By Hector Longo
---- — Tuesday night, the Haverhill High boys basketball bus will travel 27.2 miles to Westford Academy for the team’s first state tourney appearance since 2005.
Let’s just say Anthony Dionne’s trip has been well, just a bit longer and a lot more complicated.
Dionne, the junior captain and recently-name Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 MVP, leads the 14th-seeded Hillies into their matchup at No. 3 Westford with a 7 p.m. start.
It’s a moment head coach Mike Trovato probably wouldn’t have attempted to fathom a couple years ago when he first met Dionne, through the student-athlete’s probation officer.
“I made some mistakes, some bad choices when I got to high school,” said Dionne. “School really didn’t matter to me at all. I didn’t care and I landed at St. James.”
“St. James” is the city’s alternative school where the troubled students go to try to put their lives together.
Dionne bought in, with Trovato playing a key role in the recovery.
“When I first met him, he seemed like an all right kid, and I had no idea if he was much of a player,” said Trovato. “But he liked the game, and I wanted to give him a chance.”
Dionne had issues at home and away from home. For a while, the only constant was his grandmother,.
Dionne wasted his freshman year. So much that he should be a senior this year.
“I just wasn’t focused,” he said. “But that changed very quick.”
The arrival at the alternative school was a bit shocking.
“It’s an experience I won’t forget,” he said. “But being there changed my perspective.”
Looking at a bleak future, Dionne’s only recourse was to listen and learn.
“I had to maintain my attendance and my grades,” he said. “My behavior was monitored, and there was no trouble.”
Dionne took on a positive role in the school and was named a peer leader.
On court, the transition has been equally eye-opening.
“Honestly, he’s been a leader with us since he first started playing,” said Trovato. “He works as hard as anyone, and his focus is strictly on the team.”
When this season began, Dionne started at the alternative school, but just as the Hillies hit their winning stride – going 10-3 over the final 13 games – he was allowed back into the high school.
Dionne was home again, and this time it mattered.
“I miss the alternative school for what the teachers and the people there have done for me. It was a chill environment, comfortable,” said Dionne, who hopes to receive a waiver to play next season. “But the high school is where I have to be.
“Basketball is my way out. And I have to do it at the high school.”
Dionne, who just turned 18, averaged over 12 points this season for the MVC Division 2 champion Hillies. He attacks the toughest opposing guard each night with his brand of nagging defense.
But none of that seems to matter, as long as the team prospers.
Says Dionne, “I’ll always remember this. It’s been a great year.”
And one rewarding journey.