For the first time since the start of the 2003 season, the Bishop Hendricken basketball team isn’t defending a championship this year. The Hawks – who had won seven straight titles – lost in the Division I tournament last year before getting upset by Tiverton in the quarterfinals of the new state tournament. St. Raphael won the state championship.
As the Hawks prep for a new season, they aren’t stuck on what happened last year, but they’re eager to write a new chapter.
“I don’t think they’re dwelling on the past,” said head coach Jamal Gomes. “They want to start over, and I think there’s some hunger there. A few of the kids were part of our JV championship a couple of years ago, but only one guy was on our last varsity championship team. So they’re focused. They’re not living in the past. I think they want to make a name for themselves.”
The way things are shaping up, Hendricken has the pieces to do that.
It’s just about putting them together.
Because of the football team’s run to the state championship, that process has been somewhat delayed. Gomes had to hold off on selecting a full team so he could wait for a few football players. Wednesday was the first time the full team was on the court for practice.
But despite that ragged beginning, Gomes already likes what he’s seen.
“I think we’re going to be solid,” he said. “What I’ve noticed already is that this group has outstanding chemistry, and that’s really half the battle. They’re working hard, they’re listening and they’re focused.”
The Hawks lost eight players to graduation from last year’s team, including major contributors like Steve Bevilacqua, DaJuan Ives and Tim Lyons. But the three returning players who have seen big minutes give the Hawks a solid nucleus to build around.
Corey Palumbo, a senior guard, leads the way.
“He’s stronger, faster and more experienced,” Gomes said. “He’s going to be a leader for us.”
Junior swingman Lee Messier is also back. As a sophomore, Messier emerged as one of the team’s best scoring options, and he should be one of the top juniors in the state this season.
“I think he can be one of the top scorers around,” Gomes said.
Senior Nick Bourdeau rounds out that group. At 6-foot-6, he gives the Hawks a strong presence inside.
“I think he’s the most athletic big man in the state,” Gomes said.
The rest of the Hawks have only seen limited minutes, but Gomes thinks many of them are ready for break-out campaigns. Senior Julian Mardenli stands 6-foot-3 and has been a leader so far, while senior Gerry Manning – the brother of former Hawk standout Nick Manning – is back on the squad after taking last year off. Junior Kazre Cummings grew to 6-foot-3 and should create match-up problems at both ends.
The Hawks also have junior Will Tavares coming up from the JV squad and football player Mario McClain joining the team. Several other players could make a push for time as well.
“The pieces are there,” Gomes said. “It’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
The biggest positive for the Hawks is that all the pieces have one thing in common – athleticism. That should allow Gomes to ramp up his trademark frenetic style.
“We’re not the biggest team, but we’re long and we’re exceptionally athletic,” Gomes said. “We’re going to be able to play textbook Hendricken basketball – high-speed and tough defense. With our length, defense is going to be a staple.”
As opposed to last year, though, when the Hawks had some offensive struggles, defense won’t be everything. Gomes thinks his team can score.
“I don’t see that being an issue this year,” he said. “We’ve got some guys who can put the ball in the basket. Already, I’ve seen that they love sharing the ball and they love seeing their teammates score. That’s a beautiful thing.”
All in all, the Hawks seem poised to be contenders, but they know what they’re up against. Defending champ St. Raphael returns tourney MVP Charles Correa, and the typical powerhouses are strong as always. Division II and III’s best clubs will also be in the mix with the new 32-team state tournament.
However it all shakes out, the Hawks will be pushing hard to get back on top.
“I think it’s going to be a good season for us,” Gomes said. “I like what I’ve seen so far. It’s tough – there a lot of good teams around the league. But I have confidence in our guys. We’re going to play hard.”