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Nipmuc Basketball Laying a Foundation
As the old, cliché saying goes, "Rome was not build in a day." Neither was success on the basketball court. That's something Nipmuc first-year head coach Bob Manzello understands. Despite his team beginning the week with a 1-14 record, you'll hear nary a hint of pessimism from the way he talks about them.
"There are times when the kids will get together and have players only meetings," he said. "I still have kids showing up at 6 a.m. to shoot, all on their own time. They shower, go to class, do their homework, and then practice at night." He added, "When you have high school kids waking up at five in the morning to get to a gym and they are doing all by themselves, I can't complain one bit about their effort and their heart."
The results are starting to show. The Warriors played tough with a pair of tournament-bound teams last week, falling to Auburn by 14 and Douglas by 12. Nipmuc had early leads in both games, and Manzello is taking it as a strong sign of improvement.
"The kids are starting to get it," he said. "If you look at the last couple of games, we've played good teams and competed. I am not about taking moral victories, but its clear things are getting better."
Another reason for the new coach's optimism; three of his key cogs are coming back next year. Junior Nick Greer leads the team and is fourth in the Dual Valley League in scoring at 12.7 points per game. He dropped 22 against Auburn and added a game-high 23 against Douglas. The St. John's transfer added nine rebounds in each contest.
"It's more than just the numbers, he is really setting himself up to be a leader of this team," said Manzello. "He is getting his share of assists and has definitely been a bright spot."
Two other underclassmen, sophomore Tom Sperino and junior Brandon Esker, are also members of the starting lineup and each average around six points per game.
"Sperino is really playing well," said Manzello of the 6'3" forward. "He has great toughness and is the kind of kid who likes to compete. When he makes a mistake, he gets upset, but in a positive way. He always wants to get better and just keeps grinding. Brandon is playing really well lately. He has been a starter since the beginning of the year and has a good basketball IQ. He's getting better everyday. It's good to have three starters who are underclassmen."
A good foundation for a program cannot be laid without veteran leadership. Manzello has repeatedly praised seniors Nick Becker and Jim Lovely for providing that for the younger players.
It's anything but cliché to say the future is bright for Nipmuc basketball. In addition to Greer, Sperino, and Esker, who will all be back next season, the junior varsity team has lost just two games this year under coach Corey Phillips and Manzello says the middle school programs are looking especially strong.
"It's starting to come together this year, I see our team playing more as a team and playing better basketball," he said. "With the younger talent we have, there is some brightness on the horizon. I can easily see our program turning a corner."




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