Travel team profile: Mass Rivals

If you have been paying attention in recent years, you know that the Mass Rivals program has had a great run of late as one of the top travel programs in New England. But if your window is only that long, then you don’t know that Vin Pastore didn’t exactly see this in the cards about a dozen years earlier.

Back in the 1990s, Pastore coached a group led by Scott Hazleton and Anthony Anderson for the Mass Wildcats. Once Hazleton got to college, Pastore gave it up and was content watching his former players in college. A few years later, Mike Trovato approached him about getting an AAU team together. He came on board, and at first it was nothing like it is now. His name wasn’t known from being out of the mix for a few years.

Then it all changed when he saw a young player in Reading. He knew he had to coach Evan Smotrycz, now at Maryland, when he saw him and thought about his potential. Not long after that, he got Carson Desrosiers, a young big man in Windham, New Hampshire who went to Central Catholic and is now at Providence. Thus was born the modern-day Mass Rivals – a program to be reckoned with that has since included the likes of Noah Vonleh, Kaleb Joseph, Goodluck Okonoboh and has more to come. Vonleh projects as a lottery pick in the NBA Draft in June, while Joseph is off to Syracuse and Okonoboh is heading to UNLV.

Mass Rivals doesn’t play the AAU circuit much these days, although they’re hardly alone in that regard in this region. They now play the adidas Basketball Series, which is essentially their answer to Nike’s EYBL as the three sessions in the spring are qualifiers for the adidas Super 64 in July. In addition, Hazleton now coaches for the program, and he pushes players with about the same energy and intensity that Pastore does in practice.

A constant theme with the program is players being in the gym and getting better. This year’s high school teams, led by their juniors, should do more than just get better – they have the talent to win a lot of games along the way.

It starts with Jalen Adams (6’2″ Jr. SG, Boston (MA) Cushing Academy), who just last month led Cushing to a second straight NEPSAC Class AA title. He’s the best guard in New England as he can score with the best of them, and the high-major offers just keep rolling in. His primary help on the perimeter will consist of arguably the best young point guard in New England in Makai Ashton-Langford (6’0″ So. PG, Worcester (MA) St. Peter Marian), who is already good and has a lot of room for growth as he looks forward to prep school next year. Saul Phiri (6’3″ So. SG, Haverhill (MA) Worcester Academy) continues to get better and will take some pressure off Adams, with help from Curtis Cobb (6’4″ Jr. SG, Fall River (MA) Wilbraham & Monson Academy).

The frontcourt will be led by ever-improving Josh Sharma (6’11” Jr. PF-C, Lexington (MA) Northfield Mount Hermon). The big man hasn’t been playing long but looks better every time out, and his body isn’t even almost done maturing. He already has plenty of high-major suitors and more are sure to come. Chris Baldwin (6’7″ Jr. PF, Springfield (MA) Central HS) has always had potential but hasn’t put it together often. Marcel Pettway (6’6″ Jr. PF, Providence (RI) Wilbrahama & Monson Academy) gives them a big body who can rebound. The real “potential” player in this group, aside from Sharma, is Wenyen Gabriel (6’7″ Jr. SF-PF, Manchester (NH) Trinity HS), who is long, athletic and a baby physically. He has a lot of room for growth, and right now will look like he can be a prototypical small forward on one play before looking like he could barely play inside on another.

That’s not all they have in the upper age ranks. Wabissa Bede (5’10” So. PG, North Andover (MA) High) is a constant presence, as he never misses a workout and his intangibles are solid. He defends, leads some drills in practice and can drive and finish at the offensive end. Oumaru Kante (5’10” Jr. PG, Manchester (NH) Memorial HS) is a well-built athlete who has some offensive skills and will defend. David Watkins (6’6″ So. SF-PF, Dorchester (MA) Brimmer and May School) has developed since the start of the season and still has a lot of room to grow. Ashton-Langford’s school teammate, Greg Kuakumensah (6’4″ So. SF, Worcester (MA) St. Peter Marian), will likely play on the sophomore team as he looks ahead to prep school next year as well.

There is young talent in the pipeline as well that has Pastore excited for years beyond this one. Tyonne Malone (6’4″ So. SG-SF, Springfield (MA) Putnam HS) has potential and helped lead his school team to an undefeated season. Calvin Whipple (6’3″ Fr. SG, Lunenburg (MA) High) is part of an ever-expanding Worcester area presence for the program and can shoot from long range. Eighth grader Charles Hannah (6’3″ SF, Newton (MA) Fessenden School) is another to watch down the road.

Besides the adidas Basketball Series events in Dallas, Indianapolis and Orlando, the spring and summer schedule includes the Northeast Hoop Festival this weekend, a Basketbull event, the Mass Rivals Summer Showdown (an event they run after Memorial Day weekend) and the Hoopville Spring Finale. July begins with individual camps before team tournaments by Hoop Group and Basketbull, before wrapping up with the adidas Super 64.

Five Star Basketball ranks the Mass Rivals 17-under team in their preseason top 25, one of just two teams in New England to make it and they are the higher of the two. This spring and summer figures to see the great run the program is on continue, improbable as it might have once seemed.

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