High school football and basketball seasons tend to blend together these days. Super Bowl games are contested in early December while basketball teams practice without a few key players, waiting for point guards and forwards to put down the pigskin and pick up the roundball.
When Woonsocket and St. Raphael Academy met in the Dennis M. Lynch Memorial Tournament championship game on Saturday night, several football players from each school were trying to shake off the rust and get into the flow of their winter sport.
The Saints were led by three football stars from their playoff team – halfback Charles Correa, tight end Devon Robertson and quarterback Trevor Vasey. Woonsocket, which won the Division II Super Bowl just six days earlier, started gifted wide receiver Jesse Charette at point guard. Fellow gridders Jarome Robinson, Edwin Jones and Geo Heredia also suited up for the Villa Novans.
St. Raphael Academy romped to a 66-53 victory in a matchup of two Division I teams that should contend for playoff berths later this winter. Correa, whose football team’s season ended 11 days earlier, looked in mid-season form, scoring 15 points, passing out 11 assists, and making the kind of intuitive passes that separate him from just about every other point guard in the state.
“Charles is just an incredible player,” Saints coach Tom Sorrentine said after the game, speaking in glowing terms about the 5-foot-9 sophomore. “He can shoot the ball, pass it and handle it. His passes always seem to be delivered at the right time. He puts the ball in the right place, too.”
Correa is a master of the drive-and-dish move to the basket, splitting defenses with his dribble and then dropping the ball off to an open teammate near the hoop as he soars through the air. He also shows the ability to take the ball at the other end of the court and make a long pass to a teammate heading to the basket. These are instinctive skills, intuitive decisions that only a few point guards make.
Sorrentine, who rarely praises a player as he did Correa, came back to earth when discussing the overall makeup of this season’s team. The Saints have some frontcourt size (Vasey is 6-foot-6 and Robertson stands 6-foot-4). They boast a tough forward in six-foot junior Cesar Mejia. Senior Jazz Robinson lends a strong defensive presence at forward. Guard Franklin Batista adds quality depth to the backcourt. Sorrentine is already using a strong eight-player rotation. That’s the kind of depth the Saints will need to go deep into the D-I playoffs.
In short, Correa has plenty of help around him, plenty of players who can take his passes and turn them into baskets.
“We have an array of good pieces,” Sorrentine said. “I think this team has a chance to be good. Our defense was very good tonight in the first half. We have to do a better job rebounding the ball. We didn’t box out as well as we need to against Woonsocket.”
Sorrentine’s reference to “good pieces” is interesting because it gets to the heart of what coaches are trying to do at the beginning of the season. Every coach has to fit the pieces together on a basketball court. Every coach is bent of working his players hard in practice, drilling them on the fundamentals, forcing the various “pieces” to meld together into a team as the season progresses.
The process usually takes time. St. Raphael Academy is more advanced at this point in the season than Woonsocket is, mostly because Charles Correa sees the entire floor and gets the ball to his open teammates. A point guard who distributes the ball – and shoots a deadly three – is a coach’s best friend.
Woonsocket has a very athletic point guard in Charette. The 5-11 senior tried to shake some rust off his game on Saturday night. It is unfair to compare Charette to Correa at this early juncture in the season. But his progress over the next few weeks will be crucial to the development of a Woonsocket team that possesses good frontcourt size and just needs a point guard who can get the ball inside without turning it over too often.
Woonsocket coach Kyle Ivey-Jones is a serious man who will work his team hard and get the players’ attention with his own special version of tough love. Ivey-Jones said “we have a lot of work to do” in the weeks ahead, and he wasn’t kidding. The Villa Novans have a few pieces of their own that might fit together into a cohesive unit by the middle of January. That’s the challenge facing both the coaching staff and the players. “Playing like a team” has always been Ivey-Jones’s mantra.
Woonsocket opens its Division I season on Monday night with a road game at Mount Pleasant, one of the toughest gyms in the state to enter for a team that hasn’t found its identity yet. The Villa Novans could be in for a few long nights in Division I before the pieces begin to mesh.
St. Raphael Academy bears watching right from the start of the season. The Saints visit Portsmouth on Monday, then host Hope High on Thursday. Hoop fans in Pawtucket might want to take in a few SRA home games this season.
The pieces Tom Sorrentine is working with are already fun to watch.