2014-15 Danvers High Boys Cagers Have High Expectations

The 2014-2015 Danvers High boys basketball team knows where it’s been and where it should be going as they began pre-season workouts Monday night in the DHS field house. Their fans’ expectations — and their own — are through the roof, as they should be.

The Falcons, enjoying the greatest run of success of any varsity team in DHS athletic history (2012, 2013 Division 3 state titles, 2014 Division 2 North finalist, aggregate record the last three years under their brilliant coach John Walsh of 51-8, three straight Northeastern Conference titles) lost two key players with the graduation of Kieran Beck and Mark McCarthy.

But they return with unquestionably the best starting front court in program history in 6-10 Peter Merry, 6-4 Vinny Clifford and 6-4 Devon Harris. And the starting backcourt is solid with 6-foot junior Rashad Francois and sixth man of a year ago Devonn Allen.  Imagine two Devans/Devonns on the same hoop squad.

Merry, a senior, is proving to be every bit as talented as older brother, George, a key cog on the team’s two state title campaigns. Harris, a Conference MVP a year ago and a Charles Barclay clone if I ever saw one, benefited from playing football this fall for the 6-5 Falcons.

But the biggest story of the pre-season is the return pif the multi-talented, long-range sharpshooting Clifford, who missed the entire 201302014 season because of an knee injury from the 2013 summer that required surgery. The senior co-captain is wearing a brace but looked sharp, swift and confident in Monday’s opening workout. He’s been preparing for this season ever since he got the clearance from his doctor to play at full speed in the spring.

Walsh has a first five that could match up with any team in the state Division 1, 2 or 3. His major task will be deterring his bench rotation, which could be based on any number of players, including Mike Nestor, newcomers Tom Gillespie and Taj Coakley and Tre Crittendon, among others.

Walsh has two weeks to figure that part out, since the Falcons open the season Tuesday, December 16 at Winthrop at 7 p.m., followed by a December 19 home opener against Swampscott and a September 20 non-league affair with Somerville at Salem State University.

“We understand all too well that our fans have high expectations, but we have those same high expectations,” Walsh said. “It’s up to us to meet those expectation if not exceed them. We realize everybody will be out to knock us off. We’ll be one of the big, big game on everybody else’s schedule, but we’ve been through that. We can handle it. We simply have to give one hundred percent effort every night and we should be just fine.”

The Falcons are coming off a 20-3 season accomplished without standout Clifford. Now that he’s back with a dazzling nucleus, it’s only fair to say the sky could be the limit for this crew. We begin to find out on December 16.

Gary Larrabee




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