LAWRENCE — As the Central Catholic boys’ basketball team practiced Wednesday afternoon, star guard Tyler Nelson stood at center court in street clothes, barking out bits of advice to his teammates while scratching at a red cast on his left arm.
The senior captain, bound for Fairfield University on a basketball scholarship, broke his wrist on Nov. 19 while diving for a loose ball during North Andover’s Fall Ball championship game against St. John’s Prep.
He has been itching to get back on the court ever since.
“Luckily it didn’t happen in the middle or tail end of the season, so if there was a time it was going to happen, right before the season is probably the best time,” said head coach Rick Nault. “He’s a strong kid, he’ll heal quickly, and he’ll be back in the lineup pretty soon.”
On Monday the cast will be removed and Nelson will have his nonshooting wrist reexamined. He hopes to return to the lineup later this month.
“It stinks not being out there, so in the meantime, I’m just trying to be as vocal as I can, because we have a lot of young guys on our team and I’m just trying to help them out,” said the 6-2 Bradford resident, who is also an outstanding golfer for the Raiders.
For a young team with its star player out, a heavy load will be put on senior big man Nick Cambio, who averaged 14 points and nine rebounds per game last winter.
The 6-foot-6 captain from Tewksbury, who missed Central’s playoff run to the Division 1 state semifinals last season with a hip injury, is excited to step up in Nelson’s absence.
“I need this for the leadership and to help this team get stronger, so it’s a good opportunity for me,” he said.
Nault has confidence in his forward, who he calls “an incredibly effective post player who’s a guy that can step out and knock down threes at 6-6, but also finishes around the rim so well.”
Nault also needs Aaron Hall, his 6-foot-6 center, to step up, as he did last winter, emerging into a key starting role in the tournament with the absence of Cambio and Doug Gemmell (University of New England), who had a concussion.
“It gave me a big confidence boost to know that coach believed in me to fill a really big role at that time of the year,” said Hall, also a pitcher, who is bound for Le Moyne College on a baseball scholarship.
Behind Cambio and Hall, the Raiders feature a lot of youth, including freshman guard Kevin Fernandez , who will play a big role with Nelson’s absence.
“Even though they’re young, they play hard, so I think we’re going to play well as a team and it’s a good chance for guys to step up through adversity,” said Nelson.
Central stepped up against Lynn English in last year’s D1 North final in an 83-58 win.
This season Lynn English is back with three all-conference guards — Stevie Collins, Freddie Hogan, and Erick Rosario — who make up arguably the best back court in the state.
Coach Mike Carr runs an up-tempo offense, and could not do it without his trio of well-conditioned guards.
“We like to get out there and run,” said Collins, a 5-foot-8 junior captain who Carr calls the most competitive kid he has ever coached. “Other teams usually can’t handle our fast pace and I don’t think there’s a back court in the state that can stop us when we’re playing at our best.”
Their game starts with a hard-press defense, according to Rosario, a 5-11 junior point guard who moved to Lynn from Puerto Rico five years ago, who says, “The only reason we score is because of our defense.”
Said his third-year head coach, who has been at Lynn English since 1997: “I’ve been coaching for 25 years and I’ve never had three quicker guards, ever. “We’ve had some very good guards at English, but never kids that could defend and harass the ball like these kids do.”
While his guards receive a boatload of attention, Carr insists his rotation up front should not be overlooked, despite a lack of size. Senior captains Danny Lukanda and Cam Burke, along with Johnny Hilaire, will share equal time rotating in and out of the four and five spots.
At 6-foot-5, Hilaire is the team’s tallest member, taking the place of 6-foot-4 center, Ben Bowden, who will pitch at Vanderbilt on scholarship.
Though Bowden was the only impact senior to graduate, Carr said his leadership will be severely missed, and he is looking to Hogan, his three-year captain and leading scorer from last year, to step into a more vocal role.
“Freddie leads strictly by example; he’s a very quiet kid, but an unbelievably hard worker,” said Carr, the reigning Massachusetts Basketball Coaches Association Division 1 North Coach of the Year.
“He knows there’s a void in terms of leadership, so he’s trying to speak up a little bit more in practice, which I know he’s a little uncomfortable doing.”
Hogan, whose father, Fred, is the girls’ coach at English, acknowledges his expected role, saying: “I definitely have to be more vocal, and can’t only lead them on the court, I’ve got to lead them off the court, like making sure they’re doing the right things in the classroom.”
The Bulldogs will miss a few key players this season for various reasons, including Haverhill transfer Jordan Javier-Lark, a 6-5 forward who suffered a severe knee injury quarterbacking the English football team this fall.
Collins will also likely miss a few games with a nerve injury in his left foot, so as at Central Catholic, a few young players will have to handle some significant minutes.
Pierrot out for season
On Tuesday night, Melrose High coach Mike Kasprzak reported that his senior captain and reigning Middlesex Freedom League MVP, Frantzdy Pierrot, will miss the entire season with a broken bone in his nonshooting (left) hand.
Pierrot, who has verbally committed to Northeastern to play soccer, was the league-leading scorer, at 19 points and nine rebounds per game.
“We have to change a lot, but we have an excellent coaching staff, and we’ll do it,” said Kasprzak, whose squad posted an undefeated regular-season record last winter.
“Whatever the results are, it’s not fair for us to have exceptions for our kids at this point; all we ask is that they play hard and represent the community and the program well, and I know they will.”