By Hector Longo
---- — NORTH ANDOVER – For a couple days in early December, Kyle White wondered what he had signed on for.
A stiff regimen of running, more running and those notorious “16s,” also known as the dreaded, never-ending full-court sprint drill.
Then in one late intra-squad scrimmage, it apparently clicked. White’s unit pushed the basketball up the floor and he fired up a quick 19-footer.
There was silence.
Nothing, no bark or bite from first-year coach Paul Tanglis.
“Everyone on this team has the green light. Thing are just very different, and it’s a lot of fun,” said the senior White, who spent much of last year struggling with a more regimented and star-driven North Andover attack a year ago.
Times have changed with the changing of the guard at the helm of the North Andover boys basketball program.
Mike McVeigh, for 31 years and 497 wins, worked the Knights’ bench as the consummate tactician and technician.
When you think of “McVeigh Ball,” you immediately see an Isaiah Nelsen making the perfect high-low entry pass from the foul-line to the box to teammate Zach Bardwell for a well-earned layup.
Every step of the sequence – brilliantly drilled – from the ball-fake and bounce pass to the perfect seal and position.
“What coach did here for all those years was simply amazing,” said the 32-year-old Tanglis, a three-year varsity player for the McVeigh and the Knights basketball program.
“I’ve been asked the question so many times about filling his shoes,” said Tanglis. “That’s not going to happen. I’m going to make my own mark, and just start my own new chapter with the program.”
Tanglis’ new-age Knights are the talk of the Valley, at least here in the first-third of the season, breaking to out to an unexpected 5-1 start. Last Sunday night, a program that was destined for a major rebuilding season by most outside sources, one that fell to rock bottom in the North Andover Fall League – actually trailing 25-0 to St. John’s Prep – did the unthinkable.
Tanglis’ crew knocked off Central Catholic ... on Central Catholic’s home floor.
“We got beaten up in the fall league,” admitted Tanglis. “You’re talking about a new program, a new system and a lot of inexperienced guys on this roster.”
But Tanglis does have something his former coach didn’t have the last few years, a top-caliber point guard in sophomore Wabassa Bede. The quick and strong Bede, who appears to have college scholarship written all over him, didn’t come out of the game against Central Catholic.
“To start the season like this, after nine full practices. We are becoming a team,” said Tanglis. “I know what kind of team I want us to be, a very tough defensive team. We are going in that direction.”
Defend and take care of the basketball …
“Do those two things and your basketball team will be in every game you play,” said Tanglis.
“I think I can still hear coach’s voice from the early practices where it felt like all we did was run,” said John Enright.
“‘This will win you ball games,’ he kept telling us,” said Enright. “It took a little while for us to believe it, though.”
All the running has slowed as the season takes its toll. But the daily box-out drills haven’t. Neither has the commitment.
“It has grown on us,” said Enright.
“We couldn’t sit back. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us, just because it was ‘supposed to’ be a rebuilding year,” added White. “Our defense has been the difference this year.”
It Tanglis has added one more facet to the program, it would be style.
In an era when so many coaches have run the gamut with golf shirts, bowling shirts, and rolled up sleeves, he adds a touch of class.
“We’ve already let him know how we feel about the suits,” said White. “He’s looking good out there.”
Tanglis explains the suits come from his earlier coaching days as an assistant at Medford.
“We wanted to make sure we are going to look the part,” said Tanglis. “We try to look and be as professional as possible. If we preach it to the players, we hope they feel the same way.
“Let me tell you, I’m getting heat for it.”
Right now, Tanglis is taking no heat at all in Turkey Town. In fact, if he beats Methuen tonight and Andover next Friday night, there might be a call to make him Town Manager.
“It’s pretty cool,” said White. “After every game, our fans break out the ‘We love Tanglis’ chants.”
Looks like this marriage between coach and basketball town could be a healthy one for a long, long time.
“This is it. I’ve had my eye on this job for a long time,” said Tanglis. “Everything I’ve done has been to position myself for this job,” said Tanglis.
“I tell my kids about the amount of people who send me texts or emails, guys they’ll never meet,” said Tanglis. “This is an amazing basketball community. They’re part of a team and part of a family. There are so many people they don’t even know who are pulling for them. Basketball fever here is huge.”
And there is no other place in the world Tanglis wants to be.
TANGLIS FACTS Age: 32 Single, engaged to be married this year. Playing experience: Three years on varsity, graduated in 2000 from North Andover High School. Went on to play at Framingham State. Coaching experience: Spent a year as an assistant at Plymouth State, a year at North Andover High and three years at Medford High. Spent the last two seasons as the head coach at Stoneham High, where he put together seasons of 11-9 and 10-10. Currently Teaching: Seventh grade math in Everett. ARMANI VS. GIORGIO TONIGHT It will be the battle of the finely tailored Italian suits on the sideline tonight as North Andover High, led by first-year coach Paul Tanglis, heads to Methuen High, led by first-year coach Anthony Faradie. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. Did you know? Tanglis not only was an assistant coach at Medford High for three seasons when Faradie was the head coach, but the two were roommates and teammates at Framingham State.