BARRINGTON, R.I. – Just outside the basketball gymnasium at St. Andrew’s, you can see four brand new tennis courts. They are a sign of things being well at the school, and they aren’t the only recent improvement there. The sport that the school has been most notable for, boys basketball, has been in a good place, and that continues heading into this season.
Mike Hart, the long-time head coach and athletic director, is in a good place. Each year he seems content with the group he’s assembled from a character standpoint, and this year is no different. He’s happy to have a low-maintenance group, and that should make it easier to try to get the most out of a team whose young talent makes them well worth keeping an eye on.
The player who had the best day was Chancellor Ellis (6’5″ Sr. SF, Queens (NY)), a holdover they will count on to be a leader. He struggled to score early, but once he hit a couple of shots he kept hitting, including from long range. Fellow wing Eric D’Aguanno (6’5″ Jr. SG-SF, Narragansett (RI)) was even better from long range, including a couple from well behind the arc later.
Returning to the oldest players, the candidates for the floor leader start with Brian Mukasa (6’0″ Sr. PG, Sharon (MA)). Entering a post-graduate year after a great career at Sharon High School, the lefty point guard didn’t have his best shooting day but has a lot of good scoring options to get the ball to and figures to take advantage of that. J.R. Lynch (5’10” Sr. PG, Jersey City (NJ)) joins him there, and he had a nice day with above-average quickness and passing on the move.
Help on the wing in this group comes from Duaka Eckwensi (6’4″ Sr. SF, Morris Plains (NJ)), who might not leap out at you but found ways to be effective. Duncan Ozburn (6’9″ Sr. C, Manchester (IL)) is a true post player with a good frame, but he may be feeling his way through a new environment as he wasn’t much of a factor on Thursday until late.
One player who will figure prominently up front with Ozburn is Terrell Brown (6’9″ Jr. PF, East Providence (RI)). Now in his third year at the school, his body is maturing and the Saints will need him to become a key figure up front after being a role player for two years as his body and game both needed to develop. More of both is still needed, although at times on Thursday he looked like he has progressed. Nate Duda (6’5″ Jr. SG-SF, Framingham (MA)) had a nice stretch where he was arguably the best player on the floor on Thursday, and as he’s athletic and not lacking with his jumper, that can happen occasionally.
The other two juniors will be part of the crowded point guard spot. Justin Leip (5’8″ Jr. PG, Weston (MA)) is probably smaller than listed, and while not very quick or athletic he is heady and can pass the ball. Nasier Cotton (5’8″ Jr. PG, Morristown (NJ)) is also small but well-built, and he competed as hard as anyone.
Stepping back to the sophomores, one can see why Hart is excited about the future. There will be ups and downs with the underclassmen, especially as they adjust to playing in NEPSAC, but there’s a lot of potential. Aaron Wheeler (6’5″ So. SG-SF, Stamford (CT)) might have the most upside of all, as he’s baby-faced with some length and athleticism, and while the skill package needs work he has enough to help them some right now. Keyshaad Dixon (6’2″ So. SG, Braintree (MA)) has a ways to go physically but can play, and he had his moments on Thursday. Seth Kourtesis (6’4″ So. SF, Tiverton (RI)) doesn’t have as much upside as either of them, but his body isn’t there yet and he hit a few shots on Thursday.
Last, but not least, is Cole Swider (6’4″ Fr. SG, Portsmouth (RI)), whose body has a ways to go but showed a good shooting stroke. He’s more of a “potential” player at this point, but what he shows now is promising.
Besides the usual land mines in NEPSAC Class AA, St. Andrew’s schedule features several in-season events. They will be the host school for the Hoop Mountain Prep Classic, then host their annual Holiday Classic two weeks later. After Christmas, they travel to Manchester in the U.K. for the Haris Memorial Tournament, then have the BallasTV Invitational, BABC Prep Classic, Hoophall Classic (against New Hampton) and National Prep School Invitational after the calendar turns over into 2015.
Talk to Hart and you sense a man at peace with his situation. He’s as competitive as ever, but you sense he’s found something that works for him after all his years at the school. The Saints probably won’t have the most talent or experience in Class AA, but they won’t be at the bottom in either category, and that means they’ll have more than enough to be a threat when March rolls around.