TOWNSEND -- When longtime North Middlesex boys' basketball head coach Erik Dellasanta stepped down at the end of the season,

Patriots' assistant Justin Maly saw it as an opportunity to toss his hat in the ring for the head coaching job.

"I first coached under Erik as a freshman coach for four-or-five years," Maly said. "To coach under Erik was an honor. He is one of the best X's and O's coaches in the area. It was just great being under his wing.

"I am going to be nervous about the first practice and game, but it is something that I have wanted to do since I was in high school. I have moved up the ranks from middle school to freshmen to JV and now varsity. I have worked my way up the ranks.

From my time at Westford Academy and at North Middlesex, I learned how to run a successful basketball program."

Maly, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., is no stranger to North Middlesex basketball.

He was the freshmen basketball coach for five years before leaving the program for three years for Westford Academy, where he served as an assistant. Dellasanta brought Maly back at the start of last season as a varsity assistant.

North Middlesex athletic director James Bunnell recognized that the Patriots boys' basketball program was on the upward trajectory following its Western Mass semifinals loss to Longmeadow at UMass Amherst this winter -- a ride that Maly had a first-class seat for.

"We are happy with the road we took," Bunnell said. "He's an educator who knows the game of basketball very well. Justin clearly needed an opportunity to be a head basketball coach, and we are very happy to give it to him. I know we are going to see great things from both him and the kids."

Maly got his first taste of being a head coach this winter, when Dellasanta found himself in the midst of a two-week jury duty appointment. Maly, assumed the role and kept the Patriots in check, and they did not skip a beat. Maly, like his predecessor, is a student of the game -- he played small forward at Division 2 Daemen College (Amherst,N.Y.)

"I remember walking into the gym when Erik was on jury duty and seeing the kids working their butts off," Bunnell said. "The kids were not down or resenting him for his tough coaching style, they were very encouraged by what he did."

Those two weeks where Maly filled in for Dellasanta gave him the foundation he needed to prepare for becoming a head coach.

"It was great because I got to learn most of the kids," Maly said. "Usually as an assistant coach you are working on who we are scouting with the second team. Having that experience allowed me to assess our strengths and weaknesses with the kids who are coming back, so that we can address them over the summer. It really helped me a lot, and it especially helped the kids who are coming back."

What sold Maly on the North Middlesex vacancy was its family-friendly atmosphere.

"North Middlesex is a basketball community," Maly said. "From all the levels from the middle school to the rec leagues, it was not only about the varsity. It was about giving the kids and their families a positive experience. (Dellasanta) was always shaking hands with parents and coaches from the other team. With him, it was not only about his team, it was about the overall experience of everyone in the gym. Over the past year, Erik has really built up that strong community, and I would really love to keep that going."

As for Dellasanta, he could not be anymore excited for his former assistant coach.

"I still have a lot of pride in the program, and I wanted someone who would be good by the kids, the fans and the program," Dellsanta said. "Justin is that guy. I am very happy for Justin. I think he will do a phenomenal job. I got my first crack at the varsity position at the same age he did. He has paid his dues. He has played in high school and college -- there is something that kids appreciate about knowing that he has been in their shoes before."

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