NORTH SMITHFIELD – First-year North Smithfield basketball coach T.J. Ciolfi believes in playing the game at a fast tempo.
“We trap and press the entire game,” Ciolfi was saying on Saturday, two days after his Northmen lost to unbeaten Johnston, their first Division III defeat in four games this season.
“I learned that we have to rebound better from that game,” Ciolfi, a North Providence native, said. “We had been doing a good job rebounding until we played Johnston, but they are tall and very aggressive. It seemed like they got to every loose ball.”
Ciolfi, 32, had been the women’s basketball coach at Johnston & Wales, and the associate men’s coach, until stepping aside for business reasons after last season.
“The North Smithfield job opened up and I applied for it right before practice began,” he said. “We started practice two or three days late because I didn’t get hired officially until then. But the kids got off to a great start this season. We beat two Division I teams (Lincoln and Cranston West) in December.”
The Northmen quickly adapted to Ciolfi’s up-tempo approach to the game. They blitzed Lincoln 66-45 in their season opener, then shocked Cranston West 70-53 during the Coventry Holiday Classic. That score opened a few eyes around the state.
“Matt Walkow is our leading scorer (19 points per game) and rebounder,” Ciolfi said. “He’s a 6-foot-3 junior forward. I moved our point guard, Walker Strick, to shooting guard. I wanted to get quicker at point guard so that we could pressure the ball more effectively. We are using two football players, Paris Correia and Dan Jordan, at point guard. Another football player, Carlos Guzman, is in the lineup as a guard/forward. Sometimes, we have five guards on the floor, chasing the ball.”
Sophomore forward Peter Keenan, at 6-foot-2, is North Smithfield’s other “big” man, an athletic player who hits the boards along with Walkow when both are on the floor at the same time.
The Northmen, 3-1, are averaging 73 points in their four league games. Johnston (4-0) beat them 84-70 in their early-season showdown. Defending Division III state champion Prout is also unbeaten in the South with a 4-0 mark.
There will be no division state championship tournaments at the end of the regular season, just one big open tournament.
“I don’t mind at all,” Ciolfi said. “You never know what is going to happen in an open tournament. We’re just going to come out and play our game. We want to play fast and hopefully the games are entertaining, because we want our fans to enjoy watching us.”
North Smithfield will visit Moses Brown (1-2) on Monday evening. The Northmen will host Prout on Jan. 23 in an entertaining matchup for the hometown fans.