Text and photos by Steev Riccardo
OXFORD – The season may not have ended on the best note last year for the Oxford Pirates boys basketball team, suffering a blowout loss to a very good Quabbin team, but with several of those players returning it may have been the motivation that they needed.
Despite that loss, head coach Sean Halloran and the Pirates were pretty happy with their accomplishments of a year ago, finishing 12-10. For one, it was supposed to be a rebuilding season, and secondly, they lost their best defender Donny Freeland, who was injured the last few weeks of the season, which could have made a big difference in the Quabbin game.
“Last year we came off of two straight years of making the district finals, which really helped our program. We were young, we only had a couple of seniors so we hoped to get back to the districts and make the Clark Tournament and try and get some experience, which we did,” said Halloran.
Despite losing a pair of big front line guys (Tyler Bostek and Chris Burley) and their leading scorer (Cody Stone), the Pirates still have a great nucleus of six seniors returning, including co-captains Mike James (11.1) and Freeland (10.3), which is one of the best backcourts in the Southern Worcester County League.
“With Freeland, James, and Tyler Barrie we have a good nucleus. Their experience is definitely going to help. The thing about the way I have played and coached my whole life is that I have always had a big guy. We don’t have a big guy this year so we will be starting a freshman, Jerod Buckley,at the center position. We are going to be a little inexperienced inside but the kid has some skills and I think he will develop as the season goes on.”
Co-captain Mike James will lead the up-tempo offense
The smaller lineup has made Halloran change his philosophy and style with the team looking to go play faster, rather than the slow-down half-court style that we are used to seeing from a Pirates team.
“We are going to try and push things and pick up the tempo. It's definitely different for me, and the kids seem to like it. There is a lot of scoring, lots of transition. We think we can do that with the group we have. We are very quick and very athletic, so it will be interesting to see. It’s an exciting way to play.”
Co-captain Donny Freeland is one of the best defenders around.
With Freeland, the Pirates have a player who is so committed to winning that it’s a plus in every area. “Donny’s commitment to the program and the game is unwavering. He spent every single day in the gym this summer; he was even there on Thanksgiving morning. He has beefed up and he is in great shape.”
“He is probably the best all around player I have ever had,” said Halloran. “He’s sees the court better than anyone I have ever had. He is precise with his passing. He is not the most vocal leader on the court but he doesn’t have to do that because he leads by example. Last year he held (Nick) Kobel to a point and that is just ridiculous. I had Nick at my camp this summer and he kept on talking about it.”
Halloran sees Freeland playing a lot of minutes in every game. “I will rarely have to take him off the court, he is always going. I feel uncomfortable on a possession if he doesn’t touch the ball, he is that good. He’s not afraid to take a big shot.”
It’s still the defensive play of Freeland that has earned him quite a reputation on Central Mass basketball courts. “As far as his lockdown defense goes, I have never seen anyone commit themselves to not letting someone score. He will cover anybody. He knows where everybody is on the court. He is very intelligent. He is a great leader and a good kid.”
James also sang the praise of his teammate, ““He’s a great player, he doesn’t run out of energy, a great defender, and he’s a lefty so he bothers a lot of people.”
While Freeland is a quiet leader, James is the vocal leader. The combination works perfectly for Halloran. “It's Mike’s team, he’s the point guard, he runs the show. He is more of a vocal leader, He’s much more confident this year. He and Donny make a lot of decisions together. He is not afraid to take a big shot either.”
Another player who will need to take his game to the next level this year is senior Tyler Barrie, who averaged six points a game off the bench last year, but could flourish with the new up-tempo style. “My athleticism allows me to get to the basket easily so I think this kind of play is going to help us a lot.”
Barrie also said that he sees seniors Quram Mohammad and Gianni Christo, along with 6’2” Junior Liam Pickett all helping out this season.
Freeland also added that he thinks Mohammed’s style of play could “make an impact” this season.
Another player who could see some key action this season is junior Tyler Trembley, who will back up James at the point.
The Pirates open next Tuesday (December 11) at home against a run and gun Southbridge Pioneers team that should be an interesting opening matchup. “This could be an 86-84 game; we are ready to go,” said Halloran.