High School Basketball: Young coach has found a home at Campbell
It was never a matter of Sudi Lett wanting to be a head basketball coach in the New Hampshire high school ranks as it was a team wanting him.
Lett applied for vacancies at Concord, Londonderry and Manchester Memorial, where he was the JV coach at the time of the opening, in recent years, but never earned the final nod. So when Division III Campbell of Litchfield reached out to Lett to replace former coach John Langlois this season, the 30-year-old coach was overjoyed.
“This was one of the first times where the school was excited about having me,” Lett said. “It just seemed like I was their first choice and were enthusiastic about it after the work I had laid down over the last five or six years.”
Lett’s body of work includes a wildly successful run as executive director and coach of Bishop Elite, a Manchester-based AAU program that’s carried some of New Hampshire’s top high school basketball talent, and grooming Division I players as a JV coach for Memorial and Manchester West. There was an understanding going in that there wouldn’t be any gifted 6-foot-7 bodies dunking at every turn like on AAU teams, leaving Lett to do more teaching and re-teaching with his new club than he’s been accustomed to previously.
“We are just working towards putting it all into their heads to where they make the decisions and I don’t have to coach every single possession,” Lett said. “It’s about continuing to try and develop them to be those thinkers.”
Despite a 2-2 record after a loss Tuesday to Sanborn, the Campbell players are on board with Lett’s vision.
“Sudi always tells us that he’s the type of coach that will let us do whatever we want on the court,” Campbell senior Michael Gray said. “He lets us be our own basketball player. John (Langlois) was always really team-based with all these set plays, but Sudi just tries to make it more of skill-based thing by beating your man one-on-one or finding that open guy.”
In addition to selling the kids with his coaching abilities, Lett also has earned the trust and loyalty of his players through the common ground they share.
“It gives you this comfortable feeling,” said Gray of Lett’s ability to relate. “He’s always trying to create that happy vibe and keep us up. Like there’s never that miserable feeling after running at practice because he’s always there to crack a joke.”
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THE TALK of the town thus far among the Division II girls’ ranks has centered around the power struggle between Portsmouth and Lebanon. While the two undoubtedly deserve credit for their strong starts, Merrimack Valley of Penacook has been no slouch either.
The Pride are undefeated through their first four games of the season and have won each contest by no less than 20 points. After losing 30 to 40 points a game with the transfer of Mason Kimball, last year’s Division II Player of the Year, to prep school and the graduation of Cassidy Huckins, the new-look roster is opting to divide the task of making up for its losses.
“If you’re trying to shut down one person with us, it really doesn’t bother us,” Merrimack Valley coach Dave Huckins said. “We don’t have the one or two standout players we had last year. Instead, there are a bunch of really good players here that have bought into the program and just hustle.”
The balance Merrimack Valley holds is displayed well on the scorer’s sheet, with four different leading scorers and at least three players with double-digit point totals through the Pride’s early slate. Carrying the load to start for Merrimack Valley have been Megan Johnston, Abby Grandmaison, Morgan Burr and Carly Huckins. The production is not limited to the aforementioned quartet by any means, as Huckins said he uses a nine-player rotation to keep up with the Pride’s up-tempo style.
Strength of schedule could go a long way to determining whether the Pride improve on their eighth seed in last year’s state tournament. Merrimack Valley’s first four opponents are a combined 8-13 out of the gate and the Pride stand to face those clubs once more in the regular season while not seeing Portsmouth or Lebanon at all.
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ONE BOYS’ team on the rise in Division III through the first month of the season is Kearsarge of North Sutton. A club that was mired by injury an inconsistency on the way to a 6-12 mark last season, the Cougars (4-1) are already just two wins away from matching those six wins this season.
According to head coach Nate Camp, Kearsarge received “tremendous buy-in” after last season and a commitment by a majority of the roster to dedicating the summer to improving. The extra work has made the biggest difference for the Cougars’ backcourt of Trent Noordsij and Tom Johnson, with Camp characterizing Noordsij as “the guy that really stirs the drink for us on both ends.”
Also working in Kearsarge’s favor is the luxury of having a pair of true big men on the block, which few teams in the state can lay claim to. Brothers Tayler and Zach Mattos each stand over 6-foot-6 and are averaging a double-double in points and rebounds, respectively, but the siblings also provide frightening rim protection.
“We played Monadnock (Tuesday) and their kids got in the paint for what would’ve been decent looks against most teams,” Camp said. “With us in those situations you’ve got 6-6 (Tayler) and 6-8 (Zach) waiting for you. They just change everything an offense tries to do against us.”
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IT MIGHT be January, but a trio of players wasted no time getting back to business on the hardwood, with each reaching the 1,000-point mark for their careers in December.
Oyster River’s Sara Messler took care of her feat in an opening-night loss to Portsmouth on Dec. 11, scoring on a running floater late in the second half. Messler finished with a team-high 15 points in the loss.
The pair joining Messler in reaching the big milestone ironically did so on the same night 10 days later. Katie Frederick led the Sunapee girls to a lopsided win over Epping on Dec. 21 with 19 points, which she needed all of to reach 1,000. That same night about 124 miles north of Sunapee, Corey Gadwah used all 20 of his points, of which 15 came in the second half, to achieve his mark and help the Groveton boys put down Lin-Wood.
High School Basketball runs Thursdays during the season. To reach Joe Duball, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org