READING — After a slow start a year ago the Reading High boys basketball team came on strong in the second half of last year’s regular season to win six of its final eight games to make the tournament.
The Rockets went on to upset Wakefield on its home court to reach their first sectional quarterfinal game since 2012 before bowing at Gloucester.
The Rockets won’t have an easy path to the tournament this season, given the loss of four senior starters that included All-Star guard Matt Sannella (Suffolk) and 3-point sharpshooter Owen Mulvey (38 threes) who gave a spark off the bench.
Yet there’s hope Reading can still qualify for post-season play again this season, as returning starter Taylor Marchant, a 6-0 combo guard, should make a major impact to the team’s fortunes. Marchant averaged 8.5 points a game a year ago and should improve on that stat as well as his 3-point shooting where he made 22 from distance a year ago.
“We have some experience with two third-year seniors and four who are back for their second year with us, so they will be our leaders this year,” said 17th-year head coach Paul Morrissey (173-170). “We also have seven juniors who are mostly new to our team that will give us added depth off the bench, along with a couple of new sophomores that will give us more support in the backcourt.”
Morrissey feels aggressive defensive play and more speed will be the strengths for the Rockets this year who have their share of athletes.
“Our defense will be tough, since we want to be the team that makes the other team work to score,” said Morrissey. “We also have some team speed and we’re faster this year, and I feel that will be a big benefit for us as well. We’re not a big team, but the entire league is not that big to begin with.”
The Rockets will go with two forwards and three guards this season, similar to what Reading has used in previous years. The front court will be led by third-year senior captain Colin DuRoss (6-2), who returns for his second year as the starting power forward. DuRoss was plagued by injuries a year but should provide tough inside play for scoring and rebounds.
“Colin (DuRoss) is not only a strong power forward but also a very good defensive player,” said Morrissey. “He’s a smart kid who runs the offense very well, and he’s a captain and a leader who runs the floor well. He gets to the basket for inside scoring. We’re hoping for big things from him this year.”
Also up front is senior Tommy Carter (6-2), who was on the varsity last year but did not see much playing time. Similar to DuRoss, Carter can get to the basket, grab rebounds, and run the floor effectively.
“Tommy (Carter) had a real good off-season and worked real hard, and he’s also a good defensive player,” said Morrissey. “He’s very effective in the low post, and also runs the floor well.”
Also in the mix at forward is senior Cole Tully (6-1), who was also a bench player last year but will see more playing time in the front court and could start on occasion this season.
Other back-up forwards who can provide added size and strength include junior newcomers Dan DiMare (6-2), Matt Blasi (6-3), Pat Harrigan (6-4), Brady Johnson (6-2), and Shaun Bekkenhuis (6-2). Morrissey indicated Bekkenhuis is out with an injury right now, and is uncertain when he will return to action.
The backcourt also has some depth and experience with three seniors who will likely be the three starting guards.
Marchant will be the centerpiece of the team and is in his third year with the varsity. He is a good all-around guard who rebounds and plays good defense as well as score.
“Taylor (Marchant) has more size this year with long arms, and he’s one of the smartest kids we have,” said Morrissey. “He runs the floor real well, he’s very aggressive defensively, and he’s worked hard to improve his outside shot. He will be a big part of our offense this year.”
Alongside Marchant in the backcourt will be senior Tim Sahagian (6-0), who was a back-up guard last year and now will assume the role as the starting off guard. Sahagian came off the bench last year on occasion and made a bit of a name for himself with his 3-point shooting. He also won the Watertown game late in the season with his late basket.
“Tim (Sahagian) came in and quite often hit some big shots for us last year,” said Morrissey. “He’s a great shooter who is not afraid to shoot from outside, and he’s tough defensively and will really help us out this season.”
The other starter in the backcourt is senior Alex Dean (5-11), who saw limited action a year ago, but is now ready to start alongside Marchant and Sahagian. Dean will provide added speed and effective outside shooting.
Other back-up guards who will provide support in the backcourt include junior newcomers Nick Perez (5-10) and Adam DiNapoli (5-9), and sophomore newcomers Jacob Carter (5-8) and Patrick DuRoss (6-0). Morrissey mentioned Perez was injured in the Thanksgiving Day football game, and will be likely be out until sometime in January.
“Every game will be a hard challenge since every team we play will be prepared for us,” said Morrissey. “I feel the battle in our division will be a real rock fight. This year will be a little different with everyone starting late, but while we don’t have much size we have some experience with our starters. So we’ll just go day to day with what we have and see what happens.”
Reading begins the regular season on Friday when it hosts Winchester at the Hawkes Field House (5:15 p.m.).