After a near-fatal car crash last July, Phillips Andover boys’ basketball coach Terrell Ivory found something akin to an extended family in the basketball community.
His colleagues and administrators stepped up immediately to provide aid while he was in critical care at Tufts Medical Center. And when incoming senior Dallion Johnson made a visit a week after the accident, Ivory felt inspired to begin his recovery.
“That meant the world to me,” said Ivory, a 2000 graduate of Phillips Andover.
“It wasn’t even about basketball at that point. To see Dallion and his family show up at the hospital, it pushed me even more to want to get back [to coaching]. Basketball is important, but there are so many other things to get out of this [player-coach] relationship and they showed me that.”
Under Ivory’s guidance, Johnson has blossomed into the leading scorer in program history (1,423 career points). In November, the 6-foot-2-inch guard from Bradford committed to Penn State, the product of more than a decade playing on the AAU circuit and working out with Ivory.
Johnson is a four-year starter at Andover, so when he saw Ivory back on the sideline a few months after the accident, Johnson was elated to know that his mentor would be back for his senior season.
“The first day I heard about [the accident] was so emotional,” said Johnson. “When I visited [Ivory], I still didn’t know if he’d be all right because his head was [badly injured]. To see him out there on the court was some of the best news I’ve heard in my life.”
The results haven’t always been there this season when Andover (9-9) plays out of division, but the team is 8-3 against NEPSAC Class A competition. Johnson continued his stellar season with six 3-pointers in a 73-52 win at Noble and Greenough and hit seven triples in a 76-74 win over Thayer the next weekend, including the game-tying shot with under a minute to play.
With an ability to move off the ball, or free himself for shots off the dribble, Johnson seems to be benefiting from the training Ivory used to help develop one of the greatest shooters of all time.
During his tenure as an assistant coach at Davidson College, Ivory worked closely with Steph Curry. The duo innovated several shooting drills to mimic game action, many of which Ivory runs with Johnson and others.
“Nobody compares to Steph,” said Ivory. “But Dallion has the ability and the mechanics to make deep shots look easy, and that matters a lot. He can make adjustments and he doesn’t need much space. Then, when you think about courage, he’s not afraid to get on stage and perform in the big moments.”
That attitude has made Johnson a coveted prospect; he’s now the top Massachusetts prospect for the Class of 2020, according to New England Recruiting Report.
And he likely wouldn’t have garnered that much attention without the support his AAU program, Mass Rivals.
Rivals and Brimmer and May coach Tom Nelson, a 1995 Phillips Andover grad, welcomed Johnson to the team the summer before his sophomore year. Incoming freshman Gianni Thompson followed Johnson from BABC to Rivals and the two top prospects have thrived together, twice leading Rivals to the final four of the national Adidas Gauntlet tournaments.
Now Thompson is flourishing as a junior at Brimmer, alongside Boston’s Kyrell Luc. The 6-7 wing from Dorchester is ranked No. 2 among Massachusetts 2021 recruits in NERR’s rankings.
“Dallion was a big reason why I came to Rivals,” said Thompson, who considered attending Phillips Andover. “It’s always been good to have someone like an older brother in that sense. His growth [as a leader] has been pretty evident. He was always a quiet kid, but now he’s controlling the game and he’s definitely more vocal.”
At 5-10, Luc hasn’t drawn as much attention from colleges. Yet after breaking out with averages of 26 points and 7 assists per game this season, the Hyde Park resident has seen a meteoric rise, recently joining Thompson in NERR’s top 10.
“[Luc] always had that pit-bull mentality,” said Thompson. “People never gave him a mention, but he’s going to try to be better than the person in front of him and that’s made me better, too.”
Ivory praised Nelson as a rare breed of AAU coach who truly has the interests of his players at heart and has no ulterior motives. That approach helped Nelson coach current college players Wabissa Bede (Virginia Tech), Makai Ashton-Langford (Boston College), and David Duke (Providence) to a U-17 AAU national title in 2016. It also helped Nelson bring Roxbury’s A.J. Reeves to Brimmer, where he helped transform the program while becoming the all-time leading scorer before taking his talents to Providence.
“Me and Terrell are kindred souls,” said Nelson. “From a community standpoint, when we find people like Terrell, or anyone who is in the same business as a coach helping kids, we’re in this together.”
As a fellow Andover alum, Nelson was one of the first coaches to reach out to Ivory after the accident.
“It was tragic to see [Ivory] go through that,” said Nelson. “What he had to do to get back to where he’s at now is certainly a miracle.
“We were all saddened and hurt, but as coaches, we’re a family that’s able to help each other progress and help with putting the pieces back together.”
Coincidentally, Andover’s first scheduled practice was the first day Ivory was medically cleared to return to work. After months of physical, occupational, and speech therapy, he was back on the sidelines doing what he loved with the same enthusiasm.
“I blossomed here and I think I was a big reason these kids came to Andover,” said Ivory. “The thought of not being able to coach and be there for them, was really challenging for me. Like everywhere else I’ve coached, I feel like they’re my kids. Anything I could do, in terms of being dedicated to rehab, I was going to do that.”
■ Rockland won its 11th consecutive game Friday night, defeating South Shore League rival Randolph, 66-61, at home. The Bulldogs (14-1) opened a two-game lead over the Blue Devils in the Sullivan Division with three league games remaining. Defense has fueled Rockland’s surprising season. The Bulldogs allow 45.7 points per game, seventh best in EMass., and on Friday, Randolph became the first team to score 60 or more points against them.
“I knew we were going to be better, I didn’t know we were going to be 14-1 better,” Rockland coach Fred Damon said. “It’s a tribute to these kids. I can’t say enough about these kids and how tough they are.”
Senior Dante Vasquez, who set Rockland’s career rushing record as the quarterback for the football team last fall, runs the show at the point, while sharpshooter Hunter Wardwell and wing Pierre Comeau do the bulk of the scoring for the Bulldogs.
With three seniors and three juniors in the rotation, Rockland is tough-minded defensively and Damon believes it’s a main contributor to the team’s success. The Bulldogs can clinch the top seed in Division 3 South with three wins this week.
“Our practices are all about defense and getting on the floor,” Damon said. “We made a deal this year that we were going to run them into the ground. We do it every day. Time sprints . . . Full court. I think the conditioning and them buying into this program. They’re really taking it to the next level.”
■ Move over Klay Thompson, the MIAA has a third-quarter performance to rival the hottest performance in recent NBA history. Ryan Power, a 6-1 senior at Waltham, dropped 32 points in the third quarter of a victory Sunday over Phoenix Charter (Springfield), finishing with a school-record 51 points to total 113 points over three wins this last week. Power, the school’s career scoring leader (1,124 points), broke the previous single-game record of 47 points, held by Matt Pressey, son of former Milwaukee Buck Paul Pressey, at the time a Celtics assistant coach.
■ With the regular season coming to a close, a number of teams are looking for a final tuneup over February break. The most notable event remains the Comcast/Board 27 Classic at Woburn High, which begins on Sunday. Boys’ hoop action begins with Andover and Charlestown (2 p.m.), followed by Belmont and St. John’s Prep (3:30 p.m.), BC High and TechBoston (5 p.m.) and concluding with Newton North against Attleboro (6:30 p.m.). Consolation and championship games will follow Monday in the same time slots . . . There are also tournaments scheduled at Abington, Acton-Boxborough, Apponequet, Beverly, Foxborough, Hamilton-Wenham, Mansfield, Milford, Quincy, Sharon, Somerset-Berkley, St. Mary’s, Waltham, West Bridgewater, Westwood, and Whitman-Hanson over the course of the week.
■ Whitinsville Christian 7-footer Justin Vander Baan, a BC recruit, scored 25 points to top 1,000 career points Wednesday in a 65-62 win over Cardinal Spellman.
Games to watch
■ Tuesday, New Mission at TechBoston, 5:30 p.m. — Abubakar Aden led the Titans with 44 points in the first meeting, but TechBoston prevailed, 73-71.
■ Wednesday, Lynn English at Beverly, 7 p.m. — The top-ranked Bulldogs haven’t faced much competition within the state this season. On Wednesday, they’ll take on a Beverly team with the size to potentially match their twin towers.
■ Thursday, BC High at Newton North, 6:45 p.m. — These teams could very well met again at the end of the long weekend in the finals of the Comcast/Board 27 Classic at Woburn High.
■ Friday, Mansfield at Taunton, 6:30 p.m. — This could be the final hurdle for Mansfield as it looks to secure its sixth straight Hockomock Kelley-Rex Division title.
■ Friday, Brockton at Brookline, 7 p.m. — The Warriors wrap up their regular season against another Division 1 South contender in Brockton.
Nate Weitzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Matt Doherty also contributed.