ASHBURNHAM, Mass. – Cushing Academy has at times seemed like a perpetually young team. It hasn’t been uncommon for Barry Connors to put a team on the floor with only one or two seniors, if there are any on the roster. This time around, however, he’ll have a veteran squad by just about any measure, as seven upperclassmen dot the roster and that includes most of the key players on this team. That’s just one reason to think this could be a good year.
The player who will make the team go is Kaleb Joseph (6’2″ Jr. PG, Nashua (NH)), who looks like a different player from last season. His body is starting to mature, and more importantly, he looks like he’s starting to “get it” on the floor. In addition to scoring well, especially as he shot the ball well on the day, showed better body control and at times carried the offense. His dribble could use further upgrading, as he lost the ball a little more than he should have when trying to go a little too fast, but all in all he looks poised to have a big junior year.
Joseph has plenty of good options to get the ball to. The primary option will be recent Butler commit Andrew Chrabascz (6’7″ Sr. SF-PF, Portsmouth (RI)), one of the highest-character young men you’ll meet. Chrabascz plays very well within the team concept and has a lot of ways he can score against you while also being a solid rebounder. Here, he drove often and finished with his left (off) hand, showcasing how fundamentally sound he is, and looked solid with his post moves. It wasn’t his best day finishing, but he drew fouls a fair amount of the time.
The most intriguing player is a newcomer, big man Cam Smythe (7’0″ Sr. C, Vancouver (B.C.)). Blessed with great hands, his body has a ways to go but his skill set and intangibles are big selling points. On Tuesday, he ran the floor well and got some transition baskets to reward him doing that, moved well near the hoop and showed he can be a presence. He’s sure to draw the attention of a lot of college coaches this season, especially if he can get in better shape.
The other key frontcourt player will be Matt Mareno (6’6″ Sr. SF, Kentfield (CA)). An active wing who is an above-average athlete, he could do very well if this team can run often as he got out in transition often and looks to have a skill package that is still on the rise. His lack of strength showed at times when he missed shots near the basket. Tommy Lemons (Sr. SF), a shortstop on the baseball team, will also see time.
Jump shooting was a problem for last season’s team, and that was no more evident than in the team’s season-ending loss to St. Andrew’s in the NEPSAC Tournament. There, the Penguins made just one shot from outside the paint and lost by four. This year’s team shouldn’t have that problem.
Joseph’s help on the perimeter will start with Jalen Adams (6’3″ So. SG, Boston (MA)). An athletic guard, he shot the ball well on Tuesday, including from long range, and also showed a nice floater in the lane later. Don’t be surprised if Matt Barr (6’1″ Jr. SG, Stratham (NH)) starts or at least plays a lot of minutes off the ball, as he shot the ball very well on Thursday and looks like he can occasionally drive to make a play and keep a defender honest.
There is more help off the ball among the more experienced players. Chris Mullin (6’2″ Sr. SG, Danville (CA)), the son of the NBA Hall of Famer, returns for his second season at the school. If this workout is any indication, he’ll be much-improved, as he shot the ball very well, made a very nice pass for an easy layup on another play and had a good steal that turned into a layup. He’s also a very good soccer player. Casey Woodring (6’2″ Sr. SG, Darien (CT)) will certainly get his share of minutes, as he competed all day and hit a few jumpers out to long range at the offensive end. He also made a nice pass for a layup off a broken play.
Also available is Jamie Carey (6’2″ So. SG, Raynham (MA)), although it may be some time before he sees much action on the court. He sat out last season with four broken vertebrae and is still recovering.
Quietly, Cushing Academy has put together a good run in recent years while being overshadowed by powerhouses like Tilton and St. Mark’s. In terms of raw talent, this year’s team might not quite measure up to last year’s, but the mix of players looks better and shooting the ball doesn’t figure to be a weakness. There are good pieces all around, and Joseph may be ready to break out and be the kind of dynamic floor leader that makes a team with these pieces flourish. That adds up to a team that should be capable of contending in a NEPSAC Class AA that is more even this year than it has been in a while.