North Kingstown boys’ varsity basketball tips off Friday
The North Kingstown boys’ varsity basketball team has a chance to finish the job they started last season and bring home a state title when action gets underway Friday, Dec. 7.
Tipoff is at 6 p.m. for the Skippers’ injury fund game against Westerly. The game is part of the second annual basketball madness event Friday at North Kingstown High School from 4 to 9 p.m.
Tickets cost $10 and are available at the door. The admission includes three games: junior varsity, varsity and alumni. Admission also includes entries into raffles and hoops contests, and the pasta dinner served from 4 to 8 p.m.
Money raised goes to support the freshman basketball teams and defray costs of the holiday tournaments and nonleague games on the schedule.
The girls’ varsity season tips off Thursday, Dec. 6, with a home game against St. Ray’s. The boys’ varsity regular season opener is at home on Tuesday, Dec. 11, at 7 p.m. against East Providence.
Boys’ head coach Aaron Thomas said the starting lineup is not quite final, but Jamestowner Owen Heath is a lock for center. Fellow islander Grant Gillis and North Kingstown’s Alex Madoian, a senior, are also centers.
The Skippers have eight seniors on the team. Along with Owen and Alex, point guard Matt Quainoo, forwards Justin Pratt and Randall Minogue, also guards Chris Hess Austin Barry and Tom Lederer are also playing their final season in a Skippers uniform.
According to Thomas, the team is packed with talent and experience. He is optimistic about the team’s chances to make another run at a state title, with five players returning from last year’s squad. They’re more than just high school teammates, too. “They’ve been playing together since they were about 8 years old,” said Thoams.
Owen, at 6-foot-5, struggled in the early going last season but got a chance to play when a starter went out with an injury. Owen made the most of the opportunity. He became the team’s sixth man and the go-to guy in key situations.
Last year, Owen was a substitute who played about 10 minutes a game, but this season he’s made the starting lineup.
“He’ll be getting a lot more playing time,” Thomas said. “He’s also in a lot better shape this year.” The coach attributes his physical growth to the varsity soccer schedule that Owen played in the fall.
Grant, a 6-foot-7 junior, typically will come into the game off the bench. Grant played mostly junior varsity last year and initially had some problems adjusting to the varsity game, Thomas said. He’s greatly improved this year, the coach said.
“He was having problems adjusting to the speed of the game,” Thomas said, but added that’s a typical issue for JV players.
According to Thomas, things happen faster at the varsity level, and that can be daunting for junior varsity players used to just tossing the ball around. Varsity players have to anticipate and learn how to read plays. The varsity game is also up and down the floor faster – the transition game is more developed.
Thomas said that Grant gives the team some added strength because when he comes in at center, the team gains the option of playing Owen at power forward. It also gives Owen opportunity to play on the perimeter, where he is a 3-point threat.
The main competition the Skippers will face this season comes from the three parochial schools: Bishop Hendricken, La Salle and St. Raphael. Thomas said that Central and Mount Pleasant could also cause some problems.
Central, the defending state champions, has only one player back from last year.
The Catholic schools are always tough because they can draw on talent statewide.
“We say they don’t need to rebuild,” Thomas said, “they just reload.”
But the Skippers defeated all of them last year, including a thriller at St. Ray’s when the Skippers came away with a two-point victory.
Thomas said he is also worried about Classical. Its record last year was 13-6, and they had the option of moving down to Division II but voted to stay in Division I. All three of their returning players averaged 15 points a game.
The city schools will try to play “helter skelter” basketball and run their opponents off the floor, Thomas said, so controlling the tempo of the game, which is the point guard’s job, becomes key.
Thomas said he tells the team it’s like the old Kenny Rogers song – with lyrics slightly changed. “You gotta know when to run, you gotta know when to hold them.”
According to Thomas, Matt will slow the game down if he sees the other teams trying to run the Skippers out of the gym.
“We have to be smart,” he said. Thomas added the Skippers’ defense will dictate the play. They play man defense and look to make steals and deflections.
Owen and Grant are the only two islanders on the varsity roster, but Jamestown can claim two talented players on the junior varsity team, plus four new players on the freshman team.
Jamestowners Teddy Roberts, Rob Haberland, Stephen Cirella and Jay Patel will play on the freshman team. Connor Ferguson and Jake Gillis are Jamestown’s JV players. Connor also plays soccer, and Jake is Grant’s cousin.
Any junior varsity player could move up to varsity, Thomas said. He has 13 players on the varsity roster but can suit up 15 in the playoffs. Two JV players will probably win promotions.
Last year, the Skippers rolled up a 20-5 record and breezed into the playoffs as the top seed. After defeating Cumberland, 62-54, in the Sweet 16, North Kingstown lost to Rogers by eight points in the regional championship.
Thomas said it was the first time the Skippers captured the No. 1 seed in the state tournament. “At least as long as I’ve been coaching here,” he said.