Boys’ basketball previews: Pembroke optimistic after championship appearance

Concord’s Japhet Nduwayo (1) and Elia Bahuma (left) guard Keene senior Sam Timmer (20) during a game on Jan. 3 at Purbeck Gym in Keene. Nduwayo scored 32 points to lead the Concord boys’ basketball team to a 57-48 victory. Both players are back to lead the Crimson Tide’s back court this season.

Concord’s Japhet Nduwayo (1) and Elia Bahuma (left) guard Keene senior Sam Timmer (20) during a game on Jan. 3 at Purbeck Gym in Keene. Nduwayo scored 32 points to lead the Concord boys’ basketball team to a 57-48 victory. Both players are back to lead the Crimson Tide’s back court this season. Hannah Schroeder / Keene Sentinel

Hopkinton players Gavin Davies (left) and Noah Aframe hug at the end of their Division III semifinal game against Gilford on Feb. 22. The Hawks made a run to the final four in Matt Miller’s first season as head coach.

Hopkinton players Gavin Davies (left) and Noah Aframe hug at the end of their Division III semifinal game against Gilford on Feb. 22. The Hawks made a run to the final four in Matt Miller’s first season as head coach. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

Bow’s Jake Reardon dribbles against Coe-Brown’s Connor Bagnell in a preliminary round tournament game on March 1. Both Reardon and Bagnell are back for their respective teams this season.

Bow’s Jake Reardon dribbles against Coe-Brown’s Connor Bagnell in a preliminary round tournament game on March 1. Both Reardon and Bagnell are back for their respective teams this season. Chip Griffin / Photos By Chip

Belmont’s Anakin Underhill (24) plays in the 43rd Annual Mike Lee Holiday Basketball Bash at Farmington High School against Profile on Dec. 30, 2022. Belmont defeated Profile, 56-46, to claim the holiday tournament title, and Underhill scored 19 points and was named the Tournament MVP.

Belmont’s Anakin Underhill (24) plays in the 43rd Annual Mike Lee Holiday Basketball Bash at Farmington High School against Profile on Dec. 30, 2022. Belmont defeated Profile, 56-46, to claim the holiday tournament title, and Underhill scored 19 points and was named the Tournament MVP. Courtesy of Ball603.com

The Concord boys’ basketball team poses with the Capital Classic championship plaque at Bishop Brady High School on Dec. 29, 2022 after defeating Hopkinton, 65-59. After finishing 6-12 last season, one win shy of missing the playoffs, the Crimson Tide are looking to keep improving in 2023-24.

The Concord boys’ basketball team poses with the Capital Classic championship plaque at Bishop Brady High School on Dec. 29, 2022 after defeating Hopkinton, 65-59. After finishing 6-12 last season, one win shy of missing the playoffs, the Crimson Tide are looking to keep improving in 2023-24. Courtesy

Pembroke coach Mike Donnell comforts guard Mike Strazzeri after Pelham defeated the Spartans in Division II championship on March 12 at Lundholm gym in Durham.

Pembroke coach Mike Donnell comforts guard Mike Strazzeri after Pelham defeated the Spartans in Division II championship on March 12 at Lundholm gym in Durham. Geoff Forester / Monitor file

Pembroke guard Joe Fitzgerald (center) goes up for a layup against Pelham during the first half. Pelham defeated the Spartans, 57-54, in last year’s Division II championship on March 12. Fitzgerald is back to lead the Spartans in 2023-24.

Pembroke guard Joe Fitzgerald (center) goes up for a layup against Pelham during the first half. Pelham defeated the Spartans, 57-54, in last year’s Division II championship on March 12. Fitzgerald is back to lead the Spartans in 2023-24. Geoff Forester / Monitor file

Pembroke forward Shondell Hadley (30) leads the celebration after Adam Heldman sinks a basket at the end of the third quarter in last year’s Division II semifinals against Oyster River at Sanborn High School in Kingston on March 7.

Pembroke forward Shondell Hadley (30) leads the celebration after Adam Heldman sinks a basket at the end of the third quarter in last year’s Division II semifinals against Oyster River at Sanborn High School in Kingston on March 7. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBELand DAN ATTORRI

Monitor staff

Published: 12-07-2023 4:28 PM

Modified: 12-07-2023 11:32 PM


Even though Pembroke graduated nine seniors from last year’s team that lost to Pelham by three in the Division II championship, head coach Mike Donnell’s optimistic about his retooled roster entering 2023-24.

Senior Joe Fitzgerald will be the only returning starter, and he’ll be joined in the starting five by juniors Evan Berkeley and Mason Gagne, and sophomores Javien Sinclair and Devin Riel. Berkeley played most of last season off the bench, often providing a spark, and will take the reins as the team’s starting point guard. Gagne missed all of last season after having shoulder surgery, while Sinclair and Riel played on the JV team.

Donnell also highlighted senior Zach Al-Shawafi and juniors Jacob Mather, P.J. Regnier and Brady Boisvert as the anticipated key players off the bench.

The Spartans’ chemistry last season played a major role in the team’s 18-3 record. Donnell expects that intangible to play a similarly large role this year.

“It’s so important on the floor,” he said. “Just playing together, believing in each other. Instead of looking for the first shot, looking for the best shot. With our speed and our defensive capabilities, the kids really blend together very, very, very well. They’re very tight knit.”

In some scrimmages so far, Donnell said he’s seen a number of positives on offense. Against Division I Nashua South, the Spartans won and scored 71 points.

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“I know our team can score,” he said. “But to win, you have to defend. If the boys continue to buy in to our defensive schemes and get better at it every day, then it will put us in the position to contend with the better teams.”

He pointed to defending champion Pelham and Manchester West as the two teams to beat in D-II this year but also anticipates stiff competition virtually every night, with strong teams forecast at Merrimack Valley, Coe-Brown, Bow, Hanover and Lebanon.

“There’s not really going to be any easy nights off,” Donnell said. “We just gotta play it one game at a time, stay focused on a game plan and then execute it. If we do that, I think we’re going to be in very good shape. I don’t see us by any means repeating a 16-2 season. I would love to, but I’m trying to be honest at the same time. But I think we’re very capable of winning 12 to 14.” 

Pembroke’s season begins with a home matchup with Merrimack Valley on Tuesday night.

CONCORD

Division: I

Coach: Tim LaTorra (2nd year)

Last year: 6-12, did not make tournament.

Top returners: Japhet Nduwayo, sr.; Alain Twite, sr.; Logan Perkins, sr.; Elia Bahuma, sr.; Brett Tuttle, jr.; Holden Martin, jr.; Sam Pfitzenmayer, jr.

Top newcomers: Cade Weaver, sr.; Sammy Iranzi, so.; Chase Lawler, jr.; JP Donovan, sr.; Derek Ramos, jr.; Emmanuel Boko, jr.; Ethan Ciesluk, jr.; Van MacIver, jr.

Outlook: After losing to Salem in a winner-take-all regular-season finale for the final playoff spot, the Crimson Tide are eager to make the tournament this year. Concord improved significantly over the course of LaTorra’s first season as head coach, tripling its win total from its 2-16 season in 2021-22.

“We have a nice combination of returners and new players,” said LaTorra. “We have a bunch of guys that come in everyday willing to compete and who are committed to taking a step forward. We think one of our biggest strengths is our athleticism. We have a lot of guys with versatility who can play many positions. Another strength we believe we have is depth. We have a lot of guys that can come in a give quality minutes at multiple positions. Lastly, we are working to make our defensive mindset one of our strengths. Our players are willing to learn and work at it, which is awesome to see.”

The Tide has some things to figure out, including how to replace Bahuma, last year’s starting point guard, to a season-ending knee injury, as well last year’s seniors who logged significant minutes on the floor.

“He was our point guard, our best defender, and our leader,” LaTorra said. “Another area we are working on is building our team chemistry. With so many new guys, it might take a little time, but we are trying to put our guys in positions where we can grow together. Lastly, I think an area we need to improve on from last year is our overall mindset. Last season, we had players who were surprised that we had a chance to make the playoffs. This year we need to make playing for a playoff spot the new norm. Our goal this year is to get in the playoffs and see where it takes us. We are in year two of a rebuild, but I think if our players keep coming with the same work ethic and focus that they have so far, good things will happen.”

Teams to beat: Bedford, Pinkerton, Bishop Guertin, Nashua North.

BISHOP BRADY

Division: II

Coach: John Billings (1st year)

Last year: 5-13, did not make tournament.

Outlook: With no returning starters, just 11 players and one senior in the entire program, and a new coach, it’s going to be a rebuilding year for the Giants.

“We are going to work hard to build the Brady basketball program together,” Billings said.

BOW

Division: II

Coach: Scott Drapeau (3rd year)

Last year: 9-10, reached prelims.

Top returners: Colby Smith, sr.; Keenan Hubbard, jr.; Chase Royal, jr.; Jake Reardon, so.; Brendan O’Keeffe, so.; Peyton Larrabee, so.; Connor Eno, so.; Lochlann Brady, so.

Top newcomers: Sean Guerrette, sr.; Adam Folsom, jr.; Noah Zantis, so.; Jacob Littlefield, fr.

Outlook: After going .500 with several freshmen in the lineup, including Honorable Mention Reardon, the Falcons return another year older and experienced.

“We have a combination of athleticism, toughness and players who can play multiple positions, which makes our team unique,” Drapeau said. “It takes all players 1-12 and coaches to blend together for us to be effective this year. They’re players that enjoy working together on and off court.”

Teams to beat: “Every team is going to be competitive nightly,” Drapeau said. “It’s not what you do in December, it’s how you’re playing in mid-February that matters.”

COE-BROWN

Division: II

Coach: David Smith (36th year).

Last year: 14-6, reached quarterfinals.

Top returners: Connor Bagnell, sr.; Matt Flanagan, jr.; Trevor Amergian, sr.; Quinn Salter, sr.

Top newcomers: Bruce LaPierre, jr.; Ryan Kouchoukos, jr.; Jack Matson, jr.; James McKane, jr.; James Larson-Clarke, sr.

Outlook: Bagnell – a Second Team All-State selection – is the only returning starter, but the Bears have demonstrated a “willingness to work hard and quickness,” according to Smith.

Teams to beat: “Nineteen of them, led by Pelham,” according to Smith.

JOHN STARK

Division: II

Coach: Mike Smith (24th year).

Last year: 1-17, did not make tournament.

Returning starters: Logan Montgomery, sr., G; Hayden Pond, sr., G; Joey Dykstra, jr., F; Aidan Harris, so., F.

Top newcomers: Noah Redman, jr., F; Cam Mackey, jr., F; Carter Geaumont, fr., G.

Outlook:  The Generals took their lumps last season, but return 11 players with varsity experience, including four starters. 

“Depth and athleticism should be areas of strength as we return four starters, but also key players who played critical roles last year such as Donnie White (senior forward), Cedar Beaupre (junior guard), Elliot Belliveau (senior guard) and Ty Gajowski (junior forward),” said Smith. “That, plus the summer development of players like Cam Carpenter (junior guard) and Reagan Webb (senior forward), and the return of senior guard D’Angelo Sheppard means that practices will be very competitive and fast paced.  So far our energy has been really great especially on the defensive end and I’m hopeful that that will carry over to the regular season.”

Teams to beat: Pelham, Pembroke.

MERRIMACK VALLEY

Division: II

Coach: Tim Mucher (9th year).

Last year: 12-8, reached quarterfinals.

Returning starters: Logan Gabour, sr.; Trevor Simonds, sr.

Top newcomers: Aiden Gray, jr.

Outlook: MV made big gains last year, doubling its win total from 2021-22 and making a run to the quarterfinals that narrowly ended in overtime. With a strong senior class and several players with varsity experience returning to the team, expectations are high for the Pride.

“This group wants to leave their mark on the program,” Mucher said. “The players know what it takes to be a top team in D-II: be disciplined, play through their mistakes and play up to their potential. We just want to get better today than we were yesterday.”

Teams to beat: Laconia, Pelham, Souhegan, Bow, Manchester West.

BELMONT

Division: III

Coach: Tony Martinez (2nd year).

Last year: 12-7, reached prelims.

Top returners: Keegan Martinez, jr., F; Anakin Underhill, jr., F; Michael Collette, jr., G; Brady Thurber, jr., G; Brady Fysh, so., G; Wyatt Carroll, so., G; Baidyn Lewis, sr., F.

Top newcomers: Brody Ennis, fr., G/F; Hutch Haskins, sr., G; Wyatt Divers, so., G/F; Owen Viar, fr., F; Wyatt Bamford, fr., F; Salem Gates, sr., G/F.

Outlook: The Raiders return just two starters – forwards Martinez (6-5, Second Team) and Underhill (6-6) – but Belmont is far from rebuilding.

“Both have got stronger in the offseason and improved and added parts to their game,” coach Martinez said.

In addition to good size in the front court, Carroll “has worked extremely hard this fall to prepare to have the ball in his hands” and Collette is Belmont’s “Mr. Everything,” according to Martinez. Those two will anchor the back court, while Thurber and Fysh will also do a little of everything, but will be especially key defensively. Lewis and Ennis will fill holes at multiple positions.

“I know we are a playoff caliber team,” coach Martinez said. “The guys come and work hard every day. As long as we keep combining that hard work with our basketball talent, good things will happen.”

Teams to beat: St. Thomas, Conant, Mascoma, Hopkinton, Gilford, Campbell

HILLSBORO-DEERING

Division: III

Coach: Chris Davies (3rd year)

Last year: 0-16, did not make tournament.

Top returners: Gavin Coombs, sr., G; Daniel Franklin, sr., F; Jakeb Hurd, sr., C; Caleb Dumais, sr., F; Mason Nichols, sr., F.

Outlook: The Hillcats are still in a rebuilding phase, but have five returning seniors who hope to pick up a victory after going winless last season. H-D will rely on its speed to overcome a lack of height. 

Teams to beat: Conant, Hopkinton.

HOPKINTON

Division: III

Coach: Matt Miller (2nd year).

Last year: 14-5, reached semifinals.

Top returners: Abram Standefer, sr.; Noah Aframe, jr.; Colby Boissy, sr.; Will Chehade, jr.; Vincent Louca, sr.

Top newcomers: Jackson Westover, fr.; Kristof Cauley, so.

Outlook: The Hawks return two starters – Honorable Mention big man Standefer and All-Defensive Team guard Aframe – plus a few other players with varsity experience from last year’s final four run. 

“I’m incredible excited for the upcoming season,” said Miller, who is back for his second year after a successful inaugural season. “We’re returning big man Abram Standefer as the focal point of our attack and guard Noah Aframe on the ball. These two guys are one of the best two-man combos in the division and I’m excited to see the year they will have. We’ve lost some shooting and scoring this year, with both of our top scorers from last year not returning to Hopkinton this year. With that is a great opportunity for other guys to find themselves in our offense and make their mark on the team and the season. We were a semifinal team last year and we have no hesitation in saying we should be striving for the same if not more this year.”

Teams to beat: St. Thomas, Conant, Campbell, Mascoma. “I think this is anyone’s division this year and there are going to be a lot of teams fighting for spots down the stretch,” according to Miller.

KEARSARGE

Division: III

Coach: Nate Camp (15th year)

Last year: 4-14, did not make tournament.

Top returners: Noah Whipple, jr.; Parker Goin, sr.; Ajay Tremblay, jr.; Eddie Kinzer, jr.; Andrew Huff, so.; Austin Needham, jr.

Top newcomers: Bragen Kinzer, so.; Jacob Messer, so.; Liam Miller, jr.; Noah Rubenberg, jr.; Eli Whipple, fr.; Mason Christensen, so.; Jack Goen, sr.

Outlook: “We have excellent leadership, team culture and team chemistry so far, which is always great to build on this early in the season,” Camp said. “This group is very coachable and they want to improve each day. The key will be our defensive energy and setting the tone at that end of the floor. We lack size so each player needs to do their part with rebounding the basketball. We will need to out work and out hustle teams in our division. Our goals are to get back to the playoffs and then anything can happen.”

Teams to beat: Conant, St. Thomas, Mascoma, Belmont, Hopkinton, Gilford, Campbell.

WINNISQUAM

Division: III

Coach: Kevin Dame (13th year)

Last year: 12-6, reached quarterfinals.

Returning starters: Alex Nichols, sr.; Caleb Robdau, sr.; Chris Biancardi, sr.

Top newcomers: Ethan Poole, so.; Travis Tibbetts, fr.

Outlook: “The guys are working hard and improving each day,” Dame said. “We have some big shoes to fill with our seniors gone (including First Team 6-5 center Anthony Boomer). We don’t have a lot of size as a team, so we are going to have to rebound as a team to be successful. We return a lot of experience at the guard position, so hopefully we can take care of the ball and get many valuable possessions.”

Teams to beat: Conant, Mascoma, St. Thomas, Gilford.