By ADAM SHINDER & MICHAEL KELLY
It is time to officially turn the page on fall sports and hit the hardwood.
(That cheering sound you just heard were local sports reporters throughout the Northeast realizing they get to head indoors from the cold.)
In all seriousness, there is a lot to be excited about with the local basketball scene for the 2013-14 season. Several teams are likely to contend for league titles, the locally-filled Western Athletic Conference figures to provide its usual share of wackiness -- pun intended -- and drama, and even the squads firmly in "rebuilding mode" have enough interesting pieces to remain relevant deep into this winter.
In advance of the high school hoops season beginning next week, The Recorder's Michael Kelly and Adam Shinder are here with a discussion on what to expect from the 2013-14 basketball season.
A year ago, Fonda-Fultonville's Will Turner and Fort Plain's Abby Boyer were The Recorder's picks for the area's top players. Both are back -- who challenges them for top area billing?
MK: I'm going to kick this off with the girls -- and the No. 2 slot on their side is wide open. The natural picks for this spot -- Boyer's teammate Haley Kilmartin and Broadalbin-Perth's Katie Herba -- had (basketball) offseason injuries, so this becomes a different looking kind of race than we would have expected after the 2012-13 season. I think the natural heir to this No. 2 spot now becomes Fonda-Fultonville's Emily Parslow.
AS: Parslow's definitely a good choice. She's an explosive scorer who isn't afraid to shoot from anywhere on the floor and is good enough with the ball to create her own shot. Plus, the Lady Braves should have the size on the inside to clear out space for her. I'd also give a shot to Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville's Rylie Smith, who did a lot of scoring as a sophomore and could be poised for an even bigger junior year. How about the boys?
MK: Given what was lost from the Canajoharie Cougars, I could see Dillan Veeder's numbers catching up to the on-court value he already possesses for head coach Phil Schoff. The Cougars lost the bulk of their perimeter production, so we could see Veeder average around 15 points. If he hits that mark and plays his usual all-around game, I could see him leading the Cougars on a postseason run.
AS: And I'll put my two cents in for the other returning Canajoharie star, junior forward Josh Gonzalez. He was on an absolute roll as last season ended, racking up double-doubles with ease in both the WAC Cup and the Section II Class C tournament. With an improved game away from the basket, there might not be a defender in the WAC that can guard him one-on-one -- which is why the Cougars are expecting to face a lot of zone defenses this season.
MK: Building off of that, it was a funny scene at the Braves' practice earlier this week. While most clubs are still putting in sets to use against basic defenses, the Braves were working on how to attack the box-and-one defenses that they are expecting to see because of Turner. I can't remember ever seeing a team practice how to play against such a defense.
Let's look into the future (a little bit). Which underclassman or player new to the varsity level is poised for a breakout season?
AS: The Amsterdam girls are making wholesale changes to their lineup -- that'll happen with the departure of eight graduated seniors from the 2012-13 Lady Rams -- and the biggest one could be the addition of freshman Nina Fedullo. Head coach Eric Duemler's high on the athleticism and length that his younger players possess, and Fedullo's at the head of that class at 5-foot-9 with the ability to handle the ball and line up at four spots on the floor.
MK: Broadalbin-Perth's Preston Taylor, after starting a year ago as an eighth grader, is the one to watch. The Patriots have some solid players around Taylor -- including his big brother, Andre -- and I could see him really breaking out in his freshman campaign.
AS: How about another pick at B-P? Connor Pingitore hit some huge shots in sectionals a year ago when he was a JV call-up as a freshman. If he can come in and provide that same touch from distance as a full-time varsity player this season, that'll go a long way toward making the Patriots legitimate contenders in a Foothills Council picture that's a bit in flux beyond league favorite Scotia-Glenville.
MK: Yeah, well, how about another pick at B-P! Or not; I'll let you win that round. I'll instead head to the Running Rams' roster and select sophomore guard Kory Bergh. He is in his first season on the Rams' varsity and is likely not going to be a starter, but I could see Bergh providing at least a couple of performances worth remembering this winter. Of the dozen healthy players on the Rams' roster, Bergh is already the one most capable of creating his own shot.
AS: Beyond that, I think we're mostly looking at returning players making the biggest impact, though I'm sure we'll be surprised by a few underclassmen we've yet to get a chance to see in game action.
Within the context of their leagues and classifications, the Canajoharie boys and the Galway girls figure to be the top area teams. But what teams are you most excited to see this season?
MK: The Fonda-Fultonville Braves are going to be fun to watch this winter. There is the obvious reason -- Will Turner is pretty decent at hoops -- but I think this team has a sneaky-good player in point guard Luke Calkins and enough solid role players to make itself into a potential dark horse in Section II Class B.
AS: The Braves will certainly be an interesting puzzle to figure out early in the season, because at least early on, you'd figure most teams will concentrate the bulk of their efforts on defending Turner, meaning that the cast around him is going to get plenty of chances to create on offense -- something that hurt the Braves a season ago when the supporting cast couldn't score. I'm also excited to see if anyone in the WAC North can step up to challenge Canajoharie, mainly at Fort Plain, where the Hilltoppers graduated a lot of important players, but have an excellent defensive-minded coach in Casey Russom.
MK: I'm going to stick to the boys' side of things and bring up the Amsterdam Running Rams. The size is not there for them -- again -- but the level of athleticism for this year's bunch is higher than a year ago. Wins might not pile up for the Rams this season, but the club is going to run and gun -- thus, they will be fun.
AS: On the girls' side, I'm interested to see how B-P and Fort Plain cope with injuries, but I'm also excited to see how things progress at Canajoharie. The Lady Cougars were a team dominated by sophomores and juniors a year ago and struggled for a good deal of the season. Now, they're all a year older and -- as evidenced by the fact that the majority of the players were also part of Canajoharie's sectional champion girls soccer team -- there's plenty of athleticism to go around.
MK: The Lady Patriots are the club that will improve the most as the season goes along. Graduation, injuries and whatnot has left the team's roster with virtually no game experience at the varsity level. Still, I expect head coach Mike Magliocca to figure out a way to at least make the Lady Patriots competitive on most nights.
Looking beyond the local scene, what sticks out the most for this upcoming campaign of Section II basketball?
AS: I'm wondering if this year is when the Big 10's grip is finally broken on the Section II Class AA championship. The city and private schools from the Big 10 have dominated the biggest classification for years now, but defending champion Troy is playing in Class A this season. Christian Brothers Academy is loaded for bear as usual with a bevy of returning starters, but so is a Green Tech team that knocked off CBA in the Class AA semifinals a year ago. With star guard Jamil Hood Jr. in the fold, the Eagles -- who play an independent schedule -- might be the team to break the Big 10 stranglehold.
MK: I think this is the year. Green Tech has the majority of its meaningful pieces back and Hood enters the season as my pick for the area's top player. Also, if Green Tech does not get it done this year, we can stop wondering when the Big 10's reign will end -- because it won't.
AS: On the flip side, I'm also interested to see if last year was the start of a shift in power in girls basketball from the Suburban Council to the Big 10. Albany won Class AA last season and Troy won Class A, and both teams should be strong again this year. While the depth will always favor the Suburban schools -- after all, there are just seven girls basketball teams in the Big 10 -- the top-end talent may have shifted.
MK: Speaking of top-end talent, I think we're going to see a really fresh crop of new faces show up this season as the area's big-time players. While many of the small-school players of note are back from a year ago, the top names in large-school basketball are mostly gone. In particular, the group that just left the Big 10 on the boys' side was one of the best overall classes in several years.
AS: That's definitely true, considering Troy lost a fantastic class led by current Siena freshman Javion Ogunyemi and La Salle lost reigning Big 10 player of the year Ralph Erickson. It'll also be strange to see a Watervliet team without Jordan Gleason in the fold, and the Cannoneers lost Tyler McLeod to graduation, as well. It'll be on players like Hood at Green Tech to carry the mantle as the top talents in the section this season.
Time to show some guts: What are some bold predictions for this upcoming season?
MK: I'll start with one about the Amsterdam Running Rams. This team is again going to struggle with mismatches in the post in the Big 10, but I think this year's Rams will win enough games to snare a top-six seed in the Section II Class A tournament. As a reminder, the Rams were the No. 10 team in an 11-team field in 2013.
AS: I'll counter with one for the Amsterdam girls. The Lady Rams are young and they probably won't contend with Albany and Troy for the league title -- though we'll get a glimpse right out of the gate as the Lady Rams open against Albany -- but I'm penciling the Lady Rams in for a solid third-place finish in the league during the regular season, which should give them a home game in sectionals.
MK: I think one of the two Class B boys squads -- Broadalbin-Perth and Fonda-Fultonville -- makes it at least to the Section II Class B semifinals. We've talked Braves basketball a bunch, but B-P has enough scorers -- the Taylors, Connor Pingitore up from the JV, and others -- to give teams fits come the postseason.
AS: Here's my boldest one -- the Canajoharie boys will win the Section II Class C championship. The two Class C finalists from last year, Lake George and Hoosic Valley, should both be strong again, but with a year of experience under its belt, a huge front line and two star players in Veeder and Gonzalez, Canajoharie is a matchup nightmare.
MK: If any of this stuff happens, it will make for a great season of hoops. As it is, the area's cast of characters and teams should produce its share of exciting moments this winter.