he's done growing," said Cowette.
That's more bad news.
By the end of last season, the freshman had earned pre-game attention from opposing defenses. He now joins Beguidy in a dynamic backcourt.
"He's the best shooter on the team, and he is knocking everything down in practice. With added size, he's going to be able to get to the rim," said Cowette. "Last season teams got more physical with him as the year went on. Now he will be able to hold his own as a sophomore."
6'4 forward Jack Kelly gives the Grizzlies a slasher, high-level defender, and a leader. "He and Rob are our two captains. We haven't had captains my first two years, but those two have stepped up and led our team," said Cowette. "They set the tone."
6'3 Mason Blondeau gives the Grizzlies size and strength in the middle and will be joined in the rotation by football standout Uziel Mpoyo and promising sophomore Ryan Strand, whose father played on Concord’s championship teams with Matt Bonner.
"Uziel has been really good for us in practice," said Cowette. "He might be our best defender."
"Ryan is a great athlete; he's going to be really good for us," said Cowette. "He's just a great kid, always asking questions; I'm excited about him as a player."
Senior Liam Malley gives the Grizzlies a shooter off the bench along with Nate Bonacorsi and David St. Pierre.
"We're in a tough region, and to play the pre-season #1 on opening night, we'll have to be ready to compete," said Cowette. "I'm enjoying this group, and the vibe is a very good one. We're excited and happy to be playing."
EJ Perry’s 3rd season at Windham is his best chance to make a run. The Jaguars return three starters, including 1st team all-state guard Joey DaSilva.
If Perry’s team, who always defend, can get scoring around their captain, they have a chance to crash the party in March. “We went from four wins two years ago to nine last year and had significant wins,” said Perry. “I expect the Jaguar Hoop team to challenge for a State Title.”
6’2 Westin Lippold averaged 10 points and six rebounds a game and was the Jaguars most improved player. He returns to the starting lineup alongside 6’2 forward Rocky Heres.
DaSilva is a knockdown shooter who averaged 16 points per game last season and was the focus of just about every defense he faced.
“I thought Joey was the best player in the state last year, so I believe the same this year,” said Perry. “He has enhanced his strength and speed and quickness and can dominate a game.”
Expect DaSilva to be over 20 points per game this season; the question is, will there be enough scoring around him?
Cole Peterson was the best defender on the team a year ago as the 6th man and will contribute once again. Chris Billone and Jack St. Hilaire will battle for starting jobs along with sophomore Blake Dempsey.
Jack Runde will give Windham more of what they have already, size, and athletic ability. “Joey DaSilva can single-handedly keep you in games, and this year we have the cast that can complete the job at hand,” said Perry.
With depth, a very good defense and a go-to guy any team would kill for…Windham might be in the conversation well into late March.
Few teams, if any, in the division were as young a year ago as Manchester Central.
Sudi Lett took a team that started 0-3 and got them to the playoffs, going 8-7 after the slow start.
A year later, those players have all improved, and the experience from being thrown into the fire early may be about to pay off.
“Last season was a really good year for us. We took the hit of getting beat badly on opening night against Trinity and continued to get better,” said 3rd-year head coach Sudi Lett. “I’m excited about this season. These kids have put in the work, and now it's time to compete.”
Baril Mawo emerged as one of the better wing players in the division last season, and now as a senior, his head coach expects him to take the next step. “He can score in several different ways. What I want to see him do is use his strength to finish at the rim,” said Lett. “We had a practice where he reversed dunk, and all of us stopped and said ‘Where has that been!’.
“He’s very capable of having a big season for us.”
Jabari Dowell and Baylee Bates both were key contributors a year ago. Lett feels like he might shorten his rotation to eight or nine players, and competition in practice for those spots have been intense.
“Jabari was great for us in the playoff game against Portsmouth. We feel like there is going to be carry over from how well we were playing at the end of last season.”
“Baylee is an excellent shooter, and he’s going to play well for us on the perimeter.”
The Central backcourt has not one but two future stars in Angel Castro and Kuel Akot.
Both players can run the offense or play off the ball on the wing, and if they aren’t one of the best backcourts in the state today, that day is coming very soon. “They are a menace defensively, and that sets the tone out front,” said Lett. “I’m extremely high on both of them and their abilities.”
6’4 Andrew Houghton is the resident glue-guy every team wins with. “He is very steady for us and smart. He defends and rebounds well; he helps us in a lot of ways.”
Sophomore Jason Gasana is another underclassman poised to make an impact this season as Central looks to pick up where it left off when it won six of their last nine games.
“Typically, my teams play well in the third year. I’m really excited to coach this group and to see what we can become as a group.”
Pinkerton Academy changes their boys' basketball coaches about as often as the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tony Carnovale was followed by Peter Rosinski, and now former Hopkinton & Concord head coach Dave Chase takes over.
Dave used to like to point out to me (usually after a big playoff win) that Hopkinton was one of the smallest schools in Division III.
He's not going to get to use that line at Pinkerton (enrollment somewhere around 3,500).
"I'm excited to be the head coach at Pinkerton, and I'm also lucky this isn't my first year in the program," said Chase. "Having coached the JV team last year, I have some familiarity with the players, and that has made for a good transition."
The Astros haven't made the tournament since the 2015-16 season. To put that into context, that was the last season Portsmouth was in Division II.
With several key players back, a good junior class, and a lot of size and talent amongst the underclassman, the Astros should be back in the conversation again. "The players know it has been a tough stretch, and they want to turn it around this season."
6'7 Justin Dunne could be due for a breakout year. The Springfield College-bound forward is very comfortable playing out on the perimeter.
His head coach would like to get him comfortable at the rim. "How high his motor is game to game will tell you a lot about how good of a team we are going to be," said Chase. "He can attack the rim and be a real problem for teams. That's what we want to see."
A pair of seniors Jimmy Flynn and Andy MacDonald, return to the starting lineup and have led the way in practice. "Both of them are hard-nosed and physical," said Chase. "We know what we are going to get from each of them, and they have set a good tone for the underclassman."
The Astros are loaded with promising underclassmen. Brothers Anthony & Tyrone Chinn played varsity as freshmen a year ago and will step into much more prominent roles this season.
6'5 freshman Jackson Marshall will get a chance to contribute right away, while freshman point guard Drew Brander has the look of a future star as well. "They are both going to get a chance to play," said Chase. "If I didn't think they could help us, I wouldn't throw them into the fire, but I believe they're ready."
Wilton, Connecticut transfer 6'6 forward EJ Fasano will also step right into Astros rotation. Yes, even the kids who move into the district are tall.
"The kids have bought in; they've been like sponges in practice," said Chase. "I have a 38-mile drive from home to practice every night, and it feels like a five-minute drive because I'm consumed with what we are going to do in practice."
"I don't know how good we'll be this season, but we will work hard and be well prepared."
Gold Level Coaches/Programs as of 1/13:
John Mulvey of Portsmouth
Rob McLaughlin of Salem
Nate Stanton of Londonderry
John Fisher of Bishop Guertin
Marty Edwards of Alvirne
Ryan Cowette of Goffstown
Frank Moreno of Bedford
Jeff Baumann of Timberlane
Dave Chase of Pinkerton
Matt Fennessy of Dover
Jeff Holmes of Exeter
Jay McKenna of Winnacunnet
Danny Bryson of Manchester Memorial
Keith Bike of Trinity
Few teams were playing better at the end of last season than Nate Mazerolle's Nashua South Panthers.
Their season was shut down after a playoff road win over Winnacunnet, ending what was beginning to look like an impressive run. "We were going to face an excellent Exeter team, but unfortunately, the kids never got the chance."
South returns enough experience to get back to the top of the division again this season. Five players return from the rotation, and with a finally healthy Cody Rocheleau, they may have their crunch-time scorer.
"Cody has been snake-bit by injuries," said Mazerolle. "Every time he seems to be hitting his stride, he gets sidelined. He's been playing great during the pre-season, and we want to see what he's capable of because when he is playing well, there aren't a lot of guards better than Cody."
The 6'3 shooting guard can shoot it, defend and get to the rim. He's joined on the perimeter by Alex Hulfachor, who played significant minutes a season ago. "Alex is going to play a much bigger role for us this season," said Mazerolle. "He's a very steady influence out on the floor for us."
6'9 Rhett Medling will also be asked to do more this season, and his head coach believes he's ready. "Rhett has a competitive edge to him that I love. He's going to mix it up in the paint and play an important role for us."
Guard Jeremiah Mitchell was a spark for the Panthers in a late-season 70-63 loss at Portsmouth and should step in and be a contributor right away.
Freshman point guard Zac Castonguay is a heralded newcomer after a championship run with the Elm Street middle school team.
"He's very good. Right now he is getting up to speed. With the shutdown, he wasn't able to play with us this summer," said Mazerolle. "We are going to bring him along slowly, but the potential with Zac is obvious."
"We really came together as a team late in the season. With the shortened season and open tournament, that's what I'd like to see us do again," said Mazerolle. "There's a lot of competition in practice for spots in the rotation, so that has created a very good environment."
It’s been a pre-season of starts & stops for a lot of teams and Nashua North is no different.
Last season’s pre-season #1 looked poised to advance to Durham before the season was suspended. Steve Lane’s team will again be in the mix but with very few practices there are very few certainties.
“We have a lot of competition for roles and at this point, we just haven’t had enough time in the gym to know who is playing where,” said Lane. “I’m very encouraged by the younger players in the program. How they are able to step into bigger roles will tell you a lot about how good we’re going to be.”
All-State guard Curtis Harris returns after an MVP and undefeated football season. The future Holy Cross Crusader has grown into a team leader and takes on a bigger scoring role with the graduation of Brendan Choate and loss of Nate Kane to Bishop Guertin.
“He’s grown a lot as a player and as a person,” said Lane. “He does all the things that a next level college athlete can do and we expect him to be a huge factor on both ends of the floor.”
Sam McElliot earned minutes and a few starts late last season. Lane expects a big impact from Day 1. “He really came on for us last year and he saved us against Concord when we got down big early.”
Lane himself wasn’t sure he was going to coach this year during the pandemic and went out of his way to praise his players attention to the rules & detail.
“They understand I have to be very careful and they’ve been phenomenal in following protocols and being safe. I can’t say enough good things about these kids.”
The rotation will flesh itself out over the first part of the season but the talent & coaching is there to keep the Titans in the mix. “I have a good feeling about this group and their dedication to getting better. Like every other coach you’ll talk to I just want to see us playing our best basketball in March.”
There will be a lot of new faces on Marty Edwards’ team as the Alvirne Broncos look to repeat the success of a 2020 season that saw them hand Exeter their first & only loss of the season and earn a playoff win over Bedford before the tournament was shutdown.
A new look backcourt will be asked to get the ball to one of the better frontcourts in the division as all-state forward Liam O’Neil leads a team looking to continue the success from last March.
“We are going to be a different type of team this season,” said Edwards. “Our strength is with our big men; we’re going to be a pretty big team. We need to handle pressure in the backcourt. I think we have the players to get it done.”
O’Neil returns stronger and better than he was a year ago when he was a double-double threat on a nightly basis.
The Southern Maine CC commit will not only be asked to score & rebound but handle the ball at times as well. “Liam has truly transformed himself as a player,” said Edwards. “He has gotten bigger and quicker as well. He’s been a real leader for us, and I think he’s going to have a terrific season.”
Charlie Thomas and Jake Dufour are a pair of speedy guards in the backcourt. They’ll share point guard duties, and Edwards likes the ball-handling ability each brings to the table. “One of my concerns coming into the season was how we would handle the ball against pressure, but I’ve seen enough from Charlie & Jake to realize we should do very well.”
“Liam is someone who can also handle the ball for us, and that should pose a mismatch for the other team.”
6’7 Brendan Graham will play alongside O’Neil down low, giving the Broncos an inside/out offense that should get shooters like Jacob Hibbard and sophomore Cam Kruger good looks.
“We were able to space the floor and extend the defense a year ago because of (Jackson) Dewitt’s ability to shoot the ball,” said Edwards. “We have the shooting with this group to have that same ability.”
Kyle Ferullo is one of the team’s best defenders and will step in and contribute right away.
Owen Hoskins is a very talented but still raw athlete that Edwards will call on early as a rebounder and defender. “He’s a phenomenal athlete. We want to bring him along because he can rebound and defend at a high level.”
The Broncos will again be in the mix; the question mark is who provides scoring in addition to Liam O’Neil?
“We have a pretty good balance, and right now, it’s about seeing who is going to play where. With the abbreviated pre-season, it will take a little bit of time, but I’m confident in this group and what we can become.”
Salem is known around the division by opposing coaches for their defense, their toughness, and for the simple fact, they are a pain in the butt to deal with.
I'm here to report that in 2021 none of that is going to change.
"We have a lot of the kids who played JVs for us last year coming up, and they carry that mentality that they're going to compete for 32 minutes," said head coach Rob McLaughlin. "We aren't a very big team, so what we need to do is create stops and our offense through our defense."
Guard Adan Ayala came on strong at the end of last season and has grown into a leadership role for the Blue Devils. "He's going to get more chances offensively this year, but it's his defense that created energy for us last season," said McLaughlin.
"He had a steal off of a denial at the beginning of the (playoff win) Bishop Guertin game, and it created great energy for us."
Three juniors will step into the starting lineup for a Salem team that lost five of its top six scorers from last season.
Jacob Bennett will run the point and is one of the team's most improved players. "He's going to be big for us, and he is someone who will pressure the ball."
Caleb Bates will play at the small forward spot alongside glue-guy Cam Kloza.
"They both bring something that helps us," said McLaughlin. "Cam is just one of those players that is always in the right spot. We're going to be balanced offensively this year; I don't think we are the kind of team with a 20 ppg scorer, but we feel like everyone in the rotation can score."
6'1 shooting guard Ryan Pacy moved back to Salem from Andover (MA) and should provide scoring for a team that returns only 12 points per game from last season's quarterfinal team. "I've been impressed with him," said McLaughlin. "He played varsity at Andover last year, so he has been able to step right in for us."
A pair of seniors Craig Harris and Mark Chopelas, will have a chance to contribute right away.
"It's going to be about players taking their opportunities and stepping into bigger roles because it's wide open as far as playing time," said McLaughlin. "I'm looking forward to seeing this group come together."
Frank Moreno feels like he grew up as a coach at Bedford and now returns after leading Bow to a 17-1 season a year ago.
"I was on the very first coaching staff at Bedford and stayed on when Mike Fitzpatrick, John Langlois, and then Mark Elmendorf was leading the team," said Moreno. "It feels great to be home."
The Bulldogs graduated all five starters, including 1st team all-state forward Justin O'Neil, Connor Butts, and Jordan Dyer. There is still plenty of talent, but experience is about to be earned the hard way.
"We will go into the regular season without my having coached any of the kids in a game," said Moreno. "We'll build ourselves up as a team from the ground up."
JT Delacey was a valuable 6th man a year ago and steps into a leadership role for the Bulldogs this season. "He's very versatile as a player. I like to refer to him as a glue-guy with a three-point shot," joked Moreno.
Danny Kuleza did a good job backing up Butts, one of the steadiest point guards in the division last season, and now gets the keys to the offense. "He brings a lot of energy to practices, and he has been a vocal leader out on the floor."
Scoring may come from junior forward TJ O'Connell, who has very good range as a shooter and can finish at the rim. "I think he and Andrew Zimmerman are going to step up and produce this season."
Zimmerman is a 6'4 forward who will spend a bulk of his time in the paint defending bigs, but one that can step out and knock down shots. "We want to draw opposing bigs away from the paint, and Ryan's ability to shoot it is going to do that."
6'2 Dylan Kumbani is a very good athlete who gives Bedford a rebounder and rim protector. "He's small for someone who is going to play the 5 (center), but he's such a good athlete that he plays bigger than his height," said Moreno.
6'6 Teagan Graham is new to the program but will have a chance to contribute right away.
"The kids are really hungry to prove themselves. These are players who sat behind the seniors a year ago, and now they want to make their mark," said Moreno. "It will take some time for us to come together, but I couldn't be more excited about this group and what we have coming up through the system."
There is a tale of two teams at Trinity this season.
Keith Bike’s team returns five seniors, including the divisions leading scorer a year ago, Royce Williams.
Joining the Pioneers are four promising freshmen, who are all going to get a chance to contribute right away and two that no doubt will.
The question that will be answered in the next two months is whether Trinity is just a team on the rise or one that can compete with the best teams in the division in 2021?
“We haven’t had the time we need to come together, just like everyone else,” said head coach Keith Bike. “What we do have is very competitive practices because we have a lot of players who can help us and minutes to be earned.”
Royce Williams returns as one of the best scorers in the state. The 6’0 shooting guard should benefit from more scorers around him this season, as teams won’t be able to key on him any longer. “He has that sense of urgency that you get with seniors,” said Bike. “He had a good season last year, but he knows he is capable of more, and the focus is to step up his all-around game to a higher level.”
Nate Meeker returns at point guard and gives Trinity a floor general to run the offense. “Nate is steady, smart, and he takes care of the ball,” said Bike. “He’s someone who is going to benefit from the additional weapons we have on offense.”
Louis Rosenthall is a terrific shooter on the wing, and that ability will spread the floor, giving Williams more room to operate. Ryan Stutlz and George will have the chance to contribute right away, while a very strong freshman class might feel like their time is now.
Guard Tyler Bike is one of the best freshmen in the state and will play right away. Bike, the coaches’ son, is the grandson of former NFL and former MLB athletes, and while his father claims none of the athleticism can be tied to him, his intellect on the floor certainly can be.
“He has a very well-rounded game. He will defend, pass the ball, and he can certainly score for us this season,” said Bike.
Fellow freshman Mark Nyomah can score in bunches and aside from the usual learning curve all-freshman go through in Division I, he is ready to produce from Day 1. “He needs to learn as he goes, and certainly he is going to make some mistakes, but he could be a dynamic scorer for us,” said Bike.
Fellow freshman Devohn Ellis and 6’5 Kaleb Santos mean Trinity is going to be a real problem for opposing teams in 2024.
Can they come together in a shortened season over the next two months?
“When you have that many guys who can help you on the floor, it means if you’re not playing hard, you’re coming out,” said Bike. “We want to play with a high level of intensity for 32 minutes this season.”
A year ago, the premature end of the season was a punch in the gut to a lot of teams, but for the Keene Blackbirds, it hit particularly hard.
After a first-round win over Windham and Salem's first-round upset of 4th seeded Bishop Guertin, Kevin Ritter's team was about to host their biggest home game in over 15 years.
The Blackbirds were playing their best basketball of the season, Pete Tarrier & our crew was headed west to cover the game, and a program that occupied the basement of Division I for most of the last decade was a single win away from Durham (UNH).
That game and the three other quarterfinal games were never played, and with the graduation of all-state forward Noah Timmer, Jonathan Kelly's move to Tennessee, and Liam Johnston's decision to go prep, it looked like the window for Keene had closed.
Three newcomers to the program, four returnees, and some newfound swagger have Keene feeling pretty good about themselves going into the season.
Let's not close that window just yet…..
"I'll be honest, in the summer, I felt like we were really going to struggle," said head coach Kevin Ritter. "We lost Tate Matte two years ago to prep school and then two more a year ago. For a program like ours, those are tough losses to overcome."
"We had three players come out for the team that I wasn't expecting, all very good athletes, and the vibe in our practices has been terrific," said Ritter of the 2021 edition of the Blackbirds. "I'm excited to let these guys loose and watch them compete."
That three good athletes wanted to join the team shouldn't be a surprise. Ritter's team plays a fast paced, press you for 32 minutes style, and when he has the horses, he lets them run. "I think we have a really attractive style of play, and it really energizes the kids."
6'5 forward Alex Charles returns and looks poised for a breakout season. "He's such a great kid, and he does a little bit of everything for us," said Ritter. "He can shoot the ball and post up on the low block, but I think the aspect of his game that gets overlooked is how good of a passer he is. Alex has a great motor and understands exactly what we are trying to do on both ends of the floor."
Christian Oxendine was a key contributor a year ago and will step into a more prominent role this season. "He's a very athletic wing player for us, and he has looked really good in practice attacking the rim."
The three newcomers are 6'4 junior Isaiah Whitney, an old school big who can move you around in the post and provide points in the paint. 6'4 Sharik Khan, who Ritter thinks can develop into a very good defender/slasher, and 6'2 guard Isaiah Dunchus, who Ritter describes as a smooth guard who will help right away.
When it comes to recruiting in the hallway, give Ritter an A.
"When you didn't anticipate any newcomers, and you end up with three really good athletes who chose to be here, yeah, that's a win for our program," said Ritter.
A pair of guards Jaheim Lancaster ("He is lightning quick.") and Nick Maiella ("He shoots it well and has a very high basketball IQ.") will step into the rotation from Day 1.
Out west, Keene will play teams from all three of the lower divisions, with Monadnock (pre-season #2), Lebanon (#2), Hanover (#7), and Conant (#9) all posing a new challenge to the Blackbirds.
"Those are all excellent teams/programs, so we are going to have to be ready. I wish we were playing our normal Division I schedule, but we're playing, and that's what's important," said Ritter. "Our focus is on being ready for the open tournament in March and improving by the week."
It seemed at times during the 2019-20 season that the inside of a Londonderry Lancers huddle might look like a scene out of ‘Marriage Story.’
A team coming off a final four appearance in 2018 never quite fit together and what it produced was a very surprising 4-14 season.
That is all in the past. One of the best coaches in the state has moved forward, and so have his players. “We turned the page on what was a tough season on all of us,” said head coach Nate Stanton. “It feels different in the gym, and even though a lot of the same players are back, we are focused on being a better team this year.”
Londonderry should have a very balanced attack, and athletes who can defend.
Guard Jackson Cox returns as a 3-year starter and will be joined in the backcourt by Brian Gould, who has transformed himself over the off-season. “He lost a lot of weight and just dedicated himself like nothing I’ve ever seen,” said Stanton. “I’m proud of him, and I’m intrigued by him as a player. He set a goal and achieved it; now we are going to see the results on the floor.”
Stanton loves the depth this year’s team will have. “This is one of the deepest teams we have had, and what that lends itself to is very competitive practices. The kids are really getting after it.”
6’2 forward Mike Rosatano gives the Lancers a workhorse on the low block while forward Will Reyes returns as the team’s vocal leader.
“I could see Will was frustrated at times last season with how things were going. You have to remember the football guys were coming off of an undefeated season,” said Stanton. “I see him having a much better year in a lot of ways, and he’s been great as far as the leadership he is providing.”
Kevin Rourke, Zach Fawcett, and Justin Hoggard will all contribute right away, while a pair of talented freshman, 6’5 big man Tyler Miles and shooting guard Tyler Brown will get a chance to earn minutes as well.
“I like the younger players we have in the program,” said Stanton. “There is a lot of competition and open jobs, so that has made for some very good practices.”
“I don’t even know who is starting right now, so it’s about competition and bringing that intensity on a daily basis. I’m looking forward to coaching this group all season.”
Danny Bryson’s Manchester Memorial Crusaders will again be one of the youngest teams in the division.
A team almost entirely made up of juniors and sophomores returns only one starter from a year ago, but their head coach feels like the rebuild is right on schedule. “I’m excited about the potential of this group,” said Bryson.
“They love to compete, and there are a lot of leaders on this team. I don’t have to get them to go at each other in practice, so I’m very confident we are going to compete night to night as the season goes along.”
Cameron Pollock returns to run the Memorial offense, and the full-time facilitator will now be asked to score as well. “He’s capable of scoring for us. I think he’ll be more of a threat to the defense than last year,” said Bryson. “He’s a smart player, and he helps us in a lot of different ways.”
Johnny Roumraj, younger brother of former all-state guard Michael, will also step into a more significant role along with shooting guard Brennan Beland. “Johnny is a leader; he makes sure the guys in practice are accountable,” said Bryson. “Brennan will score for us, and his shooting will spread the floor.”
6’5 Deng Akok will protect the rim and play alongside fellow returnee Troy Jutras. “We didn’t have the time to get everyone on the same page, so that’s still going to take some to learn the playbook,” said Bryson. “I do think we will be deeper than we were a year ago.”
6’3 Izayah Fisher and Tyler Lavallee will both compete for minutes amongst the underclassman. “There is a different speed and intensity at the varsity level than there is for the JV players,” said Bryson. “There is still a learning curve, but we’ll work through that early in the season and hope to be peaking in March.”
“I feel like we will compete every night, and a year from now, we should be a team that can play with anyone in the division.”
Six seniors graduated from an 8-10 Concord team last season, including all-state point guard Rylan Canabano (now playing at Plymouth State).
Head coach Jim Thorpe has the personnel for his five-out offense, and with a little experience, the Tide should be back in the conversation again this season. "The energy with this group has been great," said Thorpe.
"There is a lot of pent up energy from everything that is going on, and you see them in practice cheering each other on and giving it everything they have. It's been fun to be a part of."
Ivan Yen, who averaged 11.7 ppg. a year ago, returns with an improved offensive arsenal. "Ivan could have been satisfied to be a spot-up 3-point shooter, but he has worked at his game," said Thorpe. "He's dynamic, and what we have seen in the pre-season is his ability to attack the rim."
Chris Burke returns at point guard after battling Canabano in practice every day last season. "He's scrappy and a very good defender for us," said Thorpe. "He certainly benefited from going against Rylan every day in practice, but he brings his own attributes to the team. He's going to be a big factor for us."
Sophomore shooting guard Quinton Pincoske is the most likely candidate for a breakout season. Pincoske has the range to become a problem for opposing defenses.
"He's a gym rat and a sponge. He wants to get better every day, and it's coming along quickly for him," said Thorpe. "His potential is endless."
6'4 Nate Bengtson will man the post while Anthony Brock gives the Tide another 3-point shooter to play on the perimeter with Yen and Pincoske.
With the shortened pre-season rotation, spots are still being earned and roles defined, but Thorpe likes the depth of the 2021 edition of his team. "We had outstanding senior leadership last season, and that's something we hope to develop over the first few weeks of the season," said Thorpe.
"I'm excited about this group and also in the direction of the program. We're building from the youth levels up and want this to be a program that competes on an annual basis."
The Timberlane Owls continue to make strides under head coach Jeff Baumann. The Owls, who has been and remains a wrestling school, won 3 games last year and were a possession or two away from 3 others.
A good nucleus guarantees Timberlane once again isn't going to be everyone's homecoming game anymore.
"We're getting better as a program, and I have a lot of players who love the game," said Baumann. "They want to compete night to night and continue to move this program forward."
6'3 forward Bob Olson returns after an all-state season a year ago. "He's a four-year varsity player, so he understands exactly what we are trying to do and has been great in communicating with the underclassman," said Baumann.
"He's not a player who is going to get you 20 every night; he's a player who is going to fill the stat sheet and do about a dozen different things that help you win games."
Sean Chanakira will run the offense at point guard and already is benefiting from the experience gained a year ago. "He got thrown into the fire a little bit last year, and you can already see the difference in his game. He is poised, and he's fearless. We feel like he is going to handle whatever pressure teams throw at us," said Baumann.
Guard Luke Surprenant can shoot it well from the perimeter while 6'3 forward Matt Einarson will compete for a starting job. "All the way down to your 11th player, we have competition for spots. That has made for some competitive practices," said Baumann.
Quarterback Ethan Stewart should step right into a key role for the Owls. "He's an outstanding athlete, and he is someone who I think can be a big-time defender for us. He's the kind of player you put on the other teams' go-to guy late in games. He loves to compete."
Ashton Ventola has the ability to knock down shots off the bench for a team that should be bigger & deeper than they were a year ago.
"We are going to try and play at a faster pace because I think we have the athletes to do it," said Baumann. "It's such a deep Division; when you're in Division I, there aren't any easy games, and we certainly feel like we have become a team that can compete night to night."
The 2021 season contained many question marks for Dover before restrictions were put in place, making the likelihood that they get ten games seem like a climb up Mount Everest.
All-State guard Kingsley Breen left for Malden Catholic (MA), as did two more of the Green Waves top scorers.
Head coach Matt Fennessy though, likes the group he has, and a few key members from a very good JV team a year ago now get their turn in the spotlight. “The last two seasons, we’ve had one of the top scorers in the division,” said Fennessy referring to Breen last season and Ty Vitko in 2018.
“We are going to get our scoring from a variety of places, and our offense will look a little different. I’m excited about the possibilities.”
6’2 point guard Darian Lopez-Sullivan will be one of the best guards in the Division after an all-state season at quarterback.
Lopez-Sullivan has the speed to get to the rim and the size to finish when he arrives. “He’s been great for us here early on,” said Fennessy. “We are going to use him at the point but also off the ball as well.”
Guards Luke Geppert and Steven Gitau can handle the ball and are part of a group of interchangeable players. “We don’t have that big man you’re going to dump the ball down to in the low-post, but we have non-conventional height,” said Fennessy, which if you know Matt, is a great term only he would come up with.
“We have excellent chemistry, and I like the ball movement I’ve seen from this group.”
Ken Healey was a key contributor a year ago and will step into a more prominent role as a senior. His head coach thinks he could have a breakout season. “He’s a very good athlete. We can utilize him in several different ways, and he sees the floor very well,” said Fennessy.
Jackson Rutland (“He has really improved over the off-season.”) and Cam O’Brien will both step in and play significant minutes right away.
The Dover JV team won the year-end tournament a year ago. Playing in maybe the toughest region in the state alongside Top 5 teams Portsmouth, Winnacunnet, and Exeter, Fennessy expects his team to compete this year and possibly accomplish big things down the road.
“This is a group that really gets after it. I think ball-handling is one of the most important aspects of winning games in high school basketball, and we have a lot of different players who can do that.”
“The kids are looking for the opportunity to compete,” said Fennessy. “We’re hoping to get better every week as we make our way to the playoffs in March.”
Hall of Fame head coach Tim Goodridge (if he’s not in yet, he should be soon) will step away from the Merrimack basketball program for a year during the pandemic. In his place comes former player and longtime assistant Austin Denton.
For anyone wondering if the Tomahawks will now transform into a team that takes a casual approach to defense and jacks up 3-pointers on the first pass?
“I played for coach, and I’ve been lucky enough to coach alongside him,” said interim head coach Austin Denton. “ I’m going to do my best to make sure we get the most out of the players and that we continue to play the same brand of basketball. I’d say it’s worked pretty well for us over the years.”
I’ve spoken to Tim Goodridge before every season since 2008…back when he kept asking me what newspaper I worked for.
Over & over again, I’ve heard him say, ‘You win in March with seniors.’
Well, no one is saying the Tomahawks won’t win in March, but there isn’t one senior on the roster. “It’s unusual for us not to have one player in the program from a class, but that just gives more opportunities to the underclassman,” said Denton.
6’1 junior guard Jack Tarleton returns after leading the team in scoring a year ago at 12.5 ppg. “Jack is a good scorer for us, and it’s his demeanor that impresses me,” said Denton. “He’s calm around pressure; nothing rattles him.”
Sophomore Isaac Ynfante is smart, athletic, and very capable of making an impact this season. He just needs experience. “We have a good group of younger guys, and the focus in practice has been good. They understand they have an opportunity to make an immediate impact for us,” said Denton.
Shea Goodwin has played well in the pre-season and will be a leader this season for the Tomahawks, while Kyle Egan is a good defender and rebounder for Denton’s team. “We still have a lot of roles to be defined, but the kids have been stepping up and working hard.”
Aidan Ponder, your resident glue-guy every team wins with, while Kobe Pimentel should provide scoring for Merrimack.
“It’s going to take us some time to come together because this is a completely new group at the varsity level,” said Denton. “We want to form the identity of a team that makes you work for every basket. I’m enjoying coaching this group and excited to see what we can become as a team.”
Lorne Lucas takes over for President Tim Cronin at Spaulding but will sit out at least the beginning of the season for health reasons during the pandemic.
If you’re going to have a good friend of yours run the team while you’re remote, a guy who has led his team to four of the last five final fours seems like a pretty good option.
“Having Rob (Fauci) able to coach for me is a God-send,” said Lucas of the former Somersworth head coach. “We know each other so well. We talk daily about what we want to work on with the team and how practices will be structured.”
Year 1 post-President Cronin will be a bit of a re-start for one of the best basketball programs in the division over the last ten seasons. Only three players saw playing time for a team, that didn’t make the tournament a year ago, led by Kevin Casey and Mark Frost.
“Because this is a new program (with all new coaches) - we’re going to have to do all the little things this year to be successful,” said Fauci. “We’re going to need every game this season to adjust and grow since we didn’t have the luxury of summer/fall to really see what each player can or can’t do.”
“Even though Lorne is not able to physically be in the gym, he leads all virtual meetings with players,” said Fauci. “We are continually talking through things via text or video call, and we record each practice where he can provide individual player feedback or general adjustments that are required.”
Spaulding doesn’t have traditional size down low, but they have the athletes and the depth to run players in & out as the rotation sorts itself out.
Max Frost saw time on varsity a year ago and will step into a much more significant role this season.
“It’s a tight group, and they hold each other accountable,” said Fauci. “They’ve bought in early to what we’re trying to install on the offensive and defensive side – we’ll see how that translates on the floor.”
Lucas has been able to have an impact while working remotely with his players and is excited about what they can become as a team.
“The kids have been working really hard, and that they all are very appreciative of the opportunity to play,” said Lucas.
“It’s been great seeing how much of a motivating factor basketball has been for lots of these kids on and off the court.”
Pre-Season First Team All-State
Coleman Brewster of Portsmouth
Joey DaSilva of Windham
Jacob Gibbons of Exeter
Dylan Santosuosso of Bishop Guertin
Rob Baguidy of Goffstown
Second Team All-State
Liam O’Neil of Alvirne
Curtis Harris of Nashua North
Brett Marelli of Winnacunnet
Cody Rocheleau of Nashua South
Royce Williams of Trinity
Other players to watch: Baril Mawo & Angel Castro of Manchester Central, Nate Kane & Jordan Robichaud of Bishop Guertin, Alex Charles of Keene, James O’Hara of Winnacunnet, Bob Olson of Timberlane, Darian Lopez-Sullivan of Dover, Adan Ayala of Salem, Kevin Cummings of Portsmouth, Ivan Yen of Concord, Jack Kelly & Aidan O’Connell of Goffstown, Justin Dunne of Pinkerton, Jack Tarleton of Merrimack and Matt McConnell of Exeter
Tag(s): Home Boys Basketball NHIAA Division I Alvirne Bedford Bishop Guertin Concord Dover Exeter Goffstown Keene Londonderry Manchester Central Manchester Memorial Merrimack Nashua North Nashua South Pinkerton Portsmouth Salem Spaulding Timberlane Trinity Windham Winnacunnet