Once they gain some experience and learn their roles, the Little Green should be a force under Sudi Lett.
TO FOCUS on what’s missing from a Manchester Central boys’ basketball team that fell to Portsmouth in the first round of last year’s playoffs is to overlook the potential that has yet to scratch the surface.
Yes, the loss of both Dede Niyang (moved to Arizona) and Royce Williams (transferred to Trinity) certainly hurt, and, to paraphrase Rick Pitino, they’re not walking through that door.
Maybe they don’t need to, though. That’s not to dismiss how talented those guys are. Williams averaged 22.3 points per game at the Queen City Invitational Basketball Tournament for a reason. Niyang was honorable mention for an All-State team last year for a reason. But maybe the pieces of a highly competitive Division I team are already in place, simply hidden by a curtain of inexperience that coach Sudi Lett can unveil.
It starts with junior Barol Mowa, a long, athletic wing whom Lett is leaning on heavily this year. Mowa’s jump shot is a work in progress, but there are few players around the league who can check him when he has the ball in his hands going downhill. He does a good job of finishing at the rim when he gets there and has the sense to make the right pass when necessary.
Though not a traditional point guard, Mowa has served as one of the Little Green’s lead ball handlers to begin the season, but you can still see where he has trouble with indecision, like whether or not he should shoot the ball for the third or fourth straight trip down the floor or look to get his teammates involved. It’s something Mowa just needs to be able to put his finger on a little more effectively while he’s feeling out the game. Being selfish to a certain degree can be a good thing, especially for a player like Mowa.
“A lot of it’s trial and error with Barol,” Lett said. “This is his junior year and his first official year on varsity. It’s just going to be trial and error. We watch a lot of film at practice so he can see what he’s doing wrong, how it looks and different ways that he can exploit things that teams are taking away. I’m excited because everything is just about getting better. I told them we can have a loss as long as we take a step forward. I think we took a step forward in (the QCIBT) tournament.”
Jabari Dowell is in a similar boat. His demeanor on the floor is very laid-back, which, at times, can make him seem indifferent. That couldn’t be further from the truth, though. Dowell works hard on the glass and responds quickly to the adjustments Lett asks him to make as he plays.
Like Mowa, Dowell is prone to shying away from looking for his own offense. So far this year, a lot of Central’s sets have called for him to catch and face the basket. It’s in that position where he serves as the hub of the offense, and for a player with such inexperience he really has a knack for reading the floor and making the right play. Lett could stand to see him shoot more, though. He’s athletic enough to rise up and shoot over his defender or attack the rim for an easy look.
“For Jabari, he doesn’t even know how good he could be,” Lett said. “He’s a match-up nightmare. He’s about 6-4, he can shoot, he can dribble and can post a little bit. Again, really inexperienced and it’s just really about getting him to play to his potential every possession. He’s not a vocal guy by nature but I told him he doesn’t have to be. (The Los Angeles Clippers’) Kawhi Leonard isn’t vocal but he gets his point across. You don’t have to be vocal if your play is vocal for you.”
Freshman Jason Gasana is another solid building block. Central is just waiting for his body to catch up to his game. He has a tight handle and can work off the bounce with either hand and has flashed a solid jumper. When he puts on more weight he should be tougher to stop.
“Of the three freshman, I’d say physically he’s the least ready,” Lett said. “But his IQ is just so, so high and we’re just going to really keep working with him on his physicality — lifting weights and eating as much as possible. He’s got the mindset. He’s a hard worker and a great student.”
Greg Jean-Baptiste, Andrew Houghton, Baylee Bates and Angel Castro will also play key roles going forward. Houghton and Bates, in particular, have the potential to really space the floor for Central. Houghton has a sweet-looking left-handed stroke while Bates can get his shot off in a hurry. Those two, plus senior Mike Dupree, surrounding Mawo and Dowell could form a lineup that gives defenses fits since it would be hard to pack the paint. The more room Mawo and Dowell have to operate in, the better.
There’s also junior Kuel Akot.
“Kuel’s been awesome,” Lett said. “He’s one of our most experienced players in terms of having played against some of the best players in the country on his AAU team. He provides irrational confidence, which is something we need. He had 16 points and came in and hit clutch threes (against Trinity). What he really did was respond to a challenge. There was a little trash talking on the court and he responded to it. To see him come out and do that, that’s a good sign for us.”
Confidence is going to be key for the whole team moving forward. Being confident in your abilities on the basketball court is vitally important to both individual and team success.
“Confidence comes with repetition,” Lett said. “We keep doing it every day. We work on our skills and our drills every day. We work on our individual and team stuff every day. So with more repetition and more success through that repetition, you build confidence.”
Central has a tough schedule over the next few weeks with games at home against Spaulding (Jan. 10) and Portsmouth (Jan. 21) before it visits Exeter (Jan. 24). Central will be back home against Bedford (Feb. 4) and Memorial (Feb. 7). The Little Green are at Dover tonight.
Lett just wants to build with each game.
“As long as every single player on our team is looking in the mirror first, then it will be great for our team overall,” he said.
“As you saw, we got crushed by Trinity (Dec. 20). Played West a little better, lost to them. We had a chance to play Trinity again and beat them to exorcise a few demons, which is great for our young team.
“Because we’re so inexperienced, a lot of it is going to just be trial and error. Getting into the fire and hoping things go well. I have three freshmen that are in my starting rotation. I have three sophomores that are in my rotation. So, out of a 10-man rotation, six of them are freshmen and sophomores, so we’re super young and super inexperienced. But I’m really excited about the character of the players that I have. I have really high-character student athletes. I’m excited. I think a lot of teams only have so high of a ceiling, but I think our ceiling is really, really high, especially as we get more experienced.”
The holiday tournaments have come and gone. Here’s what you may have missed.
- Exeter won its second straight title at the Queen City Invitational Basketball Tournament at Manchester Memorial High School. The Blue Hawks defeated the host team, 63-56, and Exeter’s Mike Leonard was named MVP. Leonard averaged 18.7 points over three games.
Ryan Grijalva also became the first Exeter player to join the tournament’s 100-point club. He averaged 16.3 points per game and totaled 49, pushing his career total to 106 at the QCIBT.
Lebanon’s Jon Willeman led all scorers with 26.3 points per game. Other top scorers were Trinity’s Royce Williams (22.3 PPG), West’s Kur Teng (20) and Bedford’s Justin O’Neill (19).
- The Memorial girls came out on top at the Doug Chandler Christmas Tournament hosted by Manchester Central High School. Jennessa Brunette, who was named tournament MVP, tied for the team lead with 11 points in leading the Crusaders to a 46-35 win over the Little Green.
- Thornton Academy of Saco, Maine, defeated Goffstown, 47-46 in overtime, for the boys’ championship at the Chick-fil-A Holiday Tournament hosted at both Nashua High School North and South. Jack Pyzynski dropped in a 3-pointer as time in overtime expired to knock off the Grizzlies. Meanwhile, Merrimack took down Nashua South, 56-30, to secure the girls’ championship trophy.
Bow’s Matt Lamy earned MVP honors at the Capital Area Holiday Basketball Tournament hosted at NHTI-Concord’s Community College as the Falcons beat Bishop Brady 63-45. Lamy scored 23 points in the title game and, along with teammates Shaun Lover and Ben Harris, was named to the all-tournament team. Brady’s Ismael Rivera and Tommy Fraser, as well as Hopkinton’s Kevin Newton-Delgado, were also selected for the all-tournament team.
The Lady Giants came out on top over Merrimack Valley, 61-50, to win the girls’ title. Ami Rivera was named MVP for the third straight year while her Brady teammates, Libbey Hicks and Riley Marsh, received all-tournament team honors for their efforts. MV’s Miah Boucher and Hayley Kenney, and John Stark’s Chelsea Woodsum were also named to the all-tournament team.
• Kennett defeated Portsmouth Christian Academy of Dover, 56-46, in overtime at the 41st Annual Mike Lee Holiday Basketball Bash at Farmington High School.
Wyatt Arriaga (Kennett), Devin Bedell (Pittsfield), Marcus Berko (Farmington), Will Chase (Newmarket), Nate Krafton (Raymond), Bryson Lund (PCA), Justin Olson (Kennett), and Jason Stockbower were named to the all-tournament team.
Spaulding bested Kennett, 38-34, on the girls’ side. Madeline Predaris (St. Thomas Aquinas of Dover), Jordan Levesque (Plymouth), Angelina Rene (Coe-Brown Northwood), Chloe Weeks (Farmington), Sierra Parsons (Kennett), Liz Cote (Kennett), Mackenzie Brochu (Spaulding), and Mary Paradis (Spaulding) made up the all-tournament team.
• Playing in the Commonwealth Motors Christmas Tournament at Methuen (Mass.) High School, the Londonderry boys finished as the runner-up in the blue division. Londonderry’s Alex Tsetsilas was named to the blue division All-Tournament team while Bishop Guertin of Nashua’s Sam Mullett received All-Tournament honors in the white division. Courtney Shay finished as an All-Tournament team member on the girls’ side while Ashley Rourke took the Coaches Award.
• The Belmont boys defeated Gilford, 44-32, at Gilford High School to win the Lakes Region Holiday Tournament. Laconia beat Newfound, 46-34, to clinch the girls’ title.
Sarah Dempsey deserves a little extra recognition for what she was able to do at the Hoops for the Holidays Tournament at Portsmouth High School. The Windham junior averaged nearly 30 points per game over three contests and scored a school record (boys or girls) 35 points in the Jaguars’ 58-47 win over Winnacunnet on Day One. She also had games of 28 and 26 points.
Dempsey was especially effective at the free throw line, knocking down a combined 30-of-32 freebies in wins against Winnacunnet and Dover — nearly a 94% clip.
Tim MacLean’s High School Basketball column runs on Fridays during the season. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.