At the end of every season, coaches and teammates say goodbye to the graduating seniors.
Typically, coaches and players are prepared for the transition. But the hardest part is reconstructing a team after losing a team leader at the start.
At Stoughton High, the boys’ basketball team is moving on without leading scorer Aaron Calixte , an All-Scholastic guard who transferred to Lee Academy in Maine.
“You’re in this business long enough and you realize no one’s going to be there forever,” said Stoughton coach John Gallivan.
“A kid like Aaron, we were fortunate to have him for three years. It’s not like the NBA and we have him locked in for 10 years. You always have to keep an eye down the road and when Aaron left, I’m sure the kids miss him and coaches miss him, but you move on. You always have to work with who’s there, not who was there.”
But when one door closes, another often opens. That is the case for the Black Knights with forward Joe Bunce-Grenon , a senior captain.
Although Bunce-Grenon was able to play last season, he wasn’t at his full potential. After undergoing surgery on his ankle last September, he wasn’t able to fully immerse himself in practice.
“Last year I wasn’t at my best because I was struggling to run up and down court and I was out of shape,” said Bunce-Grenon.
“At practice I wasn’t able to run with the team. It would cause too much stress on my ankle so they just had me ride a bike during practice, but then when the games came I was out of shape and couldn’t perform to my best ability.”
This season, the 6-foot Bunce-Grenon not only feels 100 percent physically, but is ready to take on a new leadership role for the defending Division 2 South sectional champions.
“Now that Aaron isn’t here I’m going to have to step up and lead the team in practice and at games,” he said.
“I’m going to encourage my team to win and try to play harder. I’m going to have to do a lot more than I did last year and just keep motivating our players that we’re just going to win even without Aaron.”
Calixte, who averaged 19 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds per game last season, surpassed 1,000 career points. He was the Globe’s Division 2 Player of the year.
Although Calixte clearly made major contributions to the Black Knights’ 20-5 run last year, Gallivan is confident in the players who remain, senior guard Marcus Middleton in particular.
“Marcus is the guy on the team with the most experience and we are going to rely on him on and off the court for his skill and for his leadership,” said Gallivan.
A star on the court and gridiron, Middleton doesn’t disappoint when it comes to athletics, but is constantly looking for ways to improve.
“I feel like I have improved,” said Middleton.
“I have to improve. I feel like once Aaron left I had to take a bigger role as a scorer and leader on the floor. I’ve been working on my one-on-one moves and jump shots to be an all-around player and help my team whatever way they need me.”
Stoughton is not the only boys’ program in the area replacing a pivotal player.
Brockton is minus All-Scholastic Sayvon Houston , a 6-7 center who averaged 16.9 points, 14 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game as a senior last season. His performance in the postseason was stellar, putting up a 20-point 20-rebound game in the Division 1 South semifinals and 22-13 at the EMass finals.
“Houston was the best center in the state last year,” said Brockton coach Robert Boen .
“He’s this big 6-foot-7 strong, powerful guy. This year we’re small. We won’t be running as many plays to get the ball inside as we did last year.”
Houston was among eight graduates, leaving just one returning starter, 5-10 point guard Jaylen Blakely .
“I’m pretty confident that I have a very good team,” said Boen. “Brockton is a big school. Even though we always graduate pretty good seniors there are always players ready to replace them. It’s an interesting team and it’s going to be an interesting season. Jaylen Blakely has been on varsity for four years as point guard so he’s keeping everything safe for us.”
Blakely has his eyes set on another shot at the state championship.
The Boxers lost in the Division 1 state final to Central, 67-46.
“I’ll take leadership in this team because I’ve experienced varsity level since freshman year and I know how everybody plays,” said Blakely. “I can help my teammates. I’m very confident because I’m confident in my teammates that surround me. I know we’re going to do what we need to do to get back to where we left off and win the state championship.”
While a number of teams are replacing their best players, others are helping their athletes recover.
Darien Fernandez is a star on the basketball court at Wareham High, and also on the gridiron. He finished his football career as the school’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (35).
But in the season finale, the 5-8 guard suffered a quadriceps contusion.
He sat out the first week of hoop practice, but coach Kevin Brogioli says he’s on the mend and isn’t expected to miss any games.
Wareham won the South Division 2 title last season, but lost to Danvers in the state semifinals 68-45. Brogioli observed how players performed in the post-season and is now counting on returning 6-foot-5 center Jeff Houde.
“Jeff had an excellent state tournament last year rebounding,” said Brogioli. “He scored more in tournament than all season. Right now it looks like he basically picked off where he left off.”
The Vikings are also going to give 6-foot-7 forward Quintin Silveira more time on the court.
“The team seems a little more physical than it has in past years,” said Brogioli. “We’re hoping to build off of the success of last year’s tourney.”