EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 24, 2013

Hot-button hoop issues to ponder

Hector Longo
hlongo@eagletribune.com

---- — If any stretch spoke of the grip that boys basketball has on this region during the winter months, it was March 5 and 6, when the area’s best packed the joint at Lawrence High for both Andover-Central and North Andover-Wakefield in the sectional semifinals.

Boys basketball remains king in the region, and the local contingent did not disappoint their massive fan bases, with a handful of deep runs into the tourney.

Today, The Eagle-Tribune looks back on the season that was, one that ended with Central Catholic in the TD Garden.

As we move forward, here are five hot-button issues surrounding the game.

1. Christmas Tourney talk

For the second straight year, talk has leaked out with teams voicing their Greater Lawrence Christmas Tourney displeasure.

As colleague Mike Muldoon put it, Central Catholic remains the “800-pound gorilla in the room.” A year ago, rumors of Salem and Pinkerton looking to abandon ship surfaced. Are other teams looking elsewhere? The Christmas tourney remains the marquee event on the region’s annual athletic calendar, but it’s future is in a state of flux.

2. The North Andover job

With head coach Mike McVeigh stepping down after 31 seasons, the opening at North Andover has to be considered one of the top 10 public jobs in the state. It’s a sports crazy town, with a tremendous feeder system. The move to the Merrimack Valley Conference should help eliminate the talent trickle to other schools (Catholic Conference champ St. John’s featured four Turkey Towners in its top six). North Andover is a budding powerhouse.

This might be the single most important decision of A.D. Jon Longley’s career.

3. New Hampshire struggles

It was not a good year for the local New Hampshire entrants. You wonder, at least at the Division 1 level, if it is a trend. Salem, Londonderry, Pinkerton and Timberlane did not manage one playoff win. Keep an eye on where these programs trend.

4. Athletes and behavior

Officials govern how athletes conduct their business on the floor. But what is happening off it? The region held its breath when two North Andover players saw their seasons end early after a bizarre late-season DUI accident. It potentially cost the Scarlet Knights a state title.

Do athletes receive favored treatment early in their life, so favored that they believe they are above the law? It’s a theory that has been voiced more than once on the blog-osphere in these parts.

5. Is a basketball Super 8 next?

Central Catholic’s run to the Garden, with a pair of all-conference starters — Doug Gemmell and Nick Cambio — sidelined with injuries, will again conjure talk of a Super 8 style tournament like the MIAA runs in hockey and next year in baseball.

Will boys hoop make the move, which will attempt to even the public/private playing field? It’s an issue for debate.