Anyone who follows Boston City League boys’ basketball is in for a "black and blue" treat this winter. By the same token, anyone who plays or coaches in the Boston City League North division is in for a dogfight.
Starting this season, the city league will go from two divisions to three (North, Central, and South) in an effort to bring more parity to the league and to give the lower division schools a better shot at qualifying for the state tournament.
The top teams in the city (New Mission, Madison Park, East Boston, Charlestown, and Brighton) will be crammed into the North division.
The top two teams in the North will be awarded a trip to the city championships, while only the top teams from the Central and the South will make a trip to cities.
“I think it puts us in one situation, the black and blue division,” said Madison Park coach Dennis Wilson, who was one of two coaches who voted against the proposal this summer.
Under the new format, teams essentially play teams in their division more often during the regular season with fewer games against teams in the other divisions.
Wilson argued that the state rankings of the city’s top teams will suffer under the new format, and as a result they might not get a home game in the state tournament.
O’Bryant coach Drew Hughes-Brock — whose team will play in the Central with Boston English, Dorchester, Latin Academy, and West Roxbury — has no sympathy for Wilson.
“It’s like I don’t feel bad for these guys because my whole career I had to deal with this but now it’s your turn,” said Hughes-Brock, whose team has been beat up by higher division schools over the last several years. “The new format is absolutely amazing, I think it’s long overdue. I think it levels the playing field and that is something that I haven’t seen in the city. Why let the rich get richer and the poor get poorer? Even it out, let us play.
“All it is going to do is making for better competition. A couple times last year teams won by 60. There’s no way that’s good for high school basketball.”
Most of the North division teams are in favor of the new format because it will make them battle-tested for the postseason.
“We can’t sleep, we can’t take things for granted, we can’t slack off,” Brighton coach Hugh Coleman said. “At the end of the day, if we weren’t good enough to win those games we have to accept where we were at the time.
“[The old format] did us a disservice. One, it didn’t prepare us and we didn’t look forward to the games [against lower-division teams.]”
New Mission coach Cory McCarthy said, "It helps coaches raise their level of competing. You have to scout, you have to prepare, it helps me prepare. There were some teams you did not have to prepare for. You just knew all you had to do was slap a press on and it's over. Now I have a 40-hour turnaround to prepare for one of the top teams in the state every week.
"Somebody out of that [North] group will win a state championship, mark my words."
No North team has more to lose under the new format this year than Charlestown, which has no returning starters after losing in the Division 1 semifinals to Brockton. Nevertheless, coach Edson Cardoso was in favor of the new divisions.
“We look at our first five games and we have New Mission, BC High, Brighton, Eastie, and St. John’s Prep,” Cardoso said. “We’re playing five tough teams. I like it because it will be a challenge to see where we are as a team. I’m anxious to see how we will do the first five games. I think it’s one of the toughest schedules I have coached in high school basketball.
“I think the city league is taking it to a whole new level. Now this is really going to help kids compete and different levels and give other teams a chance to make cities. I think it’s good for city basketball.”
But Wilson argues that the lower-division teams already have a leg up because of the Sullivan rule, which essentially means that games against higher-division teams don’t always count against them when it comes to qualifying for the state tournament.
“It’s great for the other leagues because they are playing against their level of talent but in any level, pro, college, you play who is in your league regardless of how strong they are," Wilson said. "That’s what makes you stronger.”
Second-year South Boston coach Jeremy Silva understands.
That’s because Silva — whose team will play in the South division with Burke, CASH, and Fenway — was always told by his father, legendary Marshfield football coach Lou Silva, that you have to “play the best to be the best.”
But Silva said he’s still looking forward to competing against his South rivals more often this season.
“I’m pretty sure there can be an argument made for both sides,” he said.
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