Cónán McCusker was cut from the junior varsity team at O’Bryant as an eighth-grader. He realized after the setback he had to develop an aspect of his game that separated himself from the rest of the pack.
The next few years, the Dorchester teen became passionate on the art of shooting, working tirelessly to perfect his stroke at local gyms and dissecting film from a number of the NBA’s top marksmen.
Now a senior, McCusker has blossomed into an elite shooter for the Tigers, averaging a career-best 25 points per game on seven made 3-pointers. Similar to a pair of other seniors, Needham’s Tim Reidy and Karim Belhouchet (Newton North), McCusker knows shooting is a meticulous craft that requires constant preparation on footwork, release points, and off-ball movement in order to keep everything in sync.
“I think consistency is the key,” said McCusker. “If you’re willing to put in the work on something that you love, in my case it’s shooting, I think you can be as great as you want to be. I’m always in the gym shooting 3′s, midranges, all different types of shots for about three to four hours per day. Sometimes it’s five or six to be honest.”
McCusker made the JV team his freshman year, and was called up to varsity midway through the season. He netted 11 points in his debut and hasn’t left the rotation since. As a sophomore playing alongside Rivaldo Soares, O’Bryant’s career scoring leader, McCusker played a complementary role as a stand-still shooter and averaged 10 points per game. He’s flourished in a lead role as an upperclassman with Soares graduated.
The 6-foot guard had a breakout performance last weekend in two Boston City League wins over East Boston. In Friday’s matchup, he connected on seven 3-pointers and finished with 29 points. Then on Saturday, he drained a career-high 11 triples for 37 points, making eight of his first nine attempts from long range.
McCusker displayed his improved arsenal by hitting 3′s in a myriad of ways: in transition, off screens, and pull ups from just inside half court.
“If you just walked into the gym and don’t know the kid, you’d say that’s a terrible shot, for him it’s not, once he crosses half court all bets are off and he’s got the green light,” said O’Bryant coach Drew Brock. “I couldn’t believe what I was watching. I was like ‘this kid’s not missing today’ — 11 three’s is outstanding but the fact that it was against the same team is amazing.”
At Needham, Reidy also had to wait his turn to become the focal point of the offense, learning from former starters Kyle Sullivan and Will Dorion as an underclassman. This winter, he’s led the Rockets to a 6-1 record in the Bay State Conference, using his dangerous 3-point shot and crafty playmaking to keep opposing defenses in constant confusion.
Needham coach Paul Liner said the threat of Reidy’s shot opens up driving lanes since defenses are so fixated on preventing him from hoisting from deep.
“He doesn’t have great size but he has a great work ethic,” said Liner. “He is so hard to guard that you have to respect him. He can get by anybody in the league that you have to respect his shot. His feet are so great.”
Reidy’s family has deep ties to the game. His father, Mark, averaged 16 points per game as a senior at Wellesley and now coaches the Raider varsity team, while older brother Connor played on Needham’s 2017 Division 1 South championship team.
Tim, who committed to WPI in September, said he’s been taking hundreds of shots per day since he was a kid and prides himself on a quick release. In Wednesday’s pivotal Bay State Conference win against Newton North, Reidy netted a game-high 23 points on four 3-pointers and excelled in creating shot separation against a Tigers defense that had allowed just 14 total 3-pointers in its first nine games.
“I’ve just gotten confident and comfortable with my shot through hard work,” said Reidy. “I’ve really studied Steph Curry because he can shoot off a screen really fast and doesn’t need a lot of dribbles to get his shot off. That’s something I try to do.”
McCusker said he’s learned a lot about shooting by watching YouTube videos of former UConn/NBA star Richard Hamilton and his off-ball movement, while Belhouchet has scoured the internet for Damian Lillard clips.
Belhouchet, who’s compiled a breakout senior campaign for the Tigers (9-2) with his sharp-shooting, said he spends a lot of his free time at Newton North’s gym, working on the gun to reach his daily goal of 1,000 shots.
“I’m just always trying to perfect the shot,” said the 5-foot-11 Belhouchet, who committed to Lasell University last week. “I’ve really tried to move without the ball to give myself open looks and that’s been a major part of me trying to get better. Setting screens, cutting, getting my teammates open, and then getting myself open.”
While Reidy and Belhouchet have already committed to play Division 3 basketball, McCusker is still surveying his options. He said a number of schools reached out following his monster performance last weekend.
All three players excel at shooting, but they’ve already begun to expand their game, knowing a complete skill-set is essential at the next level.
“I definitely want to be able to score at all three levels, work on my ball-handling so I can play off the ball or on the ball if needed,” said McCusker. “Just getting my body right too. Guys at the next level are bigger and the speed of the game changes. I just need to work as hard as I can so I can match that.”
▪ In a season shortened by COVID-related restrictions, several seniors will fall just short of the benchmark goal to tally 1,000 career points. But a few stars battled through the extra adversity to reach that milestone.
▪ Cohasset senior captain Liam Cunnie scored 27 points with five 3-pointers in Cohasset’s penultimate regular season game last Wednesday at Middleborough. Just 2 points shy, Cunnie hit a triple 90 seconds into the action, then powered the Skippers (4-3) to a 71-68 comeback win over Randolph with 11 of his 21 points coming in the third quarter. The two-time South Shore League All-Star averaged 20 points per game over seven appearances this season, although it was never certain if Cohasset would get that many games. The Skippers went on pause from Jan. 8 to Jan. 18, missing three games, and are now in quarantine again with no opportunity to practice ahead of the SSL Tournament. But Cunnie, who was the program’s ball boy in elementary school and team manager in middle school, was able to reach his goal.
“The anxiety of the kids, the families, and myself about the fact that we may not have had the opportunity to get enough games for [Cunnie] to finish his 1,000 . . . we were just so relieved,” said Cohasset veteran coach Bo Ruggiero. “To see a great kid go from ball boy, to team manager, to 1,000-point scorer, I’m just thrilled.”
▪ Lowell Catholic senior forward Keenan Rudy-Phol had a tougher year than most. His family home burned down last May and he lived with relatives until his family secured a new home last September. The 6-foot-2 wing didn’t let it slow him down — he’s averaging 15 points per game and recently topped the 1,000-point barrier with 13 points in a win at Essex Tech on Feb. 8.
“Keenan not only battled through COVID adversity, but the adversity of his family losing everything,” said Lowell Catholic coach Mike Isola. “Despite it all he kept a level head and never lost sight of his goals.”
▪ Bishop Stang senior Declan Markey began his march to 1,000 points late last year, when he stepped up by carrying the Spartans to six wins in their last seven games and averaged 12.5 points per game in the fourth quarter in the process. That gave the 6-foot-3 lefty an outside shot at reaching the milestone this year, and it became far more attainable when he scored 38, 23, and 26 points over Stang’s first three games this season. On Feb. 5, Markey became the 13th player in program history to reach 1,000 points during a 54-51 loss at Cardinal Spellman.
“We kind of knew where [Markey] was going into the season, but we only had 12 games scheduled and he’s not the type of player that goes out of his way to try and score,” said Stang coach Colby Santos. “But after those first three games, [1,000] became a realistic goal and he went out and attained it by playing the right way.”
Correspondent Nate Weitzer also contributed to this story.