Danvers’ Walsh The Difference Maker In Team’s Historic Championship Run

He will tell you the players make all the shots, grab all the rebounds, deliver all the smooth passes.

First it was the Bates-McKenna-Amico-Connors-Martin-George Merry nucleus spanning the 2012-2013 Northeastern Conference and MIAA Division 3 State championships.

Then came the 2014-2015 group that has comprised Beck-McCarthy-Clifford-Allen-Harris-Peter Merry: another pair of NEC titles, a spot in the Division 2 North title game last year, a stunning 20-3 record and now the season to top all seasons.

A 26-0 record, No. 1 ranking in the Boston Globe Top 20 poll at the end of the regular season and the opportunity Saturday to finish 27-0 and take home the Division 2 state championship if they can knock off 21-3 Marlborough at the DCU Center (4 p.m. start).

And don’t forget that victory tomorrow will also place the Fabulous Falcons into the most select of company among state champions since the MIAA went to the division format in the 1970s; i.e. they will become the very first team to win three state titles in four years in two different divisions moving up. They also will  become only the fourth school to win three titles in a four-year span along with Cambridge, Commerce and Charlestown.

One last item: a victory Saturday makes the Danvers boys only the second North Shore team ever to finish 27-0. The other? The 1980 Salem High Girls, coached by Tim Shea, led on the floor by All-Scholastic Marie Grant.

Give all the credit to the players, the coach will say. But we know better.

For as amazing a sequence of players have blessed the Danvers High varsity boys basketball program these past four years, it is unlikely they would have attained saucy astounding heights of success without the guidance of the head coach — one John Paul Walsh.

His journey as a basketball coach has been well documented in this space. After playing as an all-star at Malden Catholic and getting a short stint of playing time at Rivier College, he thought about coaching.

He got the chance to serve as a varsity assistant for five years for his cousin, the head coach at Watertown, then applied for the Danvers job and was hired by then-athletic director John Sullivan.

The boys’ hoop program had been in the dumps for some time and no one took serious notice when another new faces came to town trying to reverse the Falcons’ fortunes.

But at 31, in his first year, he turned a 2-6 start into a 13-9 finish with two tournament wins — the first time a Danvers team had ever won two post-season games.

This guy must know what he’s doing, the small faction of DHS basketball cognoscenti observed. But let’s not get carried away with this young guy, the added. Let’s see what he can do from here.

What Walsh “could do from here” was not only reach for the stars, but succeed in taking this unheralded program, one without a Northeastern Conference title since 1975, to heights the most eternal of all DHS basketball optimists could never have imagined.

As noted above: four straight NEC titles, back-to-back Division 3 state titles, Division 2 North section title game runner-up, and now, in 2015, the opportunity to achieve perfection and a Division 2 state championship.

Yes, the players play the game, score the points, defend the other team, and so forth.

But ask any of the players who have worn the Royal Blue and White while directed by John Walsh, and they will tell you his coaching in practice and games made all the difference in the world in creating this never-before-seen run of basketball excellence north of Boston.

Walsh is a serious young man, one who admits to having been blessed with pretty much everything a man of his age could ever expect: good health, a beautiful family (wife and three young children) and a rewarding job.

Then, to have been given the opportunity to take over a struggling program and take it to dreamlike success, well, it’s more than he deserves, he says modestly. But, of course, he is wrong.

John Paul Walsh does deserve this coaching success. Combining his experience as a player and assistant coach, his dedication to the game’s principles, disciplines and nuances, and his unmatched ability to handle pressure time during games geared to strategy or substitutions, Walsh has quickly risen to the top of the coaching fraternity in Massachusetts high school basketball.

Aided by a sharp group of assistants, Walsh is often seen during game action crouched in front his bench, surveying the action, turning to top aid Mark Garrity and determining his next move or next spoken word to his players as they fly up and down the court.

When the moment requires it, he’ll stand up and voice a concern to an official or speak instructions to one of his players. Most important, at all times Walsh is under total control, even when he is attempting to drive home a point to the official.

He was, fact be know, under pressure even his freshman year, when he was hoping to improve on the previous year’s team’s 3-17 mark.

Year 2’s 21-4 state championship surge shocked everybody except Walsh, his staff and players. From that point on, every team the Falcons have faced have pointed to that game as the highlight of their schedule. Yet, the Falcons kept winning and winning and winning, especially the big games in the regular season and the MIAA tournament.

Walsh has made the Falcon basketballers winners in every respect. The players believe in themselves. They believe in their coach. They believe in the new championship tradition that Walsh has established.

Not that he needed confirmation after winning successive state titles, but Walsh cemented his position in the Bay State coaching fraternity with last year’s 20-3 team that had no starters returning once Vinny Clifford suffered a debilitating knee injury the summer previous. The transfer of Devan Harris from Hingham High to Danvers High gave the Falcons what proved to be an MVP-level forward. Nonetheless, the way Walsh was able to incorporate Harris into the DHS scheme and bring the other players along, led by senior Kieran Beck, was a near-masterpiece of coaching.

The only program in the state that compares with what Walsh has accomplished in Danvers is the Putnam squad from Springfield that goes for a third straight Division 1 state championship tomorrow.

Clad in his white shirt and tie, Walsh will be prowling the Danvers sideline tomorrow at the DCU Center eyeing a date with history. In fact, he has already made a great deal more history this season with a 26-0 record. But the sweetness of those first 26 wins will only remain pure and timeless if they can do it one  more time, pressure be damned, tomorrow against Marlborough.

John Paul Walsh will do everything  in his power to  ensure No. 27 happens as scheduled.






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