Jim Fennell's H.S. Hoopla: Conant's family affair
Picking through the leftovers of the holiday tournaments that kept the gyms around the state busy during the Christmas break .
There's another Springfield to watch out for.
Madison Springfield is the latest in the line of this hoop playing family from Jaffrey that has helped keep Conant High among the top small school programs in the state for both the boys and girls. The freshman is quickly following in the steps of sister Brooke and brother Devin.
Brooke, now a sophomore point guard starting for Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, is the all-time leading scorer at Conant, having scored over 1,400 points. She helped the Orioles to two Class M titles, while Devin is a senior at Conant and was an all-state selection last season. He's the centerpiece of one of the top teams in Division III.
Now comes Madison.
She's a 5-foot-11 shooting guard who is averaging 22 points and 12 rebounds for a Conant team that is 5-0 going into tonight's game against Fall Mountain of Langdon and is coming off an impressive showing at the Zero Gravity Holiday Tournament at Keene State.
The Orioles won the tournament, beating Division I Keene in the championship game, and Springfield was named the tournament MVP.
She plays for Kara Leary's highly touted Crusaders AAU program and has already been verbally offered a scholarship by at least one Division I program, with the line of college scouts coming to see her getting longer by the game.
According to Conant coach Nick Hill, the list of schools that have contacted Madison include UMass, Providence, Boston College, Marist, UNH, Bentley, the University of Washington, Virginia Tech, Holy Cross and nearby Franklin Pierce University of Rindge, where her father Dave played.
According to the Crusaders website, UMass has already verbally offered Madison a scholarship, although the university cannot comment on it.
"She can handle the ball with both hands, she creates her own shot and she has a legitimate jump shot," Hill said. "And what really separates her in Division III is her speed."
Devin Springfield, by the way, was named MVP of the boys' tournament at Keene State after leading Conant to the title. Brooke Springfield was also a past MVP of the event.
Dave Springfield was a standout basketball player in his own right at Conant as was his cousin, Karen Belletete. Both played at Franklin Pierce.
And the pipeline is not dry. There is another Springfield on the way; Peyton Springfield is still in elementary school, but he is already showing signs of being a standout hoop player.
Madison Springfield is just one of many underclassmen who have been making a name for themselves this season. The holiday tournaments were filled with freshmen and sophomores stepping into starring roles, like freshman guard Brianna Purcell, who scored nine points as Bedford beat Bishop Guertin in the championship game of the Nashua North Holiday Tournament.
One tournament that certainly showcased the growing number of good young players in the state was the Queen City Invitational Basketball tournament. Six of the eight teams in the tournament had at least one freshman or sophomore who played a prominent role.
Start with champion Memorial and sophomores Oumaru Kante, Wade Gop and Kabongo Ngalakulondi and freshman Tshief Ngalakulondi. West has sophomores Zack Jones and Alfred Nyonee and Trinity has sophomores Ryan Boldwin and Wenjin Gabriel and freshman Connor Walsh. Goffstown used a sophomore (Marcus Haynes) and two freshmen (Michael Bailey and Tim Comeau) in its rotation, while Bedford showed it has two young players to keep an eye on it sophomore Ryan Brown and freshman Gardner Gendron.
The best of the baby brigade at the QCIBT may have been Central sophomore guard Bret Hansen, who scored 46 points in three games.
Trinity coach Dave Keefe said he saw Hansen working on his games five days a week at the YMCA. Coaches also point to the emergence of AAU programs and the decisions of players to specialize in one sport as factors why players are getting quality varsity minutes at a younger age.
Speaking of the QCIBT, tournament historian Tommy Ameen points out that five of the eight coaches in this year's event also played in the tournament: Exeter's Jeff Holmes (Keene), Trinity's Dave Keefe (Central), Bedford's Mike Fitzpatrick (Central), West's Danny Bryson (West) and Central's Doc Wheeler (Goffstown).
Memorial coach Jack Quirk, by the way, was the junior varsity coach for the Crusaders when they won their last title in 1977.
Wheeler also coached Goffstown. His assistants? Fitzpatrick and Chip Kelly. Yeah, that Chip Kelly.
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FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, BASKETBALL VERSION: We'll use this space to spotlight a game of the night, but this week it's too tough to pick just one game, so we're going with two. Pembroke, undefeated and winner of the Capital City tournament, should get a test tonight in Goffstown. The Grizzlies get back senior Tyler Barss, a glue guy who was sorely missed at the QCIBT. Meanwhile, undefeated Newmarket (5-0) hosts 4-0 Derryfield Academy of Manchester. Don't be surprised if one of these teams wins Division IV.
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Jim Fennell covers high school basketball for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He may be reached at email@example.com.