TOWNSEND -- In his six years as the head coach of the North Middlesex boys' basketball team, Erik Dellasanta has worked on building a tradition of excellence. Coming off consecutive District appearances, including a trip to WPI, the program is making a name for itself. In 2012-13, the Patriots will feature a lot of new faces but the goal will remain the same.
"We are very unproven, but I am pretty hopeful that this group can make a trip to the post-season," said Dellasanta. "I have liked what I have seen in the pre-season and the kids are really putting forth the effort I have come to expect. What I do know I can guarantee is that we will compete night in and night out, but our success will depend on how we progress as a team on a day-to-day basis."
Leading the way into the season are senior captains Francis Phillips, Ryan DeLuca and Caleb Baker. Phillips was a key player in North Middlesex's 13-8 campaign last year and will start at small forward while DeLuca gets the nod at the point and Baker mans the center position. "Francis is a scorer and can fill it up on any night," said Dellasanta. "He has outstanding range, but can get to the hoop as well. Francis has really taken to the leadership role this season. Beyond the scoring, he has great vision, is a strong rebounder for his position and can handle the ball.
"Ryan is incredibly quick and aggressive with great body control. He is learning how to run the team from the point guard position and is doing a great job so far. His on-ball defense is outstanding and offensively his jump shot has really improved. Ryan had a great off-season and I expect him to have a big year for us. Caleb has great size at 6 feet, 6 inches, but is very agile as well. His hands in the post are solid and he has the speed to get out on the break. Defensively, he is an outstanding shot blocker with great timing and does a solid job on the boards. He is another player that could make a big leap this season."
A four-way competition for the other two starting spots is on-going. Juniors Bobby Larsen and Sam Heller are in a battle for the other frontcourt spot while junior Tyler Thomas and sophomore Drew Patno try to lock down the second backcourt position. "Bobby is versatile and can play the two, three or four," said Dellasanta. "He is quick, has great leaping ability, a solid shot and strong passing skills. Bobby can do a little bit of everything and will be counted on to be a key contributor whether as a starter or off the bench. Sam has good size and is very physical in the post. I love his aggressiveness and ability to rebound in traffic. Sam also has a nice collection of post moves, a nice touch around the basket and good athleticism for his size."
"Tyler does everything well and good things seem to happen when he is on the floor," said Dellasanta. "He is extremely intelligent with great court vision. They said the mid-range jumper is a dying thing, but Tyler possesses a great one from 10 to 15 feet. In addition, he makes the right pass at the right time and puts people in position to score. Drew has great knowledge of the game and is the best passer on the team. He doesn't have great speed, but he makes up for it with his excellent decision-making skills. Drew has a nice shot from three-point range and defensively, he plays really well off the ball."
Adding depth in the frontcourt will be juniors Dylan Woods and Austin Lowrey along with sophomore Brendan Vargelettis. "Dylan is a really aggressive player who would run through a wall if I ask him to do it," said Dellasanta. "His aggressiveness helps him in his ability to be a lockdown defender, but offensively, he has a nice touch for a kid with his size. Austin uses his big body well and brings a physical style to the post. He has very good hands and is a good rebounder down low. Brendan is big, strong and physical, which is a great mix for a center. His ability to get position in the post is outstanding and allows him to be a steady rebounder."
In the backcourt, junior Mark Rossi and senior Sam King are in the mix for playing time. "Mark has a very good shot and solid ball-handling skills at the point guard spot," said Dellasanta. "Sam is raw and athletic but has developed a good shot and can run in transition."
Despite replacing a large chunk of a team that won 29 games in the last two seasons, Dellasanta believes this team can play into late February and early March. "The road is going to be challenging and our schedule is tough, but these kids are ready for the challenge," said Dellasanta. "I like the versatility we have in that we can play big or small, we can run or get the ball to the post. We can match up according to game situations and that is a luxury for a coach. Our offense is going to be able to put points on the board if we can take care of the ball and defensively, we need to play sound. If we can gel and improve every day, I feel we can be in the hunt for the Districts."