Second-year North Smithfield head coach T.J. Ciolfi welcomes Woonsocket transfer Cody Lâ€™Heureux along with four starters from last seasonâ€™s squad. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN.
On the hardwood, Charles Correa is a two-time, first-team All-State selection.
Should the St. Raphael Academy senior repeat the honor this season, he would become just the second three-time recipient in program history (1990s standout Robert Griffin owns the distinction as the Saint to earn three consecutive â€śtop five players in the stateâ€ť laurels).
As for the present, longtime SRA mentor Tom â€śSaarâ€ť Sorrentine is looking for Correa to walk that fine line between looking for his own offense and keeping the rest of the players active and engaged in the proceedings. The Saints are expected to lean heavily on Correa, but that doesnâ€™t mean the speedy guard has to go about the task at hand alone.
Probably the most noteworthy development to follow in the coming weeks and months ahead is to see how a talent like Correa learns how to trust the rest of his teammates. As the only remaining starter from St. Raphaelâ€™s 2011 state championship, Correa nowadays looks around and sees plenty of fresh and/or untested faces.
If the Saints want a legitimate chance at contending, several names are going to have to emerge in order to relieve some of the pressure from Correaâ€™s shoulders. If anything, it might be worth picking up a program when SRA takes on Woonsocket Thursday night in the opening game of the 27th edition of the Dennis M. Lynch Jr. Memorial Tournament, set at the Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucketâ€™s gymnasium (Central Falls-PCD is the other semifinal contest with Thursdayâ€™s winners squaring off for the championship on Saturday night).
As for the rest of the Saints, senior swingman Jordan Peguero slides into the starting lineup for the first time in his career. Bigger roles figure to await junior John Cooney and sophomore Graham Lynch, two knockdown shooters who cracked Sorrentineâ€™s rotation at the tail end of last season.
Patrolling the area around the basket will be Chris Luciano, Jason Colon and Alex Zhao â€“ an exchange student from China whom Sorrentine has high hopes.
â€śWeâ€™ve got some good shooters, and (Zhao) is a good player, so Charles needs to get the ball to those guys,â€ť expressed Sorrentine about his greatest desire on the eve of the curtain getting raised on a new season.
As for the rest of the area, hereâ€™s a preseason primer for those fans who canâ€™t wait to see how their favorite teams will fare:
Woonsocket welcomes 10 players back, and also the hope that familiarity will result in the Villa Novans reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Now in his seventh year at the helm, Kyle Ivey-Jones will count heavily on a collection of seniors â€“ guard Luis Garcia, forward Jovanny Gonzalez, center Nicholas Juszczyszyn and guard Juwan Simpson.
â€śWeâ€™re definitely going to be improved from the last two years,â€ť stated Ivey-Jones, referencing the 1-17 league records that his Novans have posted each of the past two winters. â€śA lot of guys played very well at the JV level last year, making it all the way to the finals of the state tournament. The light is pretty bright for us; itâ€™s just all about whether we jell and stay together as a team.â€ť
Joining Woonsocket and St. Raphael in I-North are La Salle, Mount Pleasant and Smithfield.
Another squad seeking to end a two-year postseason drought is East Providence, which will count on senior guard/forward John Vaughn, senior forward/center Alex Hurley and senior guard Charlie Brown. The Townies are part of the I-Central setup with Central, Classical, Cranston East and Hope.
Tolman may have said goodbye to its leading scorer from 2011-12 â€“ Juan Velez transferred to Mount Pleasant for his senior season â€“ yet the cupboard is hardly bare for head coach Mike Kayata. The Tigersâ€™ most important player is senior Mamour Samb, who Kayata dubbed, â€śa lockdown defender and a floor leader. Heâ€™s the guy weâ€™re going to count on to make plays and right decisions.â€ť
Sophomore Napoleon Johnson is a quick-as-lightning point guard while 6-foot-6 senior high riser Jonathan Percy figures to anchor the Tigersâ€™ backline on the defensive end. Senior Brandon Dunlap will provide Tolman with some toughness down low while sophomore Steven Otis is a youngster on the rise. Also, Kayata will have a new assistant coach as Mike Gavin moves up after coaching the freshman program.
At Shea, head coach Matt Pita welcomes back six players, among them Eli Itkin, a three-year-contributor who is joined by fellow seniors and Tito DoCouto and Nathan Lopes. Junior Chris Manville takes over the point guard duties previously held by Jordy Brito, who graduated.
The hallmark of Brian Crookesâ€™ coaching tenure at Central Falls is to play up-tempo, and that begins with a harassing pressing style. The horses for Crookes to employ trapping defenses appear to be in place starting with guards Jose Toledo, Bradley Zeno and Brandon Canuto. The Warriorsâ€™ top inside-outside scoring threat is junior Julian Soares.
Many of the same faces that helped Cumberland win the II-North title last season are back in the fold. Seniors Ben Bradley and Dylan Boisclair received first-team All-Division honors as juniors while seniors Robert Reedy, Greg Joubert and Tom Lazaras also return.
Plenty of familiar names dot head coach Kent Crooksâ€™ roster at Lincoln, the notables including seniors Ryan Kelly and Jon McCourt. Junior Tyge Joyce is another player poised to help bring the Lions out of the sub-.500 rut that has hovered over the program the past four seasons. Another name to mention is senior Osel-lie Saine, whose name should be familiar to those who follow Lincoln football.
Locally, the division alignments are as follows: II-North includes Central Falls, Lincoln, Cumberland and North Providence while II-Central features Tolman, Shea, Exeter/West Greenwich and West Warwick.
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All four of the areaâ€™s entries â€“ North Smithfield, Mount St. Charles, Burrillville and Davies Tech â€“ are grouped in III-North. On paper, it appears the Northmen are the team to beat as second-year head coach T.J. Ciolfi welcomes back all but one player from last year. In addition, North Smithfield gains senior Cody Lâ€™Heureux, who transferred from Woonsocket and is eligible to play right away.
Lâ€™Heureux figures to augment a N.S. nucleus that includes returning starters Matt Walkow, Walker Strick, Dan Jordan, and Peter Keenan. Walkow was an all-league pick last year. Another player for the Northmen to keep an eye on is Breno Pena, a junior guard who moved from New Hampshire this past summer.
Change is in the air at Mount and Davies with each program breaking in new head coaches. Raymond Leveille assumes the reins for the Mounties while the Patriots welcome William Meekins. Plenty of notables from Burrillvilleâ€™s football team made the jump to the hardwood led by seniors Brett Correia, Steve McCormack along with sophomore Isaiah DeSilva. Senior Ben Girard hopes to build off last seasonâ€™s second team all division accomplishment.