EXETER, N.H. – Phillips Exeter is naturally known for academics first. The basketball team at the school is not exempt from the requirements, so they are a good group of students as well. All the while, the program has been on a roll of late, as last season they won their second straight NEPSAC Class A title in dramatic fashion.
This time around, there are a couple of holdovers, but in all it’s mostly a new cast of characters for Jay Tilton to mold into a winning group. He has some good talent to work with in that regard, and there’s a little class balance as well. For comparison to the last two teams, at first glance they don’t appear nearly as talented and deep as the team two years ago, but might have a little more than last season’s team. This team is also smaller than both up front.
The team’s tallest player, Hugh O’Neil (6’7″ Sr. PF-C, Lexington (MA)) will anchor them inside, and isn’t a bad place to start. Possessing a good body, he battled often and showed a touch shooting the ball. He may at times be joined up front by Tim Reitzenstein (6’3″ Sr. SF, New York (NY)), a well-built forward who can score inside as he has a man’s body despite being undersized.
Another who has the size to play up front but is more of a wing is Kyle Daugherty (6’5″ Sr. SF, Reno (NV)), who may be this team’s most intriguing prospect. Still working his way back from an injury, he’s a plus athlete with good perimeter skills, though there may be a bit of rust being worked off. Tilton is excited about the possibilities as he gets back to full health and what he was before getting hurt.
Three junior holdovers from last season figure to play both wing spots and possibly see occasional time as undersized power forwards. Perry DeLorenzo (6’3″ Jr. SG-SF, Middlebury (VT)) is a returning starter and shined shooting the ball on Tuesday night from off the catch. James Foye (6’3″ Jr. SG-SF, Hamilton (MA)) also returns after starting last year, and the lefty had his moments on Tuesday night. He should figure prominently into this season’s plans. Max Kirsch (6’4″ Jr. SG-SF, Atkinson (NH)) had a nice evening making shots out to long range and rebounding.
The perimeter player that may be most worth watching is Christian Lutete (6’4″ Sr. SG-SF, Silver Spring (MD)). The athletic lefty can handle and shoot, and he was very active on Tuesday night in showing off his versatility. He’ll help Troy Morrison (5’11” Sr. PG, Atlanta (GA)) with ball handling, as Morrison is slight but quick and hit a couple of jumpers. J.T. Thompson (5’10” Jr. PG, Exeter (NH)), who also plays football, could be in the mix at the point, but he tore an ACL last year and is still working his way back.
Mitchell Kirsch (6’0″ So. PG-SG, Exeter (NH)) and Ben Swett (6’0″ So. SG, Exeter (NH)), the latter of whom impressed on Tuesday night as a potential “hustle” player, will also play minutes, as will Evan Crawford (6’3″Sr. SG, Los Angeles (CA)), who doesn’t shy away from contact when going to the basket, and Sam Henry (6’1″ Jr. SF, Old Saybrook (CT)), who had his moments on Tuesday night.
As usual, this team will play a challenging slate outside of their Class A competition. Games with Cushing, Kimball Union, New Hampton, Tilton and Worcester Academy are among the highlights this time around.
Last year’s team came into the fall with a clean slate given a lot of newcomers and how good the team a year earlier was, but also with some upside. They ultimately turned enough of that into results to win another championship, one a little different than the year before. This time around, there’s more experience in all and once again there looks to be some upside to tap into.