All eyes were on Kareem Davis Wednesday night as the St. John’s Prep point guard continually weaved his way through Lynn Classical’s defense, raising havoc for the Rams.
On numerous occasions, the Eagle faithful at Memorial Gymnasium broke out in a “you can’t stop him” chant, as the 5-foot-9 junior broke to the rim for a layup, or dished out a highlight-reel pass to an open teammate after forcing the defense to collapse on him.
Davis, who netted 19 points and eight assists in the 67-60 season-opening win, had the poise and confidence of a seasoned Prep vet. Yet it was his first career game with the Eagles after his transfer from Lowell High.
“He was great for us, especially in the second half when we were having trouble making baskets. He really ran the show for us,” said John Dullea, who earned his first win as head coach after previously serving as an assistant on Sean Connolly’s staff.
“You can see why we’re excited to get him to play for us.”
Following last year’s state tournament run, St. John’s Prep was in dire need of a point guard after the graduation of Catholic Conference all-star Tyler Dooley, who played about 30 minutes per game and had the ball in his hands 85-90 percent of the time.
There was a void at the point until the arrival of Davis.
“It just makes our team so much deeper; to know that we have a point guard that we can trust with the ball in his hands,” said Dullea, a lifelong Peabody resident who played at the University of New Hampshire.
“It certainly makes my job a little bit easier, but it will make everyone else’s job on the team easier too, on the offensive end.”
Davis says the main reason he transferred to Prep was education-related. But basketball was a facet too.
“Lowell was an uptempo team, but it wasn’t constantly running, running, running, running, running, like it is here, and I love that,” said Davis, who also is embracing a very welcoming group of teammates.
“It’s amazing, just having these players around me. Last year there were one or two players that really stood out, but there wasn’t really that team chemistry.”
Ben Judson, a junior guard from Plaistow, N.H., who netted 23 points in the opener, noted the two “have been playing against each other all through middle school and we were friends through AAU, so I’ve known him for awhile. I trust him as a player and I know what he’s capable of.”
Davis said Judson “was always asking me, ‘When are you coming to St. John’s, when you coming to St. John’s?’ Finally I just let him know that I was making the move and he was just really excited.”
The two lefties will likely feed off of each other, on a regular basis, with Kareem driving to the lane, dishing off passes beyond the arc for the sharpshooter once the defense bites.
Dullea admires Davis’s ability to handle the ball, saying, “No one really can really take it from him. He’s got great hands, he’s quick, he’s a much better shooter than I thought he was and he has a great ability to find an open man, especially when he’s going to the basket.”
Prep has no lack of motivation, after last season ended with a heart-breaking 62-59 loss to Andover in the Division 1 North quarterfinals, in which the Golden Warriors hit a game-tying shot as the clock expired in regulation.
“A loss like that really sticks with you,” said 6-4 senior center Max Butterbrodt.
“All offseason we just thought about it and we wrote the final score of the game on our weight room wall where we look at it every day.”
Butterbrodt, a team captain, is the vocal leader of a squad that graduated three Catholic Conference all-stars: Dooley, Josh Syska, and Drex Costello, the league MVP.
The return of Judson, a 6-5 scoring machine who is being recruited by Division 1 college programs, makes the Eagles a playoff contender.
“He can shoot with the best of them,” said Dullea, whose junior captain has no problem raising up from NBA 3-point range.
“He’s also becoming more aggressive on the offensive end in terms of putting the ball to the floor and getting to the basket, and a big thing is his ability to get to the foul line . . . he’s a great free-throw shooter.”
Rounding out the starting five is senior captain Max Burt, a two-guard, and 6-4, 220-pound power forward, Jake Burt (no relation).
Prep also has significant depth off the bench: multitalented 6-5 sixth man, Matt Bisson, along with their 6-7 senior center Andrew Hall and Georgetown transfer, Joey Torgersen, a quality shooter.
Dullea rises from his assistant’s role, taking over for Connolly, his lifelong best friend and former Ohio State player who stepped down to focus on grad school.
“It’ll be good because he coaches just like coach Connolly did,” said Judson.
“They have the same concepts so it isn’t really that much of a different style of play that we’re bringing in this year.”
St. Mary’s girls soar
A rigorous preseason is paying off early for the St. Mary’s girls’ basketball team, which has outscored its first two opponents of the season, 155-68.
In the preseason, “we scrimmaged Central Catholic and Westford Academy, two of the better teams in the state to see where we were at, and we learned we needed to get a little quicker and get in better shape,” said coach Jeff Newhall, who also serves as the school’s athletic director.
“So we turned our attention to that for about a week and I think we’re starting to see the results and we have been able to create the pace of the game that we want in the first two games.”
St. Mary’s returns a trio of college-bound guards in Jennie Mucciarone, Brianna Rudolph, and Sharell Sanders, all of whom were freshmen on the 2011 state champion squad.
Newhall says there’s still some fire in the girls left over from last season, after they blew an 11-point fourth quarter lead to Watertown in the Division 3 North semis.