Hawks building for return to the top
Most of the faces won’t look the same for the Bishop Hendricken basketball team this year, but that doesn’t mean the Hawks are altering their expectations one bit.
They want to finish at the top.
Even with the graduation of a huge chunk of last year’s team and the transfer of their best shooter, Hendricken still has plenty of quality players left in the program who will be trying to lead the team to another title.
After winning seven state championships in a row, the Hawks have come up shy of a title each of the last two years after 13-5 regular seasons. And with seven new players and seven returners – only a few of whom saw significant time last year – it’s going to be a process, but one that head coach Jamal Gomes thinks is still plenty realistic.
“I like the vibe of the team,” Gomes said. “Good chemistry, good teamwork already. That usually leads to good things. It’s a process, so it’s going to take some time, but I definitely like the teamwork and work ethic that I’m seeing up to this point.”
Hendricken graduated key players Corey Palumbo, Gerry Manning, Rilwan Ilumoka, Julian Mardenli and Nick Bourdeau, and would-be senior Lee Messier transferred to Tilton School, a prep school in New Hampshire.
Plus, the Hawks haven’t all been able to practice together very often thus far because of the Hendricken football team’s Super Bowl run, which ended on Saturday with a third straight title.
Players that cross over between the two sports didn’t get out on the court until this week. But now that they are there, they might be just what the team needs to come together and grow as a contender.
“I’m hoping those football guys are going to bring that championship mentality to our team,” Gomes said. “Just do whatever it takes to get it done, work together. That kind of mindset.”
One of those football guys, in particular, is going to be looked upon as perhaps the team’s most important player.
Kazre Cummings, a 6-foot-4 senior wide receiver who started a number of games for the basketball team last season, is one of the most experienced players on the roster, and he’s physically matured significantly from last year to this year.
It shows, and it could make Cummings one of the more dangerous players in the state on both ends of the court.
“Kazre is a monster now,” Gomes said. “We’re going to be counting on him a lot this year. I think he’s the best defensive player in the state of Rhode Island. And I think he’s going to be one of the best offensive players in Rhode Island. We’re looking to him for a lot of things.”
Another player the team will lean on is senior guard Will Tavares, who was one of the first players off the bench last season.
He’ll likely step into a much bigger role this time around.
“He’s grown,” Gomes said. “He’s super fast, athletic, shoots it. He can get to the rim.”
Senior Ryan Hagerty is the third-most experienced player, having started games towards the tail end of last season on the inside. He’ll lend Hendricken a strong post presence.
“He’s about 6-3, 220, big, strong kid,” Gomes said. “I’m looking to him for a lot of leadership, and his ability to rebound and bring everybody together. He can also put the ball in the basket.”
Mario McClain, an offensive and defensive tackle on the football team, is another returning player who should be able to assert himself down low.
At roughly 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, McClain is an imposing player for other teams to handle.
“We’re hoping he can get in there and rebound and play some tough D, give us some leadership,” Gomes said.
The other three returners are senior Ryan Henseler and juniors Chris O’Brien and Will Parmlee, all of whom have improved from one year to the next.
Then there are the newer players who have a chance to make an impact.
Sophomore point guard Matt Duffie – a defensive back on the football team – will be in the mix for the point guard job, and freshman Kyle Henseler could also earn some minutes.
Junior Adetokunbo Ademola is a big, athletic player who could see time at forward, while junior Garfield Coustard has drastically improved from last season.
“He’s really made a change in his body,” Gomes said of Coustard. “He’s improved his overall demeanor, and his athleticism. He’s about 6-2, can rebound, does some really nice things.”
Sophomores Mike Muto, Jason Rosario and Ira Lough – who’s 6-foot-5 – are also very much in the fold.
It amounts to what could be a lot of depth, and a lot of similar skill sets throughout the roster.
“Top to bottom and in-between, there’s no real superstar,” Gomes said. “There’s just a lot of solid guys that want to win. I’m seeing a lot of good things that I’m hoping it pays off.”
And the parity has shown throughout the practices thus far, as Gomes has yet to decide on a starting lineup going forward.
“I told my seven returners, ‘Everyone’s trying out,’” Gomes said. “They’ve got to earn a spot. That was the direction this summer. We wanted to bring the program to the commitment level, the heart, the toughness, the aggressiveness. We’re trying to set that tone. And get back to the form of not so many years ago.”
The Hawks will be competing in D-I-South this year with Coventry, Cranston West, North Kingstown and South Kingstown. It’s one of three subdivisions of D-I, down from four subdivisions last year.
Another change the league has made is going back to having division tournaments and a state tournament. Two years ago, the state tournament debuted alongside the division tournaments, but last year there was just a state competition. Once again this year, there will be both.
If Hendricken wants to climb to the top of either or both tournaments, it’s going to have to grow as the season progresses.
Gomes is confident that they can do it.
“Everyone is going to have to be on the same page and play that tough defense we play every year,” Gomes said. “If we do that, I think we’ll be in the mix.”
Hendricken will play its first non-league game of the season today when it hosts Toll Gate at 7 p.m. On Tuesday, the Hawks will begin D-I play. They’ll start at home against Hope, the defending state runner-up. That game will be at 7 p.m.