Danvers Resident Kasprzak Leads Melrose Cagers to 20-0 Regular Season Record; Hoop Mania Continues in Danvers with Prep Success As Well

It’s been a basketball season of Amazing for the town of Danvers, and hopefully the best is yet to come. It’s no secret about the successes of the Danvers High (18-2) and St. John’s Prep (18-2) basketball teams. The historic two-year run of the DHS boys has been well documented in this space.

The Prep, meanwhile, less than two miles west of the high school campus, like the Falcons, has unexpectedly been near the top of the Greater Boston rankings throughout the winter as they seek a second Division 1 title in three years under Sean Connolly, the legendary Bishop Fenwick player now considered among the top coaches in the region.

The best kept secret in town resides a mere half mile  from the Prep campus, where Mike Kasprzak lives with his family and has led his alma mater, Melrose High, to only the second 20-0 regular season in school history after last night’s 58-56 victory over upset-bent Arlington.

Kasprzak is no stranger to the high school basketball coaching scene. The 43-year-old, after playing at Melrose High (under the highly successful Nick Pappas) and Bridgewater State, coached as an assistant at Melrose, Minuteman Regional and St. John’s Prep before succeeding the legendary Kevin Lucy at Newburyport High for his first head job. He ran the program for five years before moving on to his dream job, guiding his beloved Red Raiders.

“The kids bought into my program pretty well,” Kaspzak said. “They began playing more in the off-season and it’s paid off.”

Kind of. The Red Raiders a year ago went 20-3, winning the Middlesex League title before losing by five to state finalist Brighton in the Division 2 North semis.  Now, in going 20-0, Kasprzak had led Melrose to back-to-back ML titles for the first time in 50 years, since the great teams of John Killilea in the 1960s. One member of those teams was none other than Mike’s father Thomas. A nice connection 50 years hence.

Moreover, this is the first 20-0 regular season team since Pappas’s 1989 squad.

“It’s taken a few years to change the basketball culture among the Melrose kids, but we seem to be heading in the right direction,” says Kasprzak, the son-in-law of former Northeastern University head football coach and former New England Patriots superscout Paul Pawlyk, another Danvers resident.

“I’ve been truly blessed, starting with the kids who are coming up through the ranks in Melrose, the commitment they’ve been willing to make, the really solid mentors I’ve had. I’ve tried to take a little bit from each of them and apply them to my coaching philosophy.

The group of mentors is impressive, from Lucy, the former Salem High athletic standout, to Pappas, Sonny Lane and MHS football coach Bruce McPherson.

“The most important concept to these men and to myself,” Kasprzak said, “is to remind the kids that athletics are an extension of their schooling. Sports events are part of the school day. You’re supposed to conduct yourself in the athletic setting just as you would as a responsible student in school, representing your family, your school and your hometown.

“And that there are many life lessons to learn in sports,” he continued. “It’s about sacrifice, commitment, togetherness, working harder today than you did yesterday, caring for your teammates as you should your classmates. And that they should appreciate the moment at practice and in games.”

Melrose has always been a big sports/basketball town, dating back to the days of Killilea, the late Topsfield resident who went on to be a vital cog as assistant to Tommy Heinsohn when the Celtics won NBA titles in 1974 and 1976 in the Havlicek-Cowns-White era. Killilea’s years at Melrose, which included a New England High School championship (27-1 overall) won in the old Boston Garden (the tourney is no longer played), have always been the gold standard, but Pappas had some terrific teams, too, and now Kasprzak is delivering the same.

“A lot of this coaching thing is about adjusting to the moment over 32 minutes,” says the admittedly animated (on the bench) Kasprzak, “not getting distracted by the officials, never losing the focus on your players, listening to your assistants.

“I’ve been especially blessed with solid assistants, like John Preziosa, who’s with me now and was the head coach at Division 3 Wheelock College. Same goes for my players, a real blessing, their parents, and the community support. I’m trying to enjoy it at the same time as the kids. I want to preserve this special season no matter what happens from here.



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