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BOYS' BASKETBALL NOTEBOOK

Perseverance, hard work pay off for Watertown’s Gabe Spinelli

Gabe Spinelli shot the Watertown High boys into the Middlesex League final with a 34-point performance in Thursday's 64-60 semifinal victory over visiting Arlington.
Gabe Spinelli shot the Watertown High boys into the Middlesex League final with a 34-point performance in Thursday's 64-60 semifinal victory over visiting Arlington.Leah Knipper-Davis/Raider Times/Watertown High

As Scott Spinelli traveled across the country coaching college basketball, his son, Gabe, took a little bit of each place with them.

By the time Scott returned to his native Massachusetts to become an associate head coach at Boston College, Gabe was able to bring the work ethic of Nebraska, the toughness of Texas, and the swagger of Maryland to Watertown, where he eventually flourished as a freshman point guard for the Division 3 state champions.

“It’s been a long road for [Gabe], basketball-wise,” said Scott, who was named interim men’s basketball coach at BC on Monday with the dismissal of Jim Christian.

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“He’s grown up in the gym and always loved the game. He was a kid that was undersized, the smallest kid on the floor, and he had a chip on his shoulder because of that.”

Listed as a 5-foot-4 his freshman year, Spinelli was thrown to the fire when star guard Julio Fulcar sat out the first six games of the season with a hamstring injury. The Raiders became Spinelli’s team to run, and he made an immediate impression.

“When I saw [Spinelli] as a little guy, I thought, ‘How could this guy be any good?’” said Watertown 27-year-coach Steve Harrington.

“The first thing that stuck out was his handle. He had to jump right in and he showed that he’s a tough son of a gun, and a great fit for our team that really helped us in the long term.”

Spinelli played an integral role in Watertown’s 2018 state title run, including a clutch 10-point fourth quarter in a 66-61 win over Burke in the state semifinals.

The following year, Weston upset Watertown in the first round of the D3 North bracket, and Spinelli moved on to Beaver Country Day School for his junior year. He grew eight inches over those two years, and proved his mettle on the private school circuit with BCDS, but the pandemic made it apparent that Spinelli’s best shot to keep playing would be to transfer back to public school.

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So the 6-foot-2 senior — who lives in Southborough but is able play for Watertown because Scott rents an apartment in the city — came back for one last ride. And his younger brother, Joe Spinelli, a junior, came with him after spending his sophomore season at Weston.

“When COVID hit, kids like [Spinelli], who are really into basketball were looking for a spot to play whether it was in the park or whatever,” said Harrington. “They thought there was a better chance with the MIAA schools and I think they made the right call.”

Sporting the same colors he wore as a role player during his first two seasons, Spinelli is now a prolific scorer and facilitator. He dropped 37 points in an 82-59 win over Wilmington last Friday, topped 30 points in a win and loss to Burlington earlier this week, and scored a season-high 39 points to propel Watertown (11-1) past Lexington, 75-57, in the first round of the Middlesex League Tournament Wednesday. With Spinelli pumping in 34 points, the Raiders held off Arlington, 64-60, Thursday night, advancing to the league championship game Saturday against Winchester.

“It feels great knowing that we have something to play for,” said Spinelli. “That’s the biggest thing, with no fans, sometimes you feel like you’re not playing for anything. Now we have a postseason feel. It’s not a state championship, but it definitely makes you play that much harder.”

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Widely regarded as one of the best assistant coaches in college basketball with 25 years of experience, Scott still finds time to break down film with his sons. When he was coaching at Maryland and Gabe was a fourth grader starting out in AAU, Scott recalled once having to direct another assistant to start practice so he could stay with his son for one more tournament game.

That passion allowed Spinelli to stick with it throughout his formative years, and now he’s using the skills developed as an undersized guard to dominate with a wide array of skills.

“Being small those early years really helped my skill set. I had to work extra hard for everything,” said Spinelli. “I used my speed, and skill, and now that I’m getting bigger and stronger, those skills have carried over. Now I can take bumps going to the rim, rebound, and help my team in different ways. But for me, every other aspect stays the same.”

As a freshman, Gabe Spinielli (12) was in the starting 5 for the Division 3 state champion Watertown boys' basketball team that also featured (from left): Julio Fulcar, Yoseph Hamad, John Korte, and Weston Rodriguez.
As a freshman, Gabe Spinielli (12) was in the starting 5 for the Division 3 state champion Watertown boys' basketball team that also featured (from left): Julio Fulcar, Yoseph Hamad, John Korte, and Weston Rodriguez.Elizabeth Allen/Raider Times/Watertown High

Courtside chatter

▪ After dealing with two separate 10-day quarantine periods and four players in COVID-19 protocols early in the season, Apponequet bounced back from a 1-2 start to rattle off nine consecutive wins and capture the South Coast Conference Tournament title Tuesday night.

With a late-season surge, the Lakers (10-2) earned the top seed in the postseason tournament. From there, Apponequet defeated Case (55-48) in the quarterfinals, Seekonk (58-56) in the semifinals, and Dighton-Reheboth (58-53) in the championship.

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“All three of our tournament games could have gone either way and our kids were so resilient all season long,” said Apponequet coach Jim Cabucio. “Any time you talk to a coach about losing two periods of 10 days of practice, right away you think it’s going to be a challenge. And it was but the kids did not dwell on missing time and instead we’re grateful to compete. The culture of the team was outstanding.”

Patrick White, a 6-foot-5 junior wing, averaged 19.9 points and 10 rebounds per game, while seniors Jake Generazzo (12.5 ppg) and Mike Henricksen (12 ppg) helped form a well-balanced roster.

“Patrick is our best defensive player and when he’s also averaging nearly 20 points per game and 10 rebounds that’s a good place to start,” said Cabucio. “The supporting cast just did an outstanding job of establishing role and working together. We worked really well as a team at the end.”

▪ Five more players joined the elusive 1,000-point club in the final week of the season. Mansfield senior Matty Boen scored 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter of Monday’s Hockomock League finale against Taunton, swishing a free throw with 14 seconds left to become the fifth player in program history to reach the milestone . . . Austin Prep senior Lance Altenor dropped 35 points in Friday’s Catholic Central League Cup first-round win over Cathedral for 1,000, while Malden Catholic senior forward Christian Rios reached the milestone Thursday against Catholic Memorial. Sandwich guard Chris Cronin poured in 30 points Monday vs. Barnstable to hit the grand total, and prolific junior guard Mekhi Dedrick continued his stellar campaign for Boston English with 41 points against Brighton.

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▪ Abington senior Matt Maguire, a returning Globe All-Scholastic selection, scored 13 points in Wednesday’s South Shore League Tournament semifinal win over Rockland, surpassing Ryan Chambers (Class of 2010, 1,206) for second place on the Green Wave’s all-time scoring list. Maguire (1,215) only trails Bryson Andrews (’19, 1,357).

Correspondent Matt Doherty also contributed.