Hawks putting pieces in place for repeat bid
The Bishop Hendricken basketball team is an amalgamation of key returners, up-and-comers, new faces and one vital transfer, but a repeat is in the cards if they can grow together and play their best at the right time.
The Hawks will need help all around after a summer that depleted their starting five.
The Hawks lost four of five starters during the offseason, leaving Gatorade Player of the Year and George Washington commit Justin Mazzulla as the sole remaining component. Billy Mueller, Trevor Lawton and Kyle Henseler graduated in June, while Preston Santos opted for prep school during the summer.
“We graduated a lot of guys last year,” Gomes said. “They were great kids, great players, team players, that showed on a daily basis what our culture was all about. So I think this year we’re hoping that the legacy that those graduates left behind will extend to this next group coming up. I like what I see so far, the effort, the communication, the leadership has been tremendous.”
There will be some difficult shoes to fill, but Mazzulla has the ability to take over an entire game by himself. The senior guard led the Hawks with 16 points per game last season, and his physical skills rival his leadership out on the floor.
He was often pitted against the opposition’s best threat, and more often than not he came out on the winning end of that matchup. His scoring and innate talent to create chances for his teammates make him the linchpin in Hendricken’s lineup.
“He’s like having another coach on the court,” Gomes said of Mazzulla. “He motivates these guys every day. He leads by example, he leads by voice. He’s a four-year starter for me. It’s like having me out on the court. The effort that he brings to every drill of every practice. He’s playing it like it’s his last. That has easily been seen by everybody on this team because they’ve fallen into line. They don’t want to let him down, either.”
Gomes said that defense will be integral to Hendricken’s success this season, and he has two senior leaders who can defend the basket exceptionally well. Mazzulla and Isaiah Mylers, who came off the bench last campaign, will lead the corps out on the floor.
In limited action, Mylers could find the open shot and pull down crucial rebounds for Hendricken. This time around, Gomes expects more out of the 6-foot-3 forward.
“It’s going to be baptism by fire,” Gomes said of Mylers. “Isaiah’s a tough kid. He’s relentless. That kid goes hard in everything that he does. Every little drill he does. I think it’s going to be a learning experience for him, but he’s ready for it. I told him this year, ‘Isaiah, we need 10-12 points a game out of you,’ and with the ferocity that he attacks the rim [with], he can make a living with dunks, layups and at the free throw line this year.”
Another Hawk tackling the learning curve is junior forward T.J. Weeks, who transferred to D-I Hendricken from down the street at Pilgrim. Weeks was a force with the Division III Pats, helping them to two playoff appearances and a state title in 2014-15.
Weeks will have to miss the first several weeks of the season because of the transfer rule. Once he suits up, though, Gomes predicts Hendricken will play at a much higher level
“I see a kid who is very coachable, who wants to learn and who’s working his tail off,” Gomes said of Weeks. “You put those three things together, the type of athlete that he is, he’s going to become a great player. We’re going to be good, but when he becomes eligible we’re going to go up three notches. I’m expecting big things out of him, but right now he’s learning. It’s a different culture, a different school. The speed is different, but he’s got it.”
The incoming 6-foot-3 junior isn’t the only unfamiliar face to the program. Three football players, who just put down their state championship trophy after winning it last week, have hit the gym to earn minutes. Sophomores Andre De Los Santos and Zach Brooks, along with senior Chris Hindle, have all made the final roster.
While those football players get their feet wet, a former one is taking on a more significant role. Sophomore Bobby Fiorito, who once piloted the Hawks to a freshman Super Bowl appearance, will likely find himself in the starting five this season.
Gomes said he has been impressed with Fiorito’s improvement. He has taken on new challenges as a player and a leader in just his second year, as he readies for increased point guard duties.
“He’s been very vocal,” Gomes said. “He’s been working very hard. He and I, we spent a lot of time in the summer and in the preseason just talking to each other about what his role is going to be this year and how he’s going to have to step it up as a leader, as a point guard, and his effort level every day and in games. He’s been doing a very nice job with that, so I’m expecting Bobby, based on what I’ve seen so far, to have a good season this year.”
In non-league action this year, Gomes has rolled out Mazzulla, Fiorito, Mylers, Jalen Watson and Nick Mueller as a starting five, but that lineup is fluid. He is still working out what rotations to use as the Hawks prepare for the D-I opener against Coventry on the road Monday night.
“Whether or not that’ll be the [lineup] come Monday, we’ll see,” Gomes said. “It’ll depend how we do. We’ve got to focus on Coventry coming up next week, we’ve got to go to their place. It’s always a tough place to play. We’re just going to go one at a time. We’re not mapping out anything right now.”
Hendricken has the pieces to work towards a repeat, but Gomes said there are still facets of the game on which the team needs to work. It’s no surprise for a squad that features a combination of some veteran, key contributors, players getting a substantial jump in minutes and guys who have never worked with the program before.
When the Hawks hit their stride, though, they have potential to be D-I’s best once again.
“We’ve got this thing we call a ‘team meter’ and that meter increases or decreases based on how we perform every single day, whether we win or lose,” Gomes said. “We hope to have that meter at 100 by the end of the year. Right now it’s at nine.”