Lynn Classical grad Grassa lifts Bentley with playmaking skills
There is no doubting that Jasper Grassa (photo) is one of the best long-range shooters to ever play basketball for Bentley University. With two regular-season games remaining, the senior guard was just four 3-pointers from surpassing Sean Cooke as the Falcons’ all-time leader, and is on track to have scored more than 1,300 points by the time his career comes to a close.
Coach Jay Lawson knew the type of shooter he was getting in Grassa, who came to Bentley after graduating from Lynn Classical as the program’s third-highest scorer with 1,450 points.
But what Lawson also knew was that there was another side to Grassa as he entered this season as the lone senior in the starting rotation. He wanted to see more of Grassa the playmaker, who was capable of leading his team back from last year’s 11-15 finish — the program’s first losing season in 18 years, and just the second since Lawson began coaching at Bentley in 1991.
“He’s a scorer. But unlike a lot of guys like that in our league, he’s a wonderful pass-playmaker for his teammates,” Lawson said. “Within the scheme of our five-man motion, we’ve asked him to make more plays. We don’t need him to be as aggressive, and that’s who he is. He’s bought into what the team has asked him to do, and he’s sacrificed, and we’ve benefited some.”
Grassa is the team’s second-leading scorer this season while averaging 14 points per game, the lowest since he’s became a starter, but he had 91 assists, which is already 10 more than his career high, with two games remaining.
As a result, the Falcons (16-9, 10-9 Northeast-10 Conference) have improved tremendously, and the 5-foot-11-inch guard has been the driving force behind the Falcons’ offense, which is scoring 82 points per game, a drastic increase from the 66.2 they averaged last season.
“It’s a role I’m definitely comfortable in, especially as the guys are coming along. We had all these freshmen’’ last year, Grassa said, “and they’ve had the one year under their belt, and now we have scorers all over the floor instead of just one. It’s better to keep the ball moving and find the open shot instead of me forcing it.
“When we were on losing streaks in the past, I would get frustrated and just try to force it and score every time I touched the ball.”
This season was bound to be a trying one for the Falcons. Not only did they struggle on the court last season, but in June, team member Joey Glynn, a Cardinal Spellman graduate, died after collapsing during a summer league game.
Glynn started 16 games as a freshman, averaging 3.3 points and 16.7 minutes per game.
“It’s a devastating thing for a group of guys who really liked Joey a lot; he was a pretty neat kid,” Lawson said. “Do you really expect that to wear off quickly with 19- and 20-year-old guys? No. But that whole thing hasn’t been a negative for our basketball, but just a piece of the story.”
Grassa said it’s been hard playing without Glynn, but the challenge has brought the team closer.
“It was tough,” Grassa recalled. “We had all the guys come over last summer for the funeral, but it helped us become more of a family rather than a team. We all played for one another and knew there are more important things than just basketball.”
This season, Grassa has also matured on the court. He’s the first to admit that he plays with an edge, one that he sometimes struggled to harness.
Has he mellowed out since arriving at Bentley? “Oh, absolutely,” Grassa said, fighting back a smile. “It’s still something Coach Lawson harps on me for.”
In the process, Lawson has come to admire Grassa’s competitive nature.
“He’s an emotional athlete. Sometimes that’s awesome, and sometimes it’s gotten in his way, but he’s grown tremendously with it,” Lawson said. “I’m going to miss him tremendously when he’s gone because you can’t teach a kid to be as competitive as he is. His work ethic is great leadership.”
As Bentley prepares for the Northeast-10 tournament, Grassa will have one last chance to help his team improve from the 11th- and 7th-place conference finishes they’ve had the last two seasons.
“We’ve tried to sell upon him, the only thing remaining is to become the leader to put Bentley back where we belong,” Lawson said. “We’re really close right now, and he wants it so bad he can taste it.”
Danner-Hicks leaps past rivals
For the fourth straight time, Bridgewater State senior Joshua Danner-Hicks dominated the triple jump at the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference championship, taking first place with a leap of 46 feet 2.5 inches last weekend. Bridgewater State finished second overall with 157 points, behind Westfield State.
The Haverhill resident entered the indoor season as the three-time defending champion, and his jump broke his own MASCAC indoor meet record of 46 feet 2 inches, set a year ago.
Danner-Hicks is ranked fifth nationally in Division 3 in the triple jump with a school-record-breaking mark of 47 feet 11.75 inches, which he recorded this season at the Tufts Stampede.
On Saturday, Danner-Hicks competed in the Division 3 New England championships.
Here and there
For the first time in program history, the Stonehill College men’s hockey team clinched the Northeast-10 regular-season title and the top seed in the conference tournament, thanks to a 5-4 win over Saint Anselm on Monday. Dan Graham , a sophomore forward from Billerica, scored a power-play goal in the second period to give his team a 4-3 lead that it never relinquished. He also recorded an assist. . . Former Central Catholic standout Jimmy Zenevitch of Methuen was named the NE-10 men’s basketball co-Player of the Week. The junior captain at Assumption College scored a career-high 34 points and had 10 rebounds to lead his team to a 68-63 win against Merrimack.Anthony Gulizia can be reached at email@example.com.