At 5 foot 10, Alex Rivera is one of the shortest players on his Lowell High School basketball team, but one of the best scorers in the state.
He isn’t intimidated by taller opponents. Like many top high school players, Rivera honed his skills and prepared for his senior season by playing summer ball with an AAU team.
“Every day is a battle,” said Rivera, a point guard who played for Mass Rivals Elite this summer. “There’s no little kids there; it’s all grown men.”
These elite teams travel to compete against top-level talent from all across the country. All of the kids are taller, longer, and more athletic. Every movement needs to be smarter, crisper, and stronger.
“The better competition you play against, the better you become,” said Mass Rivals coach Vin Pastore. “That helps them prepare to go back and play against the kids in their own area.”
University of Massachusetts Lowell-bound Rivera routinely shoots his high-arcing jumper over opponents half a foot taller than him, and he can finish in the paint against even bigger rim protectors. Rivera said that if his defender is his size, he might as well not even be there.
“He has a bunch of tricks in order to get his shot off on bigger guys,” said Lowell High head coach Bob Michalczyk. “He elevates really high on his jump shots, and he does an excellent job of creating space.”
The heightened competition in AAU helps, as does the focus on improving and expanding individual skill sets. Rivera worked on getting to the rim, while his Mass Rivals teammate Colin Bradanese worked on stretching his game from the paint out to the three-point arc.
“I’ve always been a bigger person, so I’ve always been stuck on the block playing the post,” said the 6-foot-5 Bradanese. He has to rebound and post up as one of the larger players on his Central Catholic team, but the taller player population in AAU allowed him to showcase his range. “I got to go out to the wing, and it’s more translatable to college.”
“Everybody wants to get out to what their college position is,” said Pastore. “Colin’s not one of the tallest kids on the team, so it allows him to play his college position.”
Bradanese has forged a friendship with Rivera, who he describes as a fearless shooter and fierce competitor. He’s also familiar with Everett’s Ghared Boyce, one of the few players capable of matching Rivera’s scoring output.
“I think he’s one of the best scorers in the state, he’s right up there with Alex,” Bradanese said. “He’s definitely one of the best guards in the state.”
Boyce is a four-year starter and two-time Greater Boston League MVP for coach John DiBiaso.
If his senior year goes as planned, he could eclipse 2,000 career points.
‘I want to have the most points in Lowell High history. I’m close, so I’ll reach that, but I just want to bring home a ring to my school.’
“He can score points, and you can’t emphasize enough how important that is,” said DiBiaso, who just won a state title in his final year as Everett’s football coach. “If you’ve got the ability to score, someone is going to take a shot on you.”
Boyce has been getting buckets at a high level since he was a freshman, and he became a better facilitator playing for WrightWay Skills during the summer.
“I think my improvement was a lot of my ball handling,” said Boyce, “to become more of a combo guard.”
Everett lost, 68-65, to Bradanese and Central Catholic in the Division 1 North semifinal last year, and that wound is still fresh for Boyce and his teammates.
“Every day we do our drills, we think about third-round semifinals, two games before the Garden,” said Boyce. “We were right there, three points away.”
This will be DiBiaso’s final season coaching at Everett, and his boys want to send him out with a bang.
“Our whole team is working our butts off right now,” said Boyce. “We’re really trying to go — first time ever — football and basketball state champions.”
They are certainly not alone in their pursuit of the state title.
“We want to win it all, of course,” said Bradanese. “That’s every team’s goal.”
He averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds per game last year, and he’ll be crashing the boards even harder this year as Central’s de facto center. He’ll use his newly-sharpened skills on the wing, but needs to be effective inside as well.
“When you’re in your high school season,” said Pastore, “you have to do whatever your job is to help your team win.”
Lowell lost in the other Division 1 North semifinal last year, and Rivera said he wants to play for the state championship as much as the other two senior captains.
“I want to have the most points in Lowell High history,” said Rivera. “I’m close, so I’ll reach that, but I just want to bring home a ring to my school.”
The only guarantee is that it will be fun to watch how it all shakes out.
“They’re performers, they’re entertainers,” said Pastore. “I expect they’ll do a real good job this year entertaining the people that come to watch them play basketball.”Tom Petrini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.