On top — and Pembroke Academy aims to stay there
PEMBROKE — Last season's edition of the Pembroke Academy boys' basketball team went undefeated on its way to the NHIAA Division II championship.
This year's team may be even better.
Since opening their season on the road with a 68-65 victory over a very good Lebanon team, the Spartans have won their last eight games — including three in the Capital Area Holiday Tournament — by an average margin of 28.6 points. The closest game in that stretch: Tuesday's 59-47 win over Hollis/Brookline. The most lopsided: an 89-35 thrashing of John Stark Regional of Weare.
In NHIAA play, Pembroke is 6-0 heading into Friday night's game against 5-1 Windham.
Once again, senior guard Pat Welch, last year's Division II Player of the Year, leads the Spartans. Welch is averaging 23.2 points per game against NHIAA competition and scored a season-high 39 in a 91-59 victory over Bow in the Capital Area quarterfinals.
But Pembroke is hardly a one-man show. Kafani Williams, a 6-foot, 4-inch senior, averages 19.3 ppg. The Timbas brother, 6-5 junior Dante and 6-3 freshman Dominic, average 14 and 12 ppg, respectively. Max Curran, a 6-7 junior, also is close to averaging double-digit points, at 9.3 ppg.
The Spartans' high-scoring offense is a reflection of their coach, Matt Alosa, now in his eighth season directing the team he led to the state Class I (predecessor to Division II) title in 1991. In between stints at Pembroke, Alosa played two seasons for Providence College, averaged a school-record 23.1 ppg over two seasons for the University of New Hampshire and played professionally in Europe.
An intense, demanding and occasionally polarizing figure in state basketball circles, Alosa is also the son of a New Hampshire high school star-turned-college player-turned-Granite State coach.
The leading scorer for a Bishop Brady of Concord team that won three straight Class I championships in the mid-1960s, Frank Alosa played briefly for New Hampshire College (now Southern New Hampshire University) and later coached at Brady, Franklin and Trinty of Manchester. He also founded the Granite State Raiders AAU program, which counts among its alumni two NBA players, Concord's Matt Bonner of the San Antonio Spurs and Mike Miller of the Memphis Grizzlies. (A South Dakota native, Miller befriended Bonner and joined him on the Raiders during the summer of 1998, when the two were University of Florida-bound recruits.)
A Granite State Raiders alumnus himself, the younger Alosa coaches in the program during the summer. And whether he's coaching the Raiders or the Spartans, he demands that his players strive to be nothing less than the best.
"I challenge them personally to get better against themselves," he said. "We might only play our best for 17-18 minutes a game. I challenge them to play their best at both ends, to go 19-20 minutes — maybe 22 the next time."
That's how Alosa tries to maintain an edge with his players even when the competition is not challenging enough.
"He wants us to play hard, practice hard, play as a team," said Connor Boucher. "When we do something wrong, he gives us constructive criticism."
Alosa's own playing career gives him instant credibility with today's Spartans.
"He's a role model for us because he's been through what we're doing. He knows what he's talking about" said Curran.
Alosa also believes in making his players earn their minutes. His starters play 22 to 24 minutes per game. He only goes two or three deep on his bench.
"I usually use a seven- or eight-man rotation" he said. "I can't have my starters take a night off depending on who we play."
It helps that he has one of the best players in the state on his team.
Welch is close to joining the exclusive ranks of New Hampshire high school players to score more than 2,000 career points, a club to which his coach also belongs.
"Pat's a once-in-a-generation-type player," Alosa said. "He's one of the best players I've seen in our state in a while."
Welch's scoring average so far this season is similar to what he averaged last year, but he's a better player, Alosa said. The difference shows not in his average, but in the performance of his teammates.
"He's a much smarter player now, getting everyone involved" Alosa said. "We're much more explosive."
And that means that anything less than another Division II title would be considered a disappointment.
"I would be disappointed, but that's my nature," said Alosa. "I just think this team has the talent to do it."