TILTON, N.H. – Last year, the old Class B in NEPSAC had a new look as it became Class AA. Among other things, it became much more competitive from top to bottom than before. But one thing that didn’t change was the team that came out on top, as the Tilton School took home their fourth straight title. If they make it five in a row this time around, that wouldn’t be a surprise.
Iowa State-bound Georges Niang (6’7″ Sr. PF, Methuen (MA)) has been around for all four of those titles and is primed for one more. His calling card is inside efficiency at both ends, as he battles inside and knows what he is. While he’s not trading those in for something else, he is expanding his game away from the basket and is moving better, and he also made a nice long lead pass on one play. Simply put, he does winning things for a team, and it shows in the results over his career both at the school and playing for the BABC program.
Niang has plenty of talent alongside him up front, led by Nerlens Noel (6’9″ Jr. C, Everett (MA)). Already well-known for his length and ability to dominate by blocking shots, Noel was showing off some ball skills and a little more aggressiveness on offense. He knocked down a few jumpers and finished with the left hand, but also missed a couple of rebounds he should have grabbed.
Goodluck Okonoboh (6’7″ Jr. PF, Boston (MA)) also looked more aggressive on offense, and may be ready to break out after keeping something of a low profile for a while. His mid-range jumper was going, he finished in close, used a pump fake to get a good pull-up look, and got a stickback as well. The most glaring negative on the day was seeing that he has a long release on his jumper, which would give a defender time to close him out if he’s initially open.
Mike Swanson (6’6″ Sr. PF, Londonderry (NH)) is back for another season as well in the frontcourt. He doesn’t have all good weight, but he’ll play inside and allow the starters some minutes of rest when needed.
The perimeter is where the best player on the floor on Thursday could be found. Surprisingly, it was neither Wayne Selden (6’4″ So. SG, Roxbury (MA)) nor Dominique Bull (6’3″ Sr. SG, Worcester (MA)), as both sat out with injuries. Instead, it was sharpshooter Kevin Crescenzi (6’4″ Sr. SG, Singer Island (FL)). Possessing a good frame and body, Crescenzi was lights out from long range on the day, and for good measure he banked home a mid-range jumper late in the workout. He also handles the ball reasonably well for the position and often brought the ball up for his team.
Bull will be out for several days due to a sprained AC joint suffered from contact on a play in a recent workout. The one-time Rhode Island commit has improved nicely in the last year or so. Selden has been out since late August after he had to have surgery on his right leg because of complications from a sprained ankle. He had a big spring and summer playing for BABC and might be the best prospect on the team. Although Selden is about a week from being cleared to work out again, Bull said that “he’s already jumping out of the gym and flying all over the place.”
The point guard spot is likely to be manned by Caleb Uni (5’10″ Sr. PG, Winchester (MA)). A plus athlete, he made several nice passes and showed some very good speed with the ball. Tilton has won with good but less-heralded point guards in recent years, and he seems to fit the bill. Brandon Bibbs (6’1″ Jr. PG, Chesapeake (VA)) isn’t as physically gifted but will also get minutes at that spot, and Ben King (6’2″ Jr. SG, Williston (VT) is a good student who will be in the backcourt mix as well.
Marcus O’Neil’s team might be a prohibitive favorite in Class AA this year, as several other contenders are either younger or not as talented as last season. But even after four straight titles, this team isn’t losing its edge, as Niang typified by commenting, “Someone will still pick another team to win instead of us.” That’s probably one reason for the recent success they have had, and with the talent they have to go with the hunger, it wouldn’t be a surprise if this team is celebrating a fifth straight championship come March.