READING — With some free time last weekend, Reading boys head basketball coach Paul Morrissey got to witness some Middlesex League games online. What he saw was really not that surprising.
“It looked like a first scrimmage game,” said the Rocket coach who is now in his 18th year. “I expect that to be us on Saturday.”
It is good that Morrissey can even utter that comment since it wasn’t until Thursday morning that he was given the go ahead to resume the season. The Reading boys basketball team has, in Morrissey’s words, had “four sessions,” he wouldn’t even really call them practices. The team, along with the rest of the RMHS sports programs, have been shut down since Dec. 30 due to COVID-19.
But, they are back and Reading will open up at home against Winchester on Saturday at 1 p.m.
In a normal year there could be a nice buzz around this year’s Reading High team since it appears to be a real nice mix between old and young players. Despite losing its starting five a year ago, who were all seniors, most of the returning kids were all rotation players while there are both older and even more younger players ready to step up.
Coming of a decent .500 season that did accomplish the goal of making the tournament, expectations are Reading can take a step forward this year in this abbreviated what is now just a nine-game schedule (more on that later).
“I really am looking forward to (the season),” said Morrissey. “This group is very coachable and it is a nice blend of young and old players. Many kids know each other already. I’m very excited.”
The Rockets have size and skill and of course their noted toughness brought about by a roster that features a fair amount of RMHS football players.
Usually a Reading High boys basketball roster at times could be interpreted as a bunch of football players who play basketball, but that is not entirely the case this time. And Morrissey is amused by the progression that football follows his sport and not vice versa this year.
So those gridiron players should have their focus on the hardwood first and be thankful that they are playing high school sports and will be ready to compete.
Starting in the middle will be 6-4 “fifth-year” senior Pat Harrigan who was granted a waiver to be eligible to play this school year.
Harrigan, an outstanding wide receiver in football, really came into his own by mid-season a year ago in hoop. His athleticism, length and toughness will cause some problems for the opposition. His skill-level also improved as last season went on.
“Pat works hard and he’s a good rebounder,” said Morrissey. “He’s a tall kid who has done some nice things for us around the basket.”
However, Harrigan will be missing the opener due to COVID protocols and will have to work his way back in.
The front court overall will be a strength since five of the team’s seven seniors are forwards. Among this group competing for starting roles up front is senior co-captain Dan DiMare (6-1), who was a bench player a year ago appearing in 14 games. DiMare just committed to play football at Bentley.
“Dan (DiMare) is a rugged kid who really plays hard,” said Morrissey. “He plays mostly around the basket.”
Other seniors competing to start in the front court include Matt Blasi (6-2), Brady Johnson (6-0) and Shaun Bekkenhuis (6-1), who all have the size to be a tough competitors.
Among the newcomers who are also competing for a starting role in the front court include junior Carter Fox (6-3), and sophomore James Murphy (6-4), the quarterback for the Reading football team, who is also competing at center.
Sophomore Jesse Doherty (6-1) is a bit of a swingman who undoubtedly will fit in the picture somewhere after playing a lot of minutes as a freshman a year ago.
A 3-point threat, who was not shy to shoot a year ago coming off the bench as a freshman, Doherty has the potential this year of putting together an all-around game.
At guard that is plenty of competition and Morrissey has a nice dilemma of trying to find playing time for this talented group.
Among the more traditional guards is senior captain Adam DiNapoli (5-10), who should help the team with good defensive play.
“Adam (DiNapoli) is a good defender and he knows his role really well,” said Morrissey. “He also runs the floor really well.”
Although he is not available for the opener, junior Jacob Carter (5-8) was a rotation player a year ago. He can shoot the three and should be a more confident player with the experience he earned a year ago.
“Jacob (Carter) played a lot last year for us as a sophomore,” said Morrissey. “He can shoot well and go to the basket, and he’s a very quick kid.”
A second returning junior competing for a starting role in the backcourt is Patrick DuRoss (6-0), who is back for a second year, and will be relied on for defense.
“Patrick (DuRoss) got into some games for us (early) last year as a sophomore,” said Morrissey. “He’s another rugged kid who’s a very good defender.”
Keep an eye on a pair of sophomore guards who know how to play the game well above their age.
Point guard Tim Mulvey (5-8) has a great basketball pedigree with his dad being one of Belmont High’s all-time greats and older brother Matt a prep school star at Brooks, who will go on to play college basketball.
Aidan Bekkenhuis (5-11), Shaun’s brother, may be more of a combo guard who always seems to be in the right spots. Most Reading basketball observers feel he is a player with great potential who will be contributing for the next three years.
Another senior competing to start in the backcourt is Nick Perez (5-10), who returns for a second year. Perez is a good shooter with some speed. Junior Loyal Alexander (6-0) worked hard and made the varsity roster as a reserve.
But, yes, this will be a strange season and the team, and coaches, will be learning and dealing with things as they go.
“Foul shots will be different and the out of bounds plays have changed (due to restrictions),” said Morrissey. “And just getting used to the masks is a challenge.”
For now, it is just a nine-game schedule as last week’s game with Winchester was cancelled. The Middlesex League is leaving open the possibility of playing an extra game during February vacation week. It could be a crossover game with the Freedom perhaps. But, in this Covid season, nothing is set in stone and everything is a fluid situation.
Still, it looms as an exciting season for Reading.
“I feel our strength is that we have a lot of kids who have played before with us,” said Morrissey. “We have a nice blend of kids who have played before, and some new young kids who I feel are pretty good.”
As for Saturday’s opener?
“Wait and see,” said Morrissey. “We’ll probably us more kids as if it was a scrimmage.”
(Ken Kotelly also contributed to this report.)