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Boys' basketball teams waste little time launching new season; Lynch Tournament begins tonight

December 11, 2013

Junior Graham Lynch (right) is back in action this season for the St. Raphael Academy boys' basketball team. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN

Ready or not, a new Rhode Island high school boys’ basketball season beckons.

For several area squads, Thursday serves as the grand unveiling – a clean slate for all involved parties with role players looking to blossom into stars, and stars seeking to take their team to the next level.

One of the tried and true signs that a fresh campaign is afoot can be found at the Pawtucket Boys & Girls Club, site of the 28th installment of the Dennis M. Lynch Jr. Memorial Tournament. The two-day event kicks off this evening with Woonsocket and Central Falls squaring off a 6 p.m. At roughly 7:45, defending champion St. Raphael and Providence Country Day will go at it.

The Saints have won the event bearing the name of the program’s onetime hoops mentor three straight years and 19 times overall. Thursday’s Lynch victors will convene for a title game set for Saturday night, which comes on the heels of the consolation game.

Lincoln and North Smithfield will partake in their own curtain-raising experience Thursday with the two squads meeting in an Injury Fund contest at the Lions’ Den. In the same town, Davies will roll out the welcome mat for Pilgrim.

If it seems like only last week that teams were in the midst of conducting tryouts, that’s because it was. Having to wait until the Monday after Thanksgiving before officially getting into the gym, coaches and players around the state find themselves in virtually the same unenviable predicament – trying to formulate a cohesive nucleus on the fly.

Depending on which head coach you speak with, tryouts lasted anywhere from three to upwards of five days, the latter total mandated by some school systems. With so much time and energy being spent on evaluating prospective players – not to mention waiting for football season to end in order for players to trade in their cleats for expensive sneakers – installing important items such as out-of-bounds plays and zone/man-to-man defenses are forced to be done in one lump sum rather than piecemeal. '

There’s no need to remind coaches that the run-up to the regular season is quick. Fair warning: don’t be surprised if it takes until the new year for teams to completely iron out the kinks.

“I hate to say it, but there’s not enough time to get everything in,” stated Tolman mentor Mike Kayata. “It’s tough on the kids to try and remember everything on a day-to-day basis. A lot of times they come back and don’t remember what they did the day before.”

Added North Smithfield head coach T.J .Ciolfi, “It’s been very difficult and unfair to the basketball players to the point that we can’t possibly spend time on fundamentals. You have to put a team on the court so fast.”

One possible solution could involve tryouts taking place the three school days leading up to Thanksgiving. Coaches can then spend the holiday weekend deciding where to assign players, which in turn would allow them to hit the ground running come that Monday.

It’s just a thought as the 2013-14 season opens for business.

Below is a preseason primer of the local entries and who to watch out for:

Division I

For the first time in four years, Charles Correa will not be taking the court for St. Raphael. Correa graduated this past June and is currently starring at Massachusetts’ Dean College.

How veteran head coach Tom “Saar” Sorrentine makes up for the loss of Correa bears watching. The Saints return five players from last year’s non-playoff qualifying squad with the list of holdovers including junior swingman Graham Lynch joining seniors Brian McParlin, Alex Holloway, Steven Toetee and Chris Luciano.

Lynch is SRA’s top returning scorer. He’s noticeably taller than he was at this time last year, which Sorrentine hopes will enable Lynch to make the jump from 8-10 points to 15-18 per night. Holloway gets first crack at taking over Correa’s playmaking duties while it’s imperative that six-footers Toetee and Luciano supply offensive production down on the blocks in addition to rebounding/toughness.

Sorrentine has 10 new guys, the list including junior Emmanuel Leake, who is coming off a strong fall season as the Saints’ quarterback. Trevante Jones is the only freshman on the squad and is expected to shuttle between the three and four spots.

“We’re nowhere near being a team right now,” said Sorrentine. “We’re just trying to get all the pieces to fit. I think we’ve got some good ones, but we’re going to need everybody.”

It’s been three long seasons since Woonsocket last qualified for a playoff spot. Led by seniors Blaine Desimpelaere, Piotr Linek and Josh Trinidad, the Villa Novans figure to be strong down on the blocks with ballhandling and outside shooting serving as question marks for Kyle Ivey-Jones’ crew.

The division alignments are as follows:
I-North: La Salle, Mount Pleasant, Smithfield, St. Raphael, Woonsocket.
I-Central: Central, Classical, Cranston East, East Providence, Hope.
I-South: Coventry, Cranston West, Hendricken, North Kingstown, South Kingstown.

Division II

The winds of change have swept through the locker room at Cumberland. Gone are 10 seniors – “eight who played a ton of minutes,” according to head coach Gary Reedy – who helped guide the Clippers to the 2013 Division II championship.

Stepping to the forefront will be senior captains Ryan Cotter and Grant Osmundson, who earned time off the bench last season due to his ability to connect from long range. Junior guard Nick Poli will slide into the off-guard slot that was formerly held by the graduated Ben Bradley, while junior Tyler Calabro assumes the point-guard duties in place of Tom Lazaras.

Six-foot freshman Brandon Kolek is a youngster who Reedy has high hopes for while senior Joe Fine is expected to bring an element of toughness following a productive season on the gridiron for the Clippers.
“It’s new team and there’s been a lot of wrinkles,” stated Reedy. “We’re young and regrouping.”

Shea head coach Matt Pita will once again have a strong nucleus to work with. A good place to start is senior point guard Chris Mainville, who was a Second Team All-Division pick last year. Shea also welcomes back senior forward Armani Baker and junior guard Armani Luciano. Baker is an athletic wing player and capable rebounder while Luciano can light it up from beyond the arc.

Pita is also counting on senior guard Ellis Smith to provide depth. Smith missed all of last season with a torn ACL.

Last year was a successful one for Tolman’s junior varsity program, which advanced to the Division II finals. Many of those same players have graduated to varsity with Kayata hoping they can mesh with key returnees Steven Otis and Nate Gagnon. Six-foot-two junior Tyler Reese transferred in from Sharon, Mass. and has wasted little time in making a favorable impression.

“Reese and Otis are the captains,” said Kayata. “Tyler can run well and he can jump. He’s going to help us in the post and rebounding efficiency. He’s a good leader and has taken the bull by the horns.”

Sophomore Tyreal Whitaker is a candidate to start at point guard for the Tigers while junior Alex Lopez is expected to provide scoring from one of the wing spots and tough, on-the-ball defense.

“We’re really young with only three seniors, but we’re going to be deep,” Kayata feels.

Central Falls head coach Brian Crookes said that the only time last season’s 0-18 league record was mentioned was on the first day of practice. The hope is that senior Julian Soares and junior Elser Colindres have strong seasons for the Warriors. Colindres rejoins the program after taking off last season to concentrate on academics.

“Elser will run the point for us,” noted Crookes.

C.F. junior power forward David DePina makes the jump from the junior-varsity ranks.

“We expect to be high energy and fast paced this year,” Crookes expressed, adding that, “we’re bringing back a bunch of guys who have played together before.”

Lincoln has finished below .500 in league play in each of the past five seasons. Whether that trend is reversed will depend first and foremost on getting contributions from seniors Tyge Joyce and Alec Cronan.

The division alignments are as follows:
II-Central: Exeter/West Greenwich, Tolman, Shea, West Warwick.
II-North: Central Falls, Cumberland, Lincoln, North Providence.
II-East: Barrington, Portsmouth, Rogers, Tiverton.
II-South: Chariho, Narragansett, Prout, Westerly.

Division III

The cupboard is not completely bare at North Smithfield, the basketball darlings of a season ago after a). capturing the Division III title, b). winning 26 consecutive games, and c). advancing to the Final Four portion of the open state tournament.

In 6-foot-4 senior Peter Keenan and fellow classmate and wing player Breno Pena, the Northmen feature two nice building blocks for Ciolfi to plan around. Pena was North Smithfield’s sixth man last season while Keenan has expanded his game to the point that don’t be surprised to see him handle the ball at times.

“The way to get the ball to Peter is through Breno,” said Ciolfi.

Junior Nick Cicerone is penciled in as the Northmen’s starting small forward with senior Jeremy Dobson taking the point-guard reins. Ciolfi noted that Dobson dropped a ton of weight in the offseason in order to get ready for his increased role.

“He may be our fastest guy,” Ciolfi pointed out about Dobson. “I didn’t recognize him when he came up to me. That’s how much weight he lost.”

Senior Matthew Lachance will pair up with Keenan down low. He’s been on the varsity roster since his sophomore year with Ciolfi noting that he’s sound defensively.

“One thing I like is that we have competition for playing time in practice and the players know that,” said Ciolfi. “Breno and Peter are probably going to stay on the floor the whole time, but that means we have nine guys for three spots. Whoever earns it is going to play.”

Mount St. Charles will build around senior Nolan Hayward and sophomore Alex Latille, who as a freshman earned Second Team All-Division kudos. Burrillville sustained several key losses off last year’s 11-7 squad with the hope that junior Isaiah DeSilva can shoulder at least some of the burden. Davies could prove an intriguing squad under second-year head coach William Meekins.

The division alignments are as follows:
III-North: Burrillville, Davies, Mount St. Charles, North Smithfield.
III-Central: Juanita Sanchez, Pilgrim, Toll Gate, Warwick Vets.
III-East: Middletown, Moses Brown, Mount Hope, St. Patrick.
III-West: East Greenwich, Johnston, Ponaganset, Scituate.

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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