Willis Ferreira has seen a lot of basketball over the years as a head basketball coach on Nantucket. Ferreira coached the Whaler girls varsity basketball team for 19 years and is entering his 10th season as the boys varsity coach. He feels as good about this team as any he has had because of the talent up and down the roster.
“We are loaded,” Ferreira said. “This team up and down the depth chart has skill and they are good at a lot of different things. We have size this year. We have some really talented shooters. We have guys who can drive to the rim and facilitate. I really like this team.”
Senior guard Justin Bloise is expected to lead the way for the Whalers. Ferreira said Bloise’s lateral movement and explosiveness warrants him getting as many looks as possible each game.
“Justin needs the ball in his hands,” Ferreira said. “We need to do a good job of getting Justin as many looks as we can whether it is on the ball or off the ball because his first step is incredible. He can get to the rim and finish. He should have a huge year.”
Junior Karson Wellington was the Whalers defensive ace last season and added size to his frame in the offseason. Ferreira expects Wellington to play a big role for this team alongside Bloise.
But the talent of this team doesn’t end after those two. 6’7 senior center JJ Bennett and 6’5 forward Jack Halik will be the defensive anchors for this Nantucket team that lacked size last season.
“We had Mooney last year but he missed a lot of time due to sickness and injury,” Ferreira said. “Then Max Beebe stepped in and helped us out, but other than that we didn’t really have any players who could bring that presence. Those two guys should help us defensively and on the boards. Beebe is back too and he is a player every coach wants on their team. He is an amazing kid.”
Ferreira looks at Bennett in particular as the x-factor that will decide how far this team can go in the state tournament. Bennett is currently dealing with an injury but is expected to be ready for the season opener next week. Ferreira said it will come down to how badly Bennett wants to win and compete on a consistent basis.
“JJ has all the skill. He dunks it like a crazy person. He has to be active all the time rather than just when he wants. I told him the other day he should have 15 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 blocks by halftime without trying too hard with his size and skillset,” Ferreira said. “He should be a force to be reckoned with. He needs to have a little more want to. He likes to shoot it but I told him would you rather make five jump shots or score 30 points? People are going to come in here to watch you dunk and give them a show so being around the hoop, in the paint, that is where you need to be.”
Sophomore Carlos Aguilar is expected to begin the season as the team’s starting point guard. Ferreira said Aguilar has the potential to be one of his team’s best offensive players this year after an up and down freshman season.
“I think Carlos will break out because he is so much more confident, played summer basketball for a travel team, and went to a lot of different camps,” Ferreira said. “His confidence is really high and he is very smart. I think football helped him a little bit with his strength. Last year he had Malique (Bodden) in front of him and we couldn’t get Carlos as many minutes because we needed Malique in there a lot. But Carlos is a great shooter and should have a big year.”
Sophomore Jayquan Francis may be the Whalers most explosive forward and will see plenty of minutes, Ferreira said. Sophomores JD Heneke, Dwayne Martin, and KC Holdgate will provide shooting off the bench.
Senior Makai Bodden will be another wild card. The highly-skilled guard has shown the ability during his high school career to score points in bunches when he plays the way Ferreira wants him to play.
“If Makai buckles down and is Makai, he could have a great year,” Ferreira said. “But if he just wants to shoot 3s and not defend anybody, he probably won’t have that big year. He makes things happen though. We need him. I like him best when he is attacking the rim. He is more of a scorer than he is a shooter, even though he thinks he is a really good shooter. He can get hot and is streaky in that way.”
The athleticism from top to bottom on this roster should allow the Whalers to play their typical style of getting out on the fast break off turnovers and scoring easy baskets. Ferreira said the potential for this team is off the charts.
“I think the ceiling is really high,” he said. “I have no idea with this new state tournament what is out there but I’m sure it will be difficult. Every player on this team is talented and athletic. Each one of these guys brings a certain skillset. We have six sophomores we need to bring along, but we also have four seniors that are ready to lead us, I hope, in the right direction.”
The Whalers will begin their season on Tuesday, December 14, with a home game against the Nauset Warriors at 5 p.m.