For Lowell, a Tough Act to Follow
LOWELL -- It’s been more than eight months since the Lowell High boys basketball team dropped a 71-68 heartbreaker to Everett in the Division 1 North semifinals.
The Red Raiders have had ample time to dust themselves off and use that narrow loss to the eventual sectional champion Crimson Tide as motivation going forward. And on Monday, the process of turning that motivation into results officially began, as high school basketball teams across the state took to the court for the first time.
Most schools will play their 2018-19 season openers in just two weeks.
Over at the John Abraham Gym inside the Raymond E. Riddick Fieldhouse, over 100 Lowell players showed up for Night 1 of tryouts. Red Raiders’ head coach Bob Michalczyk certainly will have plenty to survey over the next couple of days as he decides how to fill the few available spots on his talented roster.
“I think our expectations are the same as every year,” said Michalczyk. “We really only lost a couple of guys, so we got a little bit older, a little bit more experienced. If they come out and play hard, they’ll do well.”
Yes, Lowell did only lose a couple of players. But one of them happened to be the program’s all-time leading scorer, Alex Rivera, now playing across town at UMass Lowell. The departure of the two-time Sun Player of the Year leaves some giant shoes to fill. But Lowell’s cupboard remains plenty stocked.
Senior captain and forward Justin Villanueva, and junior guards Carlos Nunez and Nate Siow give the Red Raiders proven production and stability. Senior guard Rashawn Settles and senior forward Deven Okowuga also saw big minutes during last year’s 18-5 campaign.
The Red Raiders provided a glimpse of what they’re capable of by winning the perennially competitive North Andover fall ball league, which always attracts many of the best teams in the area.
“Everyone can score, everyone plays defense. Ball movement is huge for us,” said Villanueva, fresh off a strong football season as a linebacker and running back for LHS.
“One game, Nate’s going to have 20. The next game, Carlos will have 20. The next game, it’ll be Deven,” he said. “I don’t know how other teams will game plan for us yet, but we’ll see.”
Michalczyk said it will be a team effort to account for the scoring provided by Rivera, who averaged 25 points per game last season and totaled 1,589 for his career. Siow averaged 13 points and Nunez averaged 12 in 2017-18, as both were named Sun All-Stars. Both guards are exceptionally quick and tenacious defenders, and both play with confidence.
“We have a bunch of guys who have come a long way. When somebody goes down, somebody steps up,” said Michalczyk. “These guys, their M.O. is still playing defense -- that’s what gets them going.”
The Red Raiders hope it’ll be enough to keep them going deep into March.
Follow Matt Langone on Twitter @MattLangone