WORCESTER, Mass. – Now in his second season leading Worcester Academy, Jamie Sullivan has a team with a little more experience under their belt after being a young group last year. If a few things come together for this group, there’s reason to think they can contend in a more wide-open NEPSAC Class AA this season.
The Hilltoppers are led by Rene Castro (6’1″ Sr. SG, Milton (MA)), who returns for his second season at the school. The reigning Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year, he’s grown tremendously over his high school career into the leader and go-to guy he is now. His body is more mature, he shows a solid feel for the game, and remains the scorer he always has been while making nice improvements to be better at that. In addition, he has more speed with the ball, takes contact, pushes the pace when he can, and on Sunday he got stickbacks often. Perhaps the best indicator of where he is now comes from his team not losing a game until the end of the workout.
One player who will be alongside Castro is Matt Mobley (6’2″ Sr. SG, Worcester (MA)), who committed to Central Connecticut on Saturday. An athletic guard with a good body, Mobley has made big strides since last season and now sports an improved shooting touch and handles and passes the ball better as well.
The other player who will get a lot of minutes off the ball is Matt Panaggio (6’4″ Sr. SG, Daytona Beach (FL)), who shot the ball better as the day went along. He used his shot fake well and finished the break a couple of times, and the highlight of the day was when he made a steal, then carefully established both feet back inbounds before touching the ball again and getting up the court for a breakaway layup.
With Ausar Madison unexpectedly transferring, the point guard spot is one in need of someone to step up. Castro will probably see time there, while one candidate to keep Castro off the ball is Devon Williams (6’1″ Jr. PG, Sharon (MA)). Williams has a good frame and his body still has some developing to come, and he was good in transition for much of the day. Shooting doesn’t look like his forte, although he made a couple of shots from deep later on and also a pull-up from mid-range.
Justus Harris (5’8″ So. PG, Painesville (OH)) and Ben Mesuda (5’9″ Sr. PG, Kingston (NY)) are also candidates at that position, while Tom Mangaudis (5’8″ Sr. PG-SG, Worcester (MA)) is a lefty who is more of a shooter than a playmaker. Kei Okada (5’6″ Jr. PG-SG, Tokyo (Japan)) returns from last season’s team as well.
On the wing, co-captain Tom Rivard (6’7″ Sr. SF, Worcester (MA)) looks like the incumbent as he returns for his third season at the school. His body is still not quite done developing, but what’s most noticeable is that he now makes himself a factor. The skill package is there, he’s more assertive and has a few ways to score and does so in flow, not trying to do too much. He’ll be backed up mainly by Tyreik McCauley (6’6″ Jr. SF, Worcester (MA)), who missed much of Sunday’s workout because of another commitment but is athletic and has a body that hasn’t matured yet.
Up front, Darryl Reynolds (6’9″ Sr. PF-C, Philadelphia (PA)) looks to be the anchor. He was active inside all day on Sunday and ran the floor well, frequently finishing the break or being there in case of a miss and showing good body control. While he traveled, or came close to it, a few times, he was a big factor inside scoring and on the glass.
The same couldn’t be said for Matt Cimino (6’10” Jr. PF, Falmouth (ME)) on Sunday, as he was basically a non-factor right from the get-go. He started with a couple of errant passes, then drifted to the perimeter most of the time on offense and didn’t hit shots, and he didn’t cut to the basket as often as he should, evidenced in part by the success he had doing just that later on. Defensively, one time he let his man drive right by him for a layup, and that was a sign of how it went. He’s shown potential, but not consistently; the Hilltoppers will need him to do that more often and get better.
A.J. Jackson (Sr. PF, West Babylon (NY)), a defensive end on the football team, will also figure into the mix, as he’s well-built and active inside. Sam Joaquin (6’7″ Jr. PF, Ashland (MA)), who has a good frame, will also get minutes up front.
There are questions at the point and some in the frontcourt on this team, but there are some good certainties. Castro is the unquestioned leader and has shown himself to be a winner, and there’s no lack of effort or chemistry on this team. If the questions get some answers, the Hilltoppers will have a chance to do something in March.