Boys' hoop preview: Saints retain strong nucleus
Cesar Mejia is one of several returning players from St. Raphael Academy's 2011 state open tournament championship squad.
For many high school boysâ€™ basketball teams, Thursday marks the beginning of a new season â€“ 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.
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In the case of defending state champion St. Raphael Academy, maintaining the status quo will do just fine. The dawn of a fresh campaign also signifies the arrival of two Pawtucket-based high school tournaments geared towards preserving the memories of a pair of legendary city coaches.
Both significant events get underway simultaneously on Thursday night with the 16th annual James W. Donaldson Memorial Tip-Off Tournament taking place at Tolman High School. The other staple, the 26th edition of the Dennis M. Lynch Jr. Memorial Tournament, tips off at the Pawtucket Boys & Girls Club.
One year after making do with a three-team arrangement that resulted in moving some parts around â€“ 2009 winner Shea automatically advanced to the championship round â€“ all four spots in the Donaldson Tournament are present and accounted for. The action gets underway Thursday with Shea and Toll Gate at 6 p.m. with defending champ Tolman going up against East Greenwich at 7:30.
Thursdayâ€™s winners will square off Saturday night at 7:30 with the consolation game scheduled for 6.
For the third straight year the field for the Lynch Tournament will consist of St. Raphael, Woonsocket, Central Falls and Providence Country Day. Last yearâ€™s edition saw the Saints pick up their 18th team title after rolling to a 66-53 win against the Villa Novans, a fellow Division I member.
On Thursday SRA and C.F. get things underway at 6 p.m. followed by Woonsocket-PCD at 7:45. The victors will then meet in Saturdayâ€™s title game at 7:45 p.m., which comes on the heels of the consolation game, set for 6 oâ€™clock.
Below is a preseason primer of the local entries and who to watch out for:
Longtime St. Raphael head coach Tom â€śSaarâ€ť Sorrentine has been so busy instilling plays that heâ€™s yet to sit his team down and have that all-important talk about opposing teams seeking to take aim at the target painted on their backs. Fortunately for Sorrentine, he has whippet Charles Correa to lean on. A junior point guard who enjoyed a breakout postseason on his way to guiding the Saints to their first state title in nine years, Correa is viewed in many corners as R.I.â€™s top player.
The Saints also welcome back starters Cesar Mejia, a senior swingman who was an all-league and all-division pick, and classmate Davon Robertson, a standout from the football team. Seniors Malcolm Williams and Zach Mays along with junior Jordan Peguero will be asked to step up their games while 6-foot-4 newcomer Abbou Bah bears watching.
Alex Butler, head coach of East Providence, plans to shape his roster around holdovers Jawaan Lyles, Brendan Quigley and Victor Adewusi, who has been slowed by a knee injury sustained during football. Last season saw the Townies, who like the Saints reside in I-East, miss the playoffs by one game at 8-10.
Another team aiming for a turnaround is Woonsocket, a I-North member which suffered through a dreadful 1-17 winter that saw several players leave the program mid-season. Junior Cody Lâ€™Heureux is one player head coach Kyle Ivey-Jones will base his attack around.
Says Butler about how he views the stateâ€™s top tier: â€śI think the league has three or four teams that can potentially be very good and you have the rest of the league which will be competitive as it always is. Itâ€™s going to come down to matchups and how you play against certain teams.
â€śIn our own division, St. Raphael will be loaded and tough as anybody. Central will be very good and Hendricken returns its backcourt. I still think North Kingstown will be good and Coventry is still going to be tough,â€ť Butler added.
It appears Tolman, Shea and Lincoln will spend much of the winter chasing North Providence in II-Central. A Final Four participant, the Cougars return several notable faces on top of welcoming Rob Hazard, an all-division performer who transferred from North Kingstown.
Tolman head coach Mike Kayata has his backcourt set with senior Juan Velez at point guard and junior Mamour Samb occupying the shooting guard slot. A junior varsity contributor last season, senior Jalen Dupre will also be in the guard mix. Jonathan Percy, a 6-foot-6 junior, will man the pivot with senior Justin Zetina also seeing time in the post.
Two good places for Shea head coach Matt Pita to start are senior point guard Jordy Brito and junior Eli Itkin, a shooting-guard type who will also see time at small forward. Senior Malcolm Rosa hopes to shake off an injury-plagued season while Pita welcomes senior Jamal Tucker from the football squad.
Will this be the season Lincoln bounces back after three consecutive sub-.500 seasons? Certainly Kent Crooks is optimistic, as the Lincoln head coach will blend a host of newcomers around senior pivot Anthony Palombo.
Defending North champion Central Falls looks to build around veterans Cliff Johnson, Steve Vazquez and Ryan Murray. Johnson is the Warriorsâ€™ top playmaker with Murray and Vazquez also capable of executing on both ends.
Cumberland junior Ben Bradley was a first team all-division pick as a sophomore, which is good news for head coach Gary Reedy, whose team last advanced to the postseason in 2006.
Senior Will Girard and junior Scott Peterson were Ponagansetâ€™s all-division selections last year. The Chieftains open the season with the Ponaganset Pink Madness Tournament, on the docket for Saturday and Sunday.
Change is the order of business here with Burrillville and North Smithfield respectively ushering in new head coaches. Taking over for the Broncos is Kevin Randall while the baton has been passed to Thomas Ciolfi with the Northmen, who will feature junior Matt Walkow, a first team all-division selection a year ago.
Fellow North member Mount St. Charles aims to rebound after a 5-13 finish, the Mountiesâ€™ first losing record since 2005-06. MSC junior Dan Householder is one player head coach Scott Colantonio plans to lean on.
Thereâ€™s no place for Davies Tech to go but up. The Patriots, led by senior Brendan Daily, have not won a league game since the 2007 season.