EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 24, 2012

Saluting the Unsung Heroes of the Christmas Tourney

Michael Muldoon
mmuldoon@eagletribune.com

---- — Saluting the overachievers, the quiet leaders and the often overlooked athletes in the Greater Lawrence Christmas Basketball Tourney.

TYLER VERRETTE

Andover High

The Glove

Verrette’s ballhawking defense has earned him three nicknames! He’s The Glove, Psycho T and Mad Dog.

Coach Dave Fazio said of the 6-1 senior: “He epitomizes the saying, ‘It’s amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who receives the credit.’”

He received plenty of credit for his defense against North Andover.

Verrette never made any travel teams growing up but just continued to work and now is starting.

“I want it more than everyone else,” he said.

His father, Keith, played baseball at Andover and his brother, Zach, played volleyball. The Glove’s uncle, Glenn Verrette, was named one of the Eagle-Tribune’s top 25 athletes of the 20th century. Another uncle, Bob Verrette, has been an inspiration to many. He graduated from Holy Cross despite being blind.

Tyler, whose favorites include Pulp Fiction and Kendrick Lamar, hopes to attend Michigan or Maryland.

JAMAHL LOPEZ

Central Catholic

Waited His Turn

Just because Lopez hadn’t played much, didn’t mean he wasn’t a talented ballplayer. The senior waited his turn and this year has opened eyes with his defense.

It’s no surprise that his favorite player is another relentless guard ... Avery Bradley of the Celtics.

“I feel strongly about Jamahl and the impact he can make on this team,” said coach Rick Nault. “More importantly, he is a special young man who will go on to be successful in all aspects of his life.”

The athleticism that is evident on the floor paid dividends when he went out for track for the first time last spring. The 5-8, 145-pounder triple jumped 40-4 1/2 and high jumped 6-0.

In his down time, the Lawrencian enjoys ballislife.com, Big Sean and a big plate of Bertucci’s four-cheese ravioli. He is a student ambassador and active in the campus ministry.

Lopez, who in the offseason works at Jackson Lumber, hopes to continue his basketball career at Regis, Anna Maria or Plymouth State.

BRYAN CENTENO

Greater Lawrence

Stylish Standout

Centeno sports a gorgeous jump shot, a stylish flat-top and some flashy Nike Hyperdunks. The sneakers he’ll unveil for Day 2 of the tourney. The others have been on display all season.

But there is some steak with the sizzle.

Reggie coach Dan Habib said, “He’s always trying to help his teammates and is a real pleasure to coach.”

Although just 5-9, 132 pounds, that’s an inch taller and seven pounds of muscle more than last year. He credits some intense workout sessions with his friends Nicholas Sosa, an ex-Reggie football player, and boxer Edward Diaz of Lawrence High.

“I might look thin, but I have a lot of strength in this package,” he said with a laugh.

He proved it recently by doing a set of 100 push-ups after losing a bet.

He’s sometimes called Philly (he once lived in the City of Brotherly Love) and Mamba after Kobe Bryant.

Centeno was a benchwarmer as a junior but is starting this winter.

“So many people could have taken my spot, but I wasn’t going to let that happen,” he said.

JOHNATHAN PAULINO

Lawrence High

All or Nothing

Paulino describes his attitude thusly: “Every time I play, I go 100 percent.”

That’s exactly what intense young Lancer coach Raymond Nunez wants to hear. Paulino, a 6-1, 175-pound junior, already has won Nunez over.

“He plays any position for us. He has a great attitude. He defends and he hits the boards,” said the first-year head coach.

The key to his defensive prowess is, Paulino says, “Against a bigger kid, I’ll use my speed, so I’ll overplay them. On a guard, I’ll use my length and beat them to the spot.”

Paulino proudly notes he’s an honor roll student in Lawrence High’s school of business management and finance. He’s active with the Gear Up program in school.

Paulino, who answers to the nickname JP, is a fan of NBA 2K13, SportsCenter, Jay-Z, Fuddruckers and the song Public Service Announcement by Jay-Z.

Don’t tell Celtic fans, but Paulino roots for the Miami Heat and his favorite player is Dwyane Wade.

JAMAL RENE

Methuen High

Ranger Super Sub

Methuen coach Matt Curran likes to go to the bench for a player who can immediately contribute. That player has been this sophomore guard.

Don’t let his unusual basketball body fool you, the 5-11 (on a good day), 200-pounder can play.

“He brings high energy and a well-rounded game off the bench,” explained Curran. “He does the little things like take charges.”

Rene uses his strength to frustrate bigger players.

“I try to play smarter than them. I play strong. I play kids physically,” said Rene.

He admires another player who starred despite not passing the “look test.” That would be the former 5-foot-3 NBA standout Muggsy Bogues.

On Sundays, he’s a timekeeper for Methuen Youth Basketball.

A returning letterman in basketball, Rene is also a talented catcher who hopes to make varsity this spring.

After a big win, you might find him enjoying a cheese pizza at his favorite restaurant, Bada Bing Pizza and Wings in Methuen.

AARON STRAUS

North Andover High

Obvious Answer

It didn’t take North Andover coach Mike McVeigh long to decide on a worthy Unsung Hero.

“Aaron Straus immediately came to mind,” said McVeigh. “He is the quintessential team player. He’s in a daily battle for the eighth spot. He shows up every day with a smile on his face and a work ethic second to none. He’s respected as much as anybody on the team.”

The 5-8 senior also prides himself on bringing that work ethic to the classroom. Disappointed with his average grades early on, Straus has now made the honor roll the last four trimesters.

He’s applying to UMass, UNH, UVM, URI, Roger Williams and Bryant.

Last year when the Knights were shorthanded early in the season, he provided valuable minutes. His older sister, Hannah, swam for the Knights and was an accomplished synchronized swimmer.

Aaron’s favorite website is hotnewhiphop.com, his favorite meal is lobster at Brown’s at Hampton Beach and his favorite athlete is Manny Ramirez.

JUSTIN SCOTT

Pinkerton Academy

Big Man On Campus

At nearly 6-7 in his bare feet, Justin Scott towers over most everyone. But not in his own family, where he has a 6-8 brother.

But height is nothing new at Pinkerton, which even for a huge school (enrollment 3,100) seems to produce an unusual number of talented tall athletes.

This year’s team includes others players listed at 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, 6-5, 6-6.

After scoring just four points total last season, Scott has arrived.

The Chester resident pumped in 13 points in a first-round Christmas Tourney victory. He cited hard work in the offseason, particularly on shooting with either hand, and the graduation of some key players for opening the door for him.

Coach Pete Rosinski said, “He’s a quality kid who has had to work to get better at the game and has shown great focus and effort.”

Scott has already experienced athletic success. He was an Eagle-Tribune All-Star in volleyball. Also a top student, he’s ranked 55th in a class of about 700 students.

A deeply religious young man, he plans to study mechanical engineering at a Christian college.

STEVE NUGENT

Salem High

Respected Captain

While he didn’t put up big numbers as a junior, Steve Nugent did gain a lot of respect.

“He earned a starting position midway through his junior year by doing all the little things good teams need,” coach Rob McLaughlin said of the 6-0, 155-pound guard.

The Blue Devils didn’t forget those intangibles when it was time to name captains this season. Nugent was named a tri-captain.

“It meant a lot,” said Nugent, whose cousin, Jimmy Nugent, was a football and basketball captain for the Blue Devils 10 years ago. “I just work hard every play and earning the respect of the team and coaches means a lot.”

The Larry Bird fan also enjoys North Carolina basketball, chicken, broccoli and ziti at the Chateau and Harry Potter.

Nugent, whose brother Danny plays on the JV team, is a returning starter on the state champion volleyball team. He’s applying to UNH, URI and Keene State.

Follow Michael Muldoon on Twitter under the screen name @MullyET.