It was not that long since Winchester High’s Michael Grassey was tearing it up both on the football field as a quarterback, and on the basketball court as a player who could excel at any position, and did so for the Sachems because it was needed.
Grassey was the Daily Times Chronicle’s Player of the Year in both football and boys basketball during the school year of 2014-15. The 6-foot-4 Grassey chose to pursue basketball in college at Hamilton College in upstate New York and transitioned into the perfect situation where he could continue his competitive hoop career at the proper level, and get a high-quality education.
Once a 1000-point scorer in high school, now a senior at Hamilton, which plays in the highly competitive New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), Grassey recently became a 1000-point scorer in college too.
In his senior year as a Sachem, Grassey had the school’s highest scoring (570) and rebounding (329) seasons ever, while becoming Winchester’s third all-time scorer (1101) and second all-time rebounder (641) in the process.
In addition, Grassey set a new school record for consecutive free throws made (24), all the while being most known for his brilliant stroke from beyond the 3-point-line. Grassey did well in those categories too, but his leadership role on the team dictated that he concentrate on all areas of his game.
As a senior at Winchester High, Grassey averaged 24.8 ppg and was named co-MVP of the Middlesex League’s Liberty Division along with Arlington Miles Robinson.
When he went to Hamilton, Grassey came off the bench his freshman season getting 17 minutes a game and scoring 9.4 points per game. Since the beginning of his sophomore year, he’s started 59 of 63 games at the wing in the 2-3-4 slots. Nowadays, it is the stroke from beyond the arc that is cherished (48.1 percent this season), as well as Grassey’s ability to post up.
Grassey averaged 12.4 and 12.8 points per game the last two seasons and has gotten his senior year off to a 15.2 points per game start for the first nine contests.
“The toughest part was adjusting to the speed of the college game,” he said. “There’s no time to make adjustments, and very limited time to make decisions.”
Grassey has also played a significant role as team made the climb from mediocrity in his freshman year to heights now (No. 4 in the country in Division 3) that have not been achieved since the 1990s.
“There were four of us who started out at the same time on the course we are on now,” said Grassey. “We built up chemistry while staying the course over the four years and now as seniors we are seeing the rewards.”
The Continentals really began to make an impact, last year, getting nationally ranked for the first time, hosting a NESCAC conference tournament game, and advancing to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, where it was one stop away from beating Springfield College, which eventually reached the final.
“Every year we’ve gone from the bottom to where we are now, hoping to win our first title,” said Grassey. “There has been a huge change in the culture at the school and it’s great to be a part of it.”
Grassey reached the 1000-point on Dec. 8 against Elmira, the same night as teammate Kena Gilmour.
“It was a really cool achievement,” he said. “And getting it the same game as one of my teammates made it even more special.”
Like many of the students at Winchester High, his senior year, Grassey was deeply affected by the loss of his close friend and football teammate, Pat Gill, who died in a tragic car accident in September of that season.
Grassey has wanted to wear Gill’s football No. 11 (he played hockey in the winter) since freshman year at Hamilton, but a player a year ahead of him already had the number up until this season. Grassey let the Gill family know what he was doing and they very much supported the decision.
“Senior year I decided to wear it for Pat and it’s been nice to represent him,” he said. “His spirit is something I wanted to have with me everywhere we go this year.”
The Continentals (9-0) will have designs on at least making the tournament semifinals this year, and his high school coach, John Fleming, is one of many people who will be tracking Grassey’s and the team’s progress every step of the way…
The Game of the Week had to be the Reading-Woburn girls, both for its competitiveness and its significance to the Lady Rockets, who haven’t quite been able to dispute the ML Liberty title the way the Tanners and Belmont have been able.
The focus was on the stars, particularly the game had by ML Liberty Division MVP candidate Haley Lightbody. Reading coach Jim DeBenedictis stressed the contributions of all the players, as did Woburn coach Steve Sullivan in regards to the Tanners’ junior star guard, Ashlyn Pacheco.
“Everybody who went out on the floor and contributed,” said DeBenedic-tis, after the game. “I can’t say enough about Bella Zagami’s leadership. Our 4-0 start is all about her. She has really sacrificed herself. She takes key, timely shots instead of shooting all the time, and she defers to everyone else. (Freshman) Jackie Malley had an off night — she didn’t get any threes — but she kept fighting and fighting, and that’s what good teams do, right down the line.”…
A sidelight to Friday’s battle in Woburn was Lightbody eclipsing 1000 points during the game when she scored her 30th point of the night (she finished with 32).
It was pretty much pre-determined that the fourth-year varsity senior would reach the milestone during this week’s non-league tournament, but after she got off to a great start, and kept it going all the way through against the Tanners, doing it at Torrice Gym and in a great atmosphere made the accomplishment that more special.
“I’m so glad it happened in a Middlesex League gym,” said DeBenedictis. “If she had fallen short (Friday) we would have had to go to Masco. There’s nothing wrong with Masco but this is where it belongs. It’s the perfect place, the perfect time; it belongs here in the Middlesex League where she is one of the great players in the league.”
Lightbody is the sixth Lady Rocket to score 1000 points in her career. Also making it even more remarkable, she does it basically without the 3-point shot. For her career, the 5-7 guard has only made seven 3-pointers — one as a freshman, zero as a sophomore, six as a junior, and none so far this year.
The “three” really is not a part of her repertoire as she attacks the basket at will; can finish at the rim, and makes her free throws at the line.
And to show the type of athlete Lightbody is, she recently signed a letter of intent to attend Stonehill to compete for its track team.
After a few days off for the holidays, the action picks up again both in the form of holiday tournaments and general, non-league games. The Woburn boys host Groton-Dunstable, Thursday at 4 p.m., while the Reading girls are at Masconomet at 7 p.m. The Burlington boys play in a Tewksbury holiday tournament, Thursday and Friday, with games beginning at 5 and 7 p.m. The Red Devils draw Acton-Boxborough in their opener, Thursday night at 7 p.m. The Reading boys will play Wakefield in a non-league game as part of the Warriors’ holiday tournament, Friday (5:30 and 7:30 p.m.) and Sunday (1 and 3 p.m.) with the other teams competing Waltham and O’Bryant. The Reading-Wakefield game starts at 7:30. The Warriors won the league season-opener, 55-47. The Winchester girls host their holiday tournament Thursday and Friday at 12:30 and 2 p.m. The Sachems host Medford at 2 p.m. on Thursday. The first round of this tournament was their first and only win, last year, and they nearly won the final as well. Winchester will be looking for the first win of the season again on Thursday.
(Mark Nadeau’s “Around the Rim” column appears during the high school basketball season.)