ASHBURNHAM, Mass. – Cushing Academy is a bit different this year, though there is something similar, too. The two-time defending NEPSAC Class AA champs were a veteran group the past couple of years, and the two titles were the outcomes behind a terrific backcourt.
That backcourt is gone, however, with Kaleb Joseph now a freshman at Syracuse and Jalen Adams finishing his high school career at Brewster Academy. In their place is a team whose core features sophomores and thus is much younger. While it is different, it is the kind of team that head coach Barry Connors has had a few times during his tenure at the school, as he has often had a young core of players to try to build around.
The potential starts at the point with Makai Ashton-Langford (6’1″ So. PG, Worcester (MA)). Still a baby physically, he has a world of potential and showed some of it at times on Wednesday night. He has some good options to get the ball to, so there is plenty to help him succeed. In addition, he has already shown potential to be an elite defender.
Off the ball, there are several options. Francisco Alonso (6’3″ Sr. PG-SG, Malaga (Spain)) might be the best of them, as he has good size and overall skills. He was the starting point guard for the Spanish National Team, but given the personnel he will spend most of his time off the ball. Rob O’Brien (6’2″ Sr. SG, Rindge (NH)) is a skinny but deceptively athletic guard who comes from a school that won two straight state titles, so his intangibles will also help. Jordan Haywood (6’2″ So. SG, Valley Spring (NY)) is well-built and absorbed a lot of contact on Wednesday before succumbing a bit early. He didn’t appear to be seriously injured, but he took the kind of beating catchers often do in baseball. Michael Stamas (5’11” Sr. PG-SG, Northborough (MA)) won’t pass the “look” test but can help this team with his offensive abilities at both guard spots. Brendan Miller (6’2″ Sr. SG-SF, North Andover (MA)) returns from last season’s team and could have a larger role. Russell Olive (6’2″ Sr. SG, Chelmsford (MA)) has committed to UMass-Lowell for baseball, where he shines on the mound as a left-handed pitcher.
The frontcourt can potentially be terrific both now and later on, starting with the tandem of Kimani Lawrence (6’6″ So. SF-PF, Providence (RI)) and Jarrod Simmons (6’8″ So. PF, Crescent (PA)). Lawrence was not much more than a bit player last season, but showed potential at times. Now he looks ready to take on a bigger role, and he’ll certainly have every opportunity to do that. He was the best player on the floor on Wednesday. Simmons is well-built and athletic, but Lawrence got the better of him on Wednesday, in part because Simmons has been nicked up from football.
An X-factor is likely to be Nick Cambio (6’6″ Sr. PF, Tewksbury (MA)), who comes to the school after a very successful career at Central Catholic in Lawrence. However, he is out with an injury until after the start of the season. Once he returns, he figures to help this team as an active, stretch-four type of forward.
The Penguins will play in a few in-season events, starting with the National Prep Showcase, where they will play Our Savior New American. Also on tap are appearances in the Hoop Mountain Prep Classic and National Prep Invitational (two games), and they host Putnam Science Academy and travel to play Northfield Mount Hermon in addition to their Class AA schedule.
No one will predict a third straight title this season given the personnel. This is a team built more for the future than this year. But Connors has had teams like this before and not only built them up, but also had good results initially. If Ashton-Langford starts to harness his potential this year, he will help Alonso build on his performance in international competition. That could go a long way given the other options both guards have to get the ball to.