WOBURN — There may be protocols to be followed, and new rules to the game, but the Woburn High boys’ basketball team will otherwise try and be the same Tanner basketball team Middlesex League Liberty opponents have come to expect.
Woburn will be a hardworking, hustling team on defense, and an aggressive team on offense, adept at shooting from beyond the arc as well as attacking the rim.
The Tanners, who made the tournament last year and finished 12-11, graduated their two captains, but they have since lost four more players for various reasons. Woburn has filled the vacancies and is ready to get started with the 2020-21 campaign.
“We are the new-look Tanners,” said Woburn coach Tom Sullivan. “We have a pretty good core group. We still could be as good as last year but we lost a lot of depth.”
The Tanners have two quality senior captains in Dylan McLaughlin and Will Kupris.
McLaughlin is a third-year starter who has averaged double figures the past two seasons. He has evolved from a great outside shooter (39 threes in ’19-20) into a great all-around player.
“Dylan is going to be an elite player in this league,” said Sullivan. “He’s our leading scorer and a good kid.”
Kupris saw limited time off the bench a year ago but made his impact with his perimeter shooting.
“Will has been in the program and is a good shooter,” said Sullivan. “He’s a tough kid and a good leader, and we are hoping he comes through with a big senior year.”
Woburn lost its two best inside players and that is where the challenge comes for this year’s team. They have the size to replace them but the new forwards are going to have to learn as they go in the highly competitive ML Liberty.
Senior Jake Perrotta is an excellent candidate to step up in this spot. He is a second-year player who got limited action last year.
“Jake had done a lot of work in the offseason and improved his game,” said Sullivan. “He has earned his way into a starting slot.”
The other senior is a first-year forward, George Paez, who has been helpful thus far as a practice player.
The junior class is led by the versatile Joe Gattuso (7.0 ppg), who can play either guard spot as well as on the wing. Gattuso has been primarily a sixth man his first two seasons, but has seen a lot of minutes and made many plays.
“Joe has worked hard and is up to about six feet (tall),” said Sullivan. “He can shoot, go to the rim and play different positions. We are counting on Joe and Dylan. They could be league all-stars.”
The fifth starter is returning junior, Michael Chiodo, who took over the starting point guard slot pretty early in the season and continually improved over the rest of the season.
“Michael is a good on-ball defender, and a good ball handler,” said Sullivan. “He has the potential to be a Div. 3 college player.”
Chiodo has grown and gotten stronger, similarly to the other starters, and that is a source of confidence for how this season could go in a positive direction.
“The kids have put in their work in the offseason,” said Sullivan. “We look a lot more mature. We are not giants but we look physically better.”
Sophomore Brett Tuzzolo (6-3) is the other returning player from last year.
“He can shoot and score inside and outside, and can rebound,” said Sullivan. “I really like him, he’s a nice player.”
One more potential inside weapon is 6-2 junior Kevin Kazadi, who Sullivan calls a “banger,” which is natural when you consider he’s a lineman on the football team. Kazadi returns after playing in the program as a freshman.
Freshman Jalen (JJ) Merlain has made the varsity for being the best in his class. Junior Lucas Maia is a streaky shooter and scorer.
“Lucas is and up-and-down, athletic, good player,” said Sullivan. “He’ll be coming off the bench but he is electric and can shoot the ball and get to the rim.”
Josh Freeman is another forward likely to get minutes off the bench and is ready to compete with the other candidates for those minutes.
“He can rebound and score, and I think he can help us this year,” said Sullivan, of the first-year junior. “He can score near the basket and rebound.”
Juniors who will provide further bench depth for Woburn are Tyler Sullivan, Zach Roderick and Mazen Fayad.
“Hopefully the basketball season will provide some stability for these kids,” said Sullivan. “I enjoy seeing them and it makes you appreciate competing. We’ve been following all the protocols and trying to do it the right way.”
The league is a bit wide open this year but Belmont still looms as the team to beat. The Tanners will be competing twice in succession against each of their ML Liberty rivals, beginning with Arlington, this weekend.
“We want to compete in every game,” said Sullivan. “We feel we can beat anyone on any given night if we play to our capabilities.”
The Spy Ponders will play host in the opening game at Koslowski Gym, Saturday at noon. The teams play again the following Saturday, at the same time, at Torrice Gym.