The Danvers High boys basketball team is experiencing a transition year with promising new head coach Jay Giddings, the Falcons having won but two games heading into tonight’s Northeastern Conference meeting at Revere – a good shot for win No. 3.
Throughout this struggling campaign, one of the brightest lights has been the three-point shooting of junior point guard Justin Roberto.
We got an idea of what kind of potential Justin had as a long range bomber last season as a sophomore when, filling in for the injured Devon Allen, Justin hit five clutch three-pointers in a hard-fought road victory at Marblehead.
This season he has taken his overall game — and three-point launching — to a new level. That was never more evident than during a recent three-game stretch in which Justin made 19 of 34 threes and averaged 30 points and the Falcons won their first game of the year at Saugus. In that same time frame The Falcons showed continued improvement as a team while losing on a last-second three-pointer at home to Salem and lost a sizable second half lead while falling at Winthrop.
Roberto, a 5-10, 160-pounder, scored a career-high 33 against Saugus.
“Justin has developed a great feel for the game,” says Giddings. “Offensively he has learned, and on occasion sensed, how to take advantage of what the defense gives him and how to best position himself to collect a teammate’s pass. He doesn’t force his shots. He’s not afraid to shoot long ranging he rarely forces a three.”
Justin started recognizing his three-point possibilities as a 15 point-per -game scorer as a freshman player on the DHS jayvees. “I took maybe five three-pointers a game,” he remembered. “Made maybe 2 of them, some games one or none. But the fact Coach (Bob) McKenna encouraged me was what mattered most.”
It worked right into then-coach John Walsh’s overall offensive strategy. The three-pointer played a major role in the Falcons’ historic championship run to five straight Northeastern Conference (NEC) titles and three state titles in a four-year span. Roberto was going to play a big part coming off the bench last year and the approach has not changed now with Giddings, a Walsh assistant, in charge.
Last year Roberto was a backup whose primary responsibility was to give the team an offensive punch with his three-point contributions. He came through often.
“I always felt comfortable shooting threes last year, especially after the Marblehead game,” Justin said. “Last year the coaches helped me improve by working on my footwork, getting my feet ready, keeping balanced, planted, before shooting; also in having the right spin, the right rotation, on the ball at release.”
Justin had not been happy with his three-point shooting this season until the Salem-Saugus-Winthrop package of games. He knew his shooting would eventually click at the level he wanted it too. He just didn’t know when. Then it happened like a explosion.
He shot 6-for-10 from threes and scored 29 points against Salem, a game lost only by a miraculous 5-for-5 three-point shooting performance from Ethan Espinal in the final quarter, the last coming with 1.2 seconds left; a heartbreaker for the Falcons to endure.
He followed that with 6-for-12 treys in the team’s first win at Saugus, accounting for more than half of his 33, then had his sharpest three-point showing yet, 8-for-12 and 28 points in another tough defeat, this time at Winthrop.
“The coach has told me to shoot the ball whenever I’m open,” says Justin, “and that’s a big lift for me mentally. He says I need to be one of the team’s shooters, so let it fly.”
Justin has been inspired in his development as a three-point threat by Vinny Clifford, a key player during the Falcons’ championship runs who now plays for Endicott College. “Coach Walsh set up three-point shooting contests between Vinny – a great shooter — and me two years ago when I was a freshman. I learned some aspects of the shot from him and just loved watching him fire away his senior year when we won the state title. What confidence he had, like in that amazing win we had that year at Lynn English when he made seven or eight of them.”
This year Justin, a shortstop-pitcher on the powerhouse DHS baseball team (state runner-up the last two years), shoots a lot outside the games with the team’s other long range bomber, Sean Rooney. “We have little contests against each other, hopefully making each of us better shooters from behind the line,” says Justin.
“Justin is playing with more confidence and that includes driving to the basket,” adds Giddings. “That aggressiveness is helping him get more daylight for his outside shooting.Most important, he’s willing to do whatever is best for the team to have the best chance to win the game.”
Giddings devised shooting drills for Justin to work on in the fall, such as coming off screens,and dealing with hands in his face and those workouts have paid off, he says. “I’ve got stronger legs and you need those to get more power behind the shots and a quicker release,” says Justin, who going into the Revere game had scored doubles in every game but one.
He’s hoping his shooting talent can help carry the Falcons to a bunch of wins the next few weeks.