Danvers Boys Cagers (15-4) Thrive In Part By Not Having a Conscience Individually Or Collectively

How do I love this amazing group of Danvers High boys basketball players, to borrow a famous phrase (partly) from Elizabeth Barrett Browning? Let me count the ways. And there are many.

But the No. 1 way is simple enough, and most evident if you’ve had the chance to watch the defending Div. 2 state champions march to a 15-4 mark as they rest  after winning the Holliston High/Keough Tournament and before they continue their six game road trip to conclude the regular season.

The No. 1 way? They have no conscience; they’re riverboat gamblers every trip up and down the floor, be they on offense or defense. That’s a tribute to Coach John Walsh and his staff and to the players themselves. I state no conscience in complimentary fashion. It’s a quality I believe Coach John Walsh felt he had to instill in his charges in order to get the very max out of their individual and collective talents. After all — and this is a recording — this was a group coming off a perfect 27-0 season that was dominated at both ends of the floor (with the exception of guard/forward Devonn Allen) by 6-10 Peter Merry, 6-4 Devon Harris and 6-4 Vinny Clifford.

This, his sixth super successful DHS baskets squad in as many years, needed a personality of its own and they’ve got it. Thanks to the improved play of all the returnees, namely Allen, Rashad “Rudy” Francois, Tre Crittendon and Mike Nestor, plus newcomers to the rotation like Kieran Moriarty, Tahg Coakley and Justin Roberto, it was easier for these kids to develop this so-called personality, i.e. playing with adequate control but considerable abandon as well.

Simply put, the Falcons have never been shy from the opening tap in Game 1 about firing up three-pointers from pretty much anywhere inside the midcourt line. At the same time, they have never hesitated, at least the primary basket attackers, Francois and Allen, from driving to the basket no matter what kind of defense they faced.

The beauty of it all is that the perimeter weave offense Walsh has maintained over the years has never been more important than this year, what with no regular over 73 inches in height. This controlled offense involves all five players on the floor and is devised to create one of two situations:

  1. a clear three-point shot or 2) a glaring seam in the opponent’s defense that invites the Falcon with the ball, ideally Francois or Allen (although also available for the noticeably improved offensive Nestor or Crittendon), to dribble for the hoop, whether he’s in a 1-on-1 situation or not

Walsh has the penetrators and the three-point launchers (Allen, Francois, Crittendon, Nestor, Roberto) that give the shudders to every rival coach. Next up Masconomet Sunday at 3:30 at Boxford, then at Peabody Wednesday night at 7 when a victory earns the Falcons the Northeastern Conference Large Division title in their first year playing in that section. The last four years they’ve won the NEC Small, this year the domain of Salem. As a sidelight, Peabody may need the game to qualify for the Eastern Mass. tournament.

The same “no conscience” approach applies to the Danvers defense, which throughout Walsh’s out-of-this-world tenure (120-23) has been gesred to a nose-to-nose man strategy that wears other teamds down and leads to a huge turnover differential game after game after game with few exceptions, win or lose.

This defensive mindset, based on taking chances, looking to make steals and, most important, the amazing stamina and quickness of his guards and forwards, has paid huge dividends, never moreso than this year because of the team’s lack of size.

Gadzooks, I’ve never seen a powerhouse team from the North Shore, and I’m spanning 45 years of watching, play the productive, pressure defense, halfcourt or full, that delivers the results this group has.

“Sure, we gamble some,” says Walsh. “You need a gambling element and get the most out of a defense that has so little size but a good deal of quickness.”

The most beautiful aspect of this devil-may care (with restraint) approach is that Walsh has given his kids some flexibility/freedom on the floor whether on offense or defense, no matter where they are on the floor.

“These kids are made for this kind of approach,” Walsh noted. “They’re in great shape, they’re athletic and quick and they get results. ”

Let’s hope it continues Sunday at Masconomet, Wednesday at Peabody (that will be six road games in a row) and the start of their Div. 2 state title a few days later in the DHS fieldhouse, where they’ve won 29 straight.





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