WESTON, Mass. – Since Andrew Mirken took over at the Rivers School, the basketball program has steadily risen to relevance and then success. First, he accumulated talent, went through some growing pains as much of it was put together when the core was young, then it all paid off last year, one that was expected to be “the year.” They won the very competitive Independent School League with a perfect 15-0 mark, and reached the NEPSAC Class B semifinals. While they would like to have advanced further in the latter, they accomplished the main goal they set out for, which was to win the ISL.
This time around, they could win the ISL again, although they might not be favored since they lost a lot of production and experience. However, they have the best player in the league, and that can sometimes count for a little more. That makes them something of a wild card in their bid to repeat.
On Sunday, Rivers had their only open gym of the fall, a product of many of their players being involved in other sports. Many play football, so getting them all together on one day is never easy and this year is no exception.
The player to lead them is Jermaine Samuels (6’6″ So. SF, Franklin (MA)), who has been on plenty of radars for a while now and was the primary draw for the coaches who came to the gym on Sunday. Long and athletic, he had a nice afternoon shooting the ball but also showed that he has room to grow when the ball is in his hands to make other plays. He will draw a lot of defensive attention and will be a tough matchup.
Samuels has a lot of potential help up front, starting with newcomer Connor MacIsaac (6’6″ Jr. PF, Winthrop (MA)). He hit a few jumpers on Sunday, but settled for too many more, while also showing a post move and field goal. While he’ll play inside, he can face the basket on offense as well.
Hans Gabriel (Jr. PF, Somerset (MA)) is well-built, tough and versatile, and can help this team in multiple ways that don’t show up on the stat sheet. On Sunday, he finished with contact often and was in a lot of plays. Ross Carter (6’5″ Jr. PF, Sudbury (MA)), who sat out Sunday’s workout, returns to the team and will be in the mix in the frontcourt. Carter is a massive inside presence who will eat space and rebound. His younger brother, Rhett Carter, is an eighth grader who may play with the high school team, as he’s built like his brother but moves better and had some good moments on Sunday.
The perimeter has good potential with a key trio all bringing something different to the table. Jamari Venter (5’10” So. PG, Roxbury (MA)), who sat out Sunday’s workout after being banged up on the gridiron the day before, will run the show. He’s quick and can be a pest defensively, and now has a year of experience under his belt. Azar Swain (6’0″ So. PG-SG, Stoughton (MA)) has improved nicely and his body has developed, and he played very well on Sunday. Newcomer Tyler Aronson (6’0″ Fr. PG-SG, Holliston (MA)) should make an impact right away, as he’s a plus athlete who has shown he can score, and on Sunday shot the ball well very early on before coming back to earth a little later in the workout.
Rivers will run their own tournament in December, as they usually do, and will be in a few other events. Included are games in the Scholar Roundball Classic, Hoop Dreams Mag Prep Classic and also a game at the Boston Garden in January.
There’s reason to expect Rivers to contend in ISL once again. A couple of teams in the league return a lot, and Rivers lost a good deal of production and experience, but they have the best player and prospect in Samuels among their cast of holdovers. That might count for something more, especially if other players complement him well. Mirken has brought the school up to the point of some success, and now the challenge is to maintain a level of it while going a little further to the next goal.