SAXTONS RIVER, Vt. – Alex Popp is in a good place these days, and Vermont Academy is the beneficiary. A basketball guy, he’s moved around a bit, but it’s all because he’s a go-getter, and this is the most recent chance that presented itself. He took the job in June and has been on the go with it ever since.
His first team at the school looks like a pretty good one, the product of jumping right in and getting players that fit the school well. Vermont Academy has been on the rise in recent years, and this year could be the year for a bigger breakthrough if an early look at the personnel is any indication.
The first players that jump out at you are the frontcourt prospects, and both are getting plenty of attention. The first is Tyrique Jones (6’8″ Jr. PF, Bloomfield (CT)), who has started to break out but still has a lot of untapped potential. He has a good body with some length, and on Thursday was the best player on the floor. The other frontcourt prospect is Sam Japhet-Mathius (6’9″ Jr. PF-C, London (England)), who is more on the intriguing side. He played soccer growing up and shows good fundamentals, but also looks nonchalant at times on the floor and clearly needs to learn the game. On the plus side, he looks like a good passer for a big man. Nick Diak (6’3″ Sr. PF, Springfield (VT)) is the other inside player on the roster.
A couple of wings who have played well this fall were not present on Thursday. Corey Johnson (6’6″ Sr. SG-SF, Ottawa (Ont.)) and Ronnie Suggs (6’6″ Sr. SG-SF, St. Louis (MO)) were both on a college visit, but will be keys to this team as both can shoot and give them good size and length.
Joining them on the wing will be Bruce Brown (6’3″ Jr. SG, Boston (MA)), who returns for his second season at the school and is fresh off a big spring and summer on the travel circuit. Brown has become more vocal and has tried to improve his jumper, and at times it looked like he’s made progress although on the whole his shooting was just okay on Thursday night.
The intriguing prospect on the wing is Tinga Adieng (6’3″ Jr. SG, Khartoum (Sudan)), who is a baby physically but active on defense. He has some upside, and should get a chance to show some of it this season. Jordan Haines (6’3″ Sr. SG, Claremont (NH)) will also be in the mix off the ball.
One player who could see occasional action at the point, but is more likely to play primarily off the ball given the surrounding personnel, is Jimmy Fritzon (6’2″ Sr. PG-SG, Sharon (MA)). He impressed on Thursday night, driving effectively and hitting several jumpers while also passing well. Jahyde Bullard (5’10” So. PG-SG, Camden (NJ)) is a star running back on the football team and could get minutes as well.
The options at the point are numerous, starting with Nick Brooks (6’1″ Jr. PG, Franklin Park (NJ)). His night ended early when his left shoulder got banged up, but before then he showed his quickness and ability to finish with his left (off) hand. Patrick Fisher (6’3″ Jr. PG, San Diego (CA)) is an excellent student who gives them good size at the position, and he had some good moments on Thursday night. Michael Mundowa (6’0″ So. PG, Boston (MA)) is also in the mix, as he’s long and has a good frame.
Tyler Umans (6’0″ Sr. PG, Sherman Oaks (CA)) should also be in the mix, but he’s out until after the start of the season due to injury.
Vermont Academy will play an ambitious schedule this season outside of their Class AA games. They will play all six Class AAA schools, including New Hampton and Northfield Mount Hermon at home. Among the in-season events they will play in are the National Prep Showcase, Hoop Mountain Prep Classic, Scholar Roundball Classic, St. Andrew’s Holiday Classic, BABC Prep Classic, Hoophall Classic, Ball at the Hall and National Prep Invitational (against Blair Academy from New Jersey).
This is the second year in a row Vermont Academy will have a new head coach. But with so much of the roster being new, there isn’t likely to be any more adjustment than usual for a group in prep school. There’s enough talent on this team to make a deep run in NEPSAC Class AA, which would get Popp’s tenure off to a great start.