“Everyone has to be ready. Everyone is in the same boat.”
Those words, echoed by East Providence head coach Alex Butler, shall serve as the equivalent to ringing the opening bell on Wall Street. Tonight will see the curtain raised on league play, which with the expansion of the open tournament and the doing away (at least for this season) of the division tournaments, has taken on even greater emphasis.
Every game against a league opponent could mean the difference of whether a postseason invitation is garnered or not. The same theory holds true for seeding in both directions. Certainly that’s a lot to digest and comprehend, particularly at this early juncture where teams are still in the process of distinguishing between strengths and weaknesses.
As Butler so elegantly noted, the time is at hand to put your best foot forward. Butler’s East Providence outfit will travel to Hope on Friday night.
The ball actually gets rolling tonight in Division III with Johnston traveling to Mount St. Charles. Friday’s slate is jam-packed with Davies traveling to Burrillville the lone Div. III game.
In Division II, Cumberland hosts Ponaganset, while fellow North members Scituate and Central Falls square off in the Warriors’ gym. “The Cage” will be the site for Shea entertaining Lincoln. In Division I, Woonsocket hosts Mt. Pleasant.
Lastly, there are two games of local interest that are akin to early Christmas gifts. In Division I, you have Portsmouth stopping by the Wellness Center to face a St. Raphael team that the Patriots defeated twice a season ago. Up Mineral Spring Avenue is where you’ll find North Providence, a Final Four participant last season, welcoming Tolman, a club that features a nice 1-2 punch with guard Juan Velez and big man Jonathan Percy, along with do-everything swingman Mamour Samb.
In the case of Patriots-Saints, veteran SRA head coach Tom “Saar” Sorrentine is thankful that he has a steady stream of just practice sessions leading up the first league game. The defending state champs were a busy bunch last weekend, playing three games in as many nights with a 3-0 mark to show for their efforts.
“We needed this instructional time more than anything right now,” Sorrentine noted. “Playing all those games that quick, we had to put in stuff that we hadn’t really practiced. They were learning on the run.
“Now we’re able to cover all the angles that we may face during the season,” Sorrentine added. “We’re not a settled team yet. We’re still exploring and trying to get guys in different situations.”
To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. That’s the approach Tolman head coach Mike Kayata is taking when viewing the matchup with North Providence. Plenty of familiar faces dot the Cougars’ roster with the attack revolving around guards Austin Van Bemmelin and Mike Ferrante.
Whether Rob Hazard, a transfer from North Kingstown, suits up for N.P. on Friday night remains up in the air. The senior did not play in last Thursday’s non-leaguer versus Smithfield after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL last spring.
No one wants to make the first league game the equivalent of a playoff game, but let’s remember the last meeting between North Providence and Tolman. The top-seeded Cougars needed overtime to eliminate the upset-minded Tigers from the Division II playoffs. That late February meeting marked the third meeting between two division foes who require no introductions to one another.
“We play North Providence every year early in the year, which is something that dates back to when we were both in Division I. They were always in our league and we’d have a home-and-away with them,” Kayata said. “Usually we’ve been able to hold serve in our gym and they’ve been able to hold serve in their gym.”
Playing on the Cougars’ home floor figures to serve as an eye opener for Kayata’s Tigers. To date, Tolman has played three games, all of which have taken place at the tightly-confound Donaldson Gymnasium.
“Their gym is real big, meaning its much different shooting in their gym than it is in our gym,” Kayata pointed out. “I don’t know how we are going to handle that. We scrimmaged at Woonsocket and [playing on a bigger surface] wasn’t a problem for us.”
Kayata went on to add that he feels playing away from Donaldson may work to this particular Tolman team’s advantage.
“The bigger gym creates more opportunities for our offense. That’s what I’m hoping for,” he said.
A good start to the league season is something that teams like Tolman and St. Raphael are also on the lookout for.