WEST SIMSBURY, Conn. – Ralph Auriantal is clear about what his primary mission is: to send his players off to college. Entering his seventh season at the Master’s School, he is more happy about sending all of his graduates to college last year than he is upset about the lack of wins on the hardwood. It’s a mission he reiterates while looking at this year’s team.
Auriantal is a guy with clear basketball chops. The Montreal native played at St. Thomas More for legendary coach Jere Quinn, who is not a bad guy to learn the game from. After that, he played Division I college ball at St. Francis Brooklyn when current head coach Glenn Braica was an assistant at the school. Now he coaches in the most competitive league in the country.
This time around, he has a team that should do more than just see the seniors off to college. There is some good talent at his disposal, especially on the perimeter.
The player who may be most important to them is their biggest player, Sam Ibiezugbe (6’11” Jr. C, Nigeria). His body is developing and he’s come a long way in just a couple of years, and he still has a ways to go but shows some promise right now. The options are limited up front after Ibiezugbe, so staying out of foul trouble will be a key.
The options on the perimeter, however, are plentiful. The best of them might be Andrew Garcia (6’5″ Jr. SG, Bronx (NY)), who was arguably the best player on the floor on Tuesday. An athletic slasher, he scored often in transition and on drives in the halfcourt, often exploding to the basket. Nylan Yancy (6’5″ Sr. SF, Dallas (TX)), an excellent student, was right there with him by the end of the day, as he started a little more slowly but took over at times later, including with long range shots.
Chibuzor Ogbue (6’5″ Sr. SF, Framingham (MA)) will be the energy guy for this team and might lead them in rebounding. The athletic wing is a live body and was all over the court in a number of plays while showing infectious enthusiasm on Tuesday, and that’s what Auriantal expects him to be. Also helping out was Forest Kelly (Jr. SF-PF, Franklin (NC)), who isn’t the most athletic player but can do a few things that won’t necessarily show up in the box score.
The point guard spot has three main options, led by Elijah Pemberton (6’4″ Jr. PG-SG, Middletown (CT)). On Tuesday, he didn’t score much but did that enough, and he was very effective making teammates better. His body isn’t there yet, so there’s more growth to come, and he can be a real matchup problem at that position. Celio Araujo (5’10” Sr. PG, Boston (MA)), another holdover, won’t pass any “look test” and isn’t very physically gifted, but his intangibles are off the charts and he simply knows how to play and be effective. Maliek Jackson (6’0″ So. PG, Roxbury (MA)), a left-handed floor leader, will also get minutes.
As part of getting on the radar a little more, the Master’s School will be in a number of in-season events this season. They will play in the Hoop Mountain Prep Classic, Scholar Roundball Classic and St. Andrew’s Holiday Classic before the calendar turns over into 2015. After that, they have games in the Hoop Dreams Mag Prep Classic, BABC Prep Classic, Ball at the Hall Prep Showcase and National Prep Invitational. Other noteworthy games outside of Class AA include dates with defending Class B champion Cheshire Academy and the Hoosac School.
Auriantal’s mission hasn’t changed, and he’s holding to it. At the end of the day, his kids will go to college, and he has a lot of good and even great students on this team. Now they have some basketball talent as well, enough that it wouldn’t be a surprise if they make the Class AA Tournament this time around.