The 17th-ranked Melrose boys’ basketball team stands at 8-0 following dominating road wins at No. 20 Wakefield and Wilmington. Though the Red Raiders are considered the favorites to repeat as Middlesex champions, the squad maintains an underdog approach.
“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, so we try to play like we’re 0-8 rather than 8-0,’’ said captain Matthew Sherlock. “We still have so much room to improve, so our record really means nothing. We’re just trying to get better game by game.’’
The senior forward knows what the underdog role feels like. A four-year varsity player, Sherlock withstood a two-win campaign in his freshman year as Melrose struggled in Mike Kasprzak’s third year as coach.
“The first few years were rough, but by the third year the kids really bought into the program, and you could see we were getting better,’’ Kasprzak said. “We started competing at a different level, and I think the kids are enjoying the moment.’’
After an 11-10 record in 2010-11, the Raiders broke through to go 19-3 last season en route to the league crown and a run to the Division 2 North sectional semifinals.
Sherlock, who averages 12 points and eight assists per game, has teamed with senior Sam Jean-Gilles and junior Frantzdy Pierrot to lead the Raiders. Pierrot is the top scorer in the league at 19.6 ppg to go along with nine rebounds and six steals, while Jean-Gilles has averaged 13.3 points and 11 rebounds.
A top soccer player throughout his youth, Pierrot picked up basketball late in middle school and has worked to hone his skills on the court. This past week he nearly had consecutive triple-doubles against over Wakefield and Wilmington.
“His improvement has been off the charts,’’ Kasprzak said. “He’s always been an energy guy. No one plays harder in the state than him. But this year he has been so much more polished in his fundamentals. He’s really a self-made player, a sponge who wants to learn.’’
Jean-Gilles’s work ethic has led to similar success. A native of Haiti, the 6-foot-1-inch forward slimmed down in the offseason to allow himself to leap higher and establish better position under the basket.
“He dominates inside,’’ Sherlock said. “He’s always hustling for rebounds and he’s strong enough to rip the ball away from other players. And he’s always there to make sure the other players are doing the right thing.’’
Stingy defense could be the key for Melrose come tournament time. The Raiders are holding opponents to a league-low 49.3 ppg, with turnovers and blocks leading to offensive opportunities.
Kasprzak has made it clear to his players that there are other matters of focus besides the tournament.
“That’s going to get us in trouble if we start looking ahead,’’ he said. “Being undefeated is nice, but it’s more important to me that we play a more complete game and become a better team overall.’’
Foley one win from milestone
Already the most decorated boys’ coach in state history, Bob Foley is one win away from yet another milestone.
The St. John’s of Shrewsbury coach can pick up his 800th career win Tuesday night when his Pioneers travel to St. Bernard’s.
Foley, 71, is in his 50th year coaching at the high school level. He has 12 Central Mass. titles and already holds the record for coaching wins in Massachusetts boys’ basketball history.
St. John’s is 5-4 this season.
BABC hosts Prep Classic
The Boston Amateur Basketball Club will host the Prep School Classic on Saturday and Sunday at the Ray and Joan Kroc Salvation Army Community Center.
The event includes 14 of the top prep schools from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
“BABC is excited to once again host the Prep Classic,’’ said Jay Demings, BABC’s director of operations. “We feel we have compiled the best regional prep school teams and believe that the advanced level of play will make for another memorable event.’’
There is no bigger game on the schedule this week than No. 4 Lowell at No. 1 Central Catholic Friday night. Central’s (9-1) only loss this season was to national powerhouse St. Anthony’s (N.J.), a game the Raiders lost by only 4 points. Lowell (9-1) suffered its first defeat of the season last Friday to No. 7 North Andover . . . Speaking of North Andover, the Knights will look to avenge their only loss on Tuesday when they travel to No. 6 Andover. The Golden Warriors took the first meeting, 76-62, on Dec. 20 . . . A challenging week is upcoming for No. 18 Catholic Memorial. The Knights are on the road at No. 2 St. John’s Prep (9-0) on Tuesday and at No. 9 BC High (6-2) on Friday. CM (8-2) has lost two of its last three games . . . The best city game of the week will be on Tuesday when No. 11 Brighton (4-3) meets No. 15 East Boston (6-3).