New-Look Boys Basketball Team Optimistic For Upcoming Season

David Creed •

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The ending to last season wasn’t what the Nantucket boys basketball team was hoping for after putting together a strong 2021-2022 regular season record of 15-5. They went on the road to face the Millbury Woolies in the state tournament, but their season ended in the first round in a 53-34 defeat.

This year’s squad will be pegged with the task of finding a way to replace three of last year’s starters in Justin Bloise, Makai Bodden, and JJ Bennett after each of them graduated last June. Role players such as JD Heneke (prep school) and Max Beebe (graduated) also played valuable minutes last season off the bench and will need to be replaced.

Head coach Willis Ferreira believes the answers are on this team. Karson Wellington, their senior captain, is one of their best defenders and has made strides in his offensive game this offseason.

“Karson is so much better than a year ago it isn’t even close,” Ferreira said. “He is a thousand times better if that is even possible.”

Junior Jack Halik slowly became one of Nantucket’s best players last season alongside Bennett in the front court. He figures to play a central role in the team’s offensive and defensive systems.

“I am hopefully optimistic that if we can stay out of foul trouble and stay healthy, we could be a problem,” Ferreira said. “But if we get hurt or get in foul trouble, we could be beat any night.”

Junior forward Jayquan Francis, arguably the most athletic player on the team, and junior point guard Carlos Aguilar will also be asked to handle heavy minutes and take on a greater role in the offense as the team works to replace the scoring of Bloise and Bodden.

“Carlos is kind of the x-factor for me,” Ferreira said. “He is really, really good but sometimes he can get sidetracked mentally. He didn’t shoot it very well at the scrimmage but has been shooting it really well in practice. He needs to score but also needs to be a point guard. There are times he needs to score and other times he needs to be a distributer. Some days it needs to go to Halik 30 times in the paint while on others it may go to Jay on the left block with nobody guarding him.”

Ferreira said he saw flashes from this team of what they are capable of becoming during Saturday’s scrimmage against Bristol-Plymouth.

“They had a big kid that was a problem, but we had our moments where when we are running and defending we are pretty good, but when we sit in the half court and try to run something we get a little stagnant and we don’t have enough patience offensively,” he said. “Guys try to do a little too much too early so we got to work on that.”

Ferreira said one player he sees making a big leap this season is senior forward/guard Treyce Brannigan. Ferreira said he loves the way Brannigan plays and felt guilty at times last season that he wasn’t getting him on the court as much as he probably deserved.

“I love Treyce,” Ferreira said. “He just plays hard and he will surprise you with how fast he is and how tough he is. Soccer guys are tough. He is going to get some more minutes this year. He started for us in the scrimmage.”

Junior guard Dwayne Martin will provide scoring off the bench. Ferreira said Martin “might be the best player here,” however his ability to pay attention to the smaller details and do the little things well will determine how good he becomes.

“He is quick, he can shoot it and score, but he gets bored with doing things the right way sometimes,” Ferreira said.

This year’s group may not be as deep or athletic as last year’s group, but Ferreira said people should expect this team to play hard each game and win games with effort. He has been preaching this approach to his team early on, leaving them with the message of “I would rather lose my way than win your way.”

“Before I had talent I prided my teams on just playing harder than everyone else,” he said. “That keeps you in the game, then you just hope you are in better shape at the end of games to steal games and make plays. With talent, we haven’t always been the most disciplined group and we haven’t always played as hard as we could. If we play the way we are supposed to, I don’t have to worry about wins and losses because that stuff comes from how you approach it. If you are going to screw off all the time and expect to turn it on at game time, it doesn’t usually work.”

“I am still learning too and trying to figure it out. Since COVID I have been a different guy. I was just happy to be back in the gym and that stuck with me these past couple of years, just being the nice guy, nice coach. But I need to go back to being a pain in the ass. That is the only way it is going to work. I am trying my best to be a little more demanding and disciplined than I have been the past couple of years.”

The Whalers will play their first game on Tuesday, December 13 at 3:30 p.m. when they travel to Nauset to take on the Warriors.

You can access the full schedule by clicking here.

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