By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The Bristol Central boys basketball team has a pretty good starting unit that should rival most of the squads in the Central Connecticut Conference.
Blessed with size, speed, and athleticism, this outfit should easily be able to take home the CCC South Patriot Division championship.
But what’s the ceiling on this squad? Can this unit win 15 games this year (don’t be surprised)?
Let’s dive into the season the Rams should enjoy over the 2017-18 scholastic campaign:
BRISTOL CENTRAL BOYS BASKETBALL
Head Coach: Tim Barrette (11th season)
Overall Record: In 10 seasons, Barrette carries a record of 97-116 that includes six state tournament appearances.
Last Season’s Record: 10-11 overall. No. 24 Central lost to No. 9 Windsor in a Class L first round contest on the road.
Subtractions: Aaron Collins (forward), Luis Diaz (forward), Mike Lemke (forward), Eddie Irizarry (forward).
Key Players: Dathan Hickey (sr, guard/forward), Jaekwon Spencer (sr, forward/center), Alex Bernier (sr, forward), Alex Lape (sr, forward), Isaiah Miller (sr, guard), Brett Kempton (sr, forward/center), Nate Rosa (jr, forward), Justus Fitzpatrick (jr, guard), Noah Plantamuro (sr, shooting guard), Ryan Rodriguez (jr, forward).
Strengths: Varsity experience, athleticism, speed, size, depth
Weaknesses: Outside shooting
Bristol Central basketball 2017-18: If everyone is healthy, Central is going to be a tough out this season.
That’s because this squad has some nasty size, athletes up and down the roster, and more than a little speed that will keep opponents chasing the outfit all season long – all in a neat nine-man rotation.
“We actually have a lot of depth this year,” said Barrette.
And don’t forget, Central lost only Aaron Collins from the starting cast in 2016-17.
Barrette’s first five will have a very familiar look come opening tip-off as guards Isaiah Miller and Dathan Hickey return along with forwards Alex Bernier and Jaekwon Spencer – all seniors in the line-up.
“I return four starters with Hickey, Isaiah,” Spencer and Bernier said Barrette.
Starting with size and athleticism, Spencer (16.6 points-per-game last season) a forward/center in Central’s mix, is poised for a huge year.
We’ve seen his growth over the years and in his third varsity campaign, he’s a surefire double-double machine for Central.
Spencer will drag opposing defenders out to the three-point line as he drained 23 three-pointers last year and that’s an invaluable weapon for the program.
And if the senior can finish at the hoop with any kind of consistent, go-to move, watch out.
Spencer will hit the boards and cause all sorts of havoc when opposing offenders enter the paint.
And speaking of interior defenders, Alex Bernier (10.4 ppg) is a beast in the lane and will haul in any ball that he can get his mitts on.
Bernier should be a walking double-double this season as well, and if he could add any kind of range to his shot, he would be an even tougher forward to defend.
If he makes a strong move to the hoop with the ball, better hope he misses because he’ll snare the offensive rebound.
“I have big expectations for Jaekwon and Alex this year,” said Barrette. “If those two guys play to their potential, we should have a really good season.”
And if Barrette wants to continue with a little size up front, he can turn to seniors Alex Lape and Brett Kempton.
Kempton played in just four varsity games last season but has size at 6-foot-4 as does Lape (6-foot-3).
Lape managed to get into 17 of the 21 games last season, playing some excellent, physical defense during hid stints on the floor and will do more of the same this year.
Add in 6-foot-3 junior Ryan Rodriguez and Central is indeed big up front.
“At some points, I probably can go three or four guys that are going to be 6-foot-4 on the floor at once which is a nice commodity to have,” said Barrette.
Junior Nate Rosa will also factor into the front court and the football standout brings a little athleticism to the floor.
At guard, Central will turn to a combination that will include Miller, Hickey, and junior Justus Fitzpatrick.
That’s a solid core of athletes and if Central wants to up-tempo the game, Barrette will have the players to do so.
Miller (5.1 ppg) is coming off a foot injury in football and hopefully regains full strength on the court early on in the season.
He’s a crafty guard, a streaky three-point shooter to boot, and an athlete who is one of the best players of human chess on the court — easily getting into the opponents’ head with a little psychological tomfoolery.
“Isaiah is our emotional leader at the point guard” position said Barrette.
Whether or not Miller starts the season for the Rams was up in the air as of press time.
“We have a tough gauntlet to open up with [playing] Manchester, Middletown, and Maloney,” said Barrette. “If Miller is out for that stretch of games, it may be a little difficult at the point guard position. But hopefully Isaiah is back at full stretch and we can make a run.”
Hickey (4.4 ppg) can play three different positions on the court, moving up to small forward at 6-foot and the Yale bound athlete plays both sides of the hardwood with zest.
But defense will once again be his calling card.
He’s gotten bigger and he’ll be able to enforce his will in the backcourt.
“Dathan Hickey is one of the best defenders in the entire CCC,” said Barrette. “I use his athletic ability to generally guard the best player on the other team and that’s a key role for us.”
Hickey’s speed causes several match-up problems and the same goes for Fitzpatrick.
Another extreme athlete, Fitzpatrick got into 13 games last year and has the experience to help boost the Miller/Hickey combo.
Central is going to win some contests this season as long as the squad keeps playing within the team game.
Barrette expects some big things from his squad and if the bench can give something every game, the team will have several advantages over its opponents.
And that bench, with senior sharp-shooter Noah Plantumaro waiting for his chance to fire up shots, will have to keep opposing defenses honest by connecting on field goals from long range from game start to finish.
“I think we have to consistently make outside shots,” said Barrette. “I’m a little nervous about our ability to score from the outside. I think Plantamuro and those guys need to make outside shots.”
“We lost both Collins and Mike Lemke and that’s what their role was. We need to find someone to replace that.”
The bottom line for Central is opponents this season will have to deal with the Rams’ athleticism, cope with a group of athletes that will impose their will on the game, and must match the squad’s physical abilities.
It’s a tall order going up against Central this year.
“I don’t have pure basketball players,” said Barrette. “Jaekwon is my only pure basketball player. I think I have good athletes. We have good athletes who are playing basketball. For a lot of them, basketball is their secondary sport…but with that being said, we’re excited about our physical toughness and our mental ability to close out games due to the fact that they’ve played in other sports, been in big moments.”
CCC South Outlook: The new CCC South Patriot division has three teams in it and Central is truly the favorite out of the Rams, Bristol Eastern, and Plainville – two squads who are still trying to put it all together.
“I’m assuming most coaches are assuming we’re the favorite (in the conference),” said Barrette. “But being the favorite, we need to play like the favorite and with that being said, I’ve already told my guys it’s our race to lose. We have to handle our business and do what we have to do in the conference to win the thing.”