By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Where does the Bristol Eastern boys basketball land in the upcoming 2013-14 season?
Are the Lancers better than the nine win squad of one short year ago?
If this squad can find that right chemistry than the answer is most certainly yes.
Though losing several key starters, it’s up to the returning group – plus a surprise couple extras – that should make the Lancers successful this year.
Here’s a quick look at this year’s Lancers:
Head Coach: Mike Giovinazzo (32nd season)
Overall Record: Starting in 1983-84, Giovinazzo has racked up 322 victories and has made Eastern a tough playoff performer year in, year out.
Last Season’s Record: 9-12 (lost to Maloney 58-48 in the first round of the Class L Tournament).
Subtractions: Ryan Chiasson (forward); Gabe Ungaro (guard); Juan Gonzalez (guard/forward); Luke Smith (guard); Victor Williams (forward); Dreu Tucker (sr., forward/center); Rory Wohllebe (sr., forward).
Key Players: Kevin Love (jr., forward); Mike Belton (sr., forward); Darieyn Tate (so., guard); George Taylor Jr. (jr., guard); Daron McKoy (jr., guard); Savion Wade (sr., forward); Ernest Wallace (jr., forward); Eric Therrien (sr., forward/center); Alex “Bama” Hunter (so, guard); Austin Dias (jr., guard).
Strengths: Returning talent
Weaknesses: Lack of chemistry
Why Eastern will be successful: If Eastern can find that perfect starting five, and blend it with a solid bench, then only good things are in store for the Lancers.
Overview: Off a nine win campaign, the Lancers have grown over the past year and are quite an intriguing bunch.
There are still some questions to be answered and that’s where the Lancers backcourt comes into play.
That backcourt doesn’t have a ton of varsity experience but it does have some talent none-the-less.
Junior sharp-shooter Daron McCoy (3.8 point in only 8.9 minutes-per-game last season) is a hired gun who has unlimited range and is a threat from all over the court.
McCoy is still learning the art of defense but once he catches up in that aspect, he’ll be a hand-full on both sides of the ball.
But for now, his offense is superior and if you let him square his feet, you’ll pay the price.
He mate is point guard, sophomore Darieyn Tate. Even though he hasn’t played a minute of varsity hoop, he’s been better than good during the preseason.
While that backcourt is new, the power forward/center is a returning big man.
Senior Eric Therrien is not your prototypical starting forward or center but he will get in the paint to snare his share of rebounds. He’ll also block an occasional shot or two and does have outside shooting abilities so if opposing defenses don’t follow Therrien out, he make someone pay.
One of the two starting forward spots should go to senior Mike Belton (7.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.6 steals-per-game). Like former Houston Rocket Robby Horry, he’ll shoot from the outside, grab his share of rebounds, and with his size, it’s the hope that his defense will frustrate opposing front-courts.
The bench has a unique blend of talent that could be bolstered at guard by part-time Eastern quarterback, sophomore Alex Hunter, reverse guard, and soccer stud, junior Austin Dias, and last year’s starting point guard, junior George Taylor.
Hunter will probably start at the junior varsity level but his overall game makes him an ideal third or fourth guard with the varsity unit. Hunter can nail shots from downtown while he rebounds very well for a guard.
Dias will certainly fill in at both guard positions and should provide a basket or two during the campaign in a reserve role.
Taylor (3.9 points, 1.9 assists) could be one of two X-factors on this squad and he has the versatility to either start or come off the bench for the Lancers. He was one of the squad’s best passers in 2012-13 and has certainly gotten bigger since the close of last season.
That other x-factor is Crosby transfer, senior Ernest Wallace.
Wallace is a 6-foot-1 forward and if he plays a role like former Boston Celtics’ reserve Ed Pinckney, he’ll crash the boards, clog the middle, do some of the dirty work in terms of picks and screens and put in a shot for Eastern every once in awhile.
On Crosby’s 22-win campaign last season, Wallace averaged 2.4 points and nearly 3.0 rebounds-per-game.
Reserve forward Savion Wade will add some rebounding punch to the team.
He may not play a ton of minutes on the season but when he’s on the court, Wade will hustle, scrap and should be a productive front-court performer.
And then there’s junior Kevin Love (14.0 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 1.4 blocks-per-game), who can do a little of everything on the court and if he once again puts it all together, Eastern is in for a tremendous season.
He was the Lancers leading scorer from the 2012-13 campaign and is a volume rebounder.
Love can taking it inside-outside and could hit a three-pointer from time to time.
He’s the squad’s best shot blocker (1.4 per game in 2012-13) and has the experience to back up his play.
Finally, you have one of the top coaches in all the CCC South in the form of Mike Giovinazzo, who is a master of putting his squads together.
Expect him to push all the buttons to get this squad back into the state tournament and while he’s a tough taskmaster, he’ll get every ounce out of this group.
Giovinazzo is joined by lead assistant Bunty Ray, freshman coach Ryan Raponey, D.J. Parent and the recently added John Benoit, who played hoop for Giovinazzo during his senior campaign of 1991-92.
CCC South Outlook: Maloney always seems to get a critical transfer or two to add to its line-up while Bristol Central will be trouble in the South as well. Middletown and Berlin could also be in the mix.
Games to Watch This Year: Eastern will take a part of the Farmington Holiday Tournament and will clash with Avon. Enfield is also part of the tourney picture as well. The Lancers square off against Bristol Central on Jan. 24 and Feb. 24 this year in terms of big games.
By MICHAEL LETENDRE