HAVERHILL — Unlike the much acclaimed Jaylen Alicea, Junior Veras has never been a headline-type player.
A 6-foot-2 “tweener,” the sophomore from Lawrence does not have great statistics and he is not overly flashy. And yet, as Northern Essex has put together a 5-2 record, head coach Darren Stratton calls Veras perhaps his most valuable player.
“He does everything for us, whatever I need,’ said Stratton. “He leads the team in charges — he’s got 21 in seven games which is incredible — and he’s our best defensive player.
“He can play anywhere and guard really quick guards or big men. Against Bristol (Community College), we needed someone to guard their biggest guy and he came in and shut him down.”
Veras definitely enjoys doing the dirty work.
“I love playing the bigger guys because they think they’ll pick on me,” he said. “Some people are afraid of the charges, but I think it’s fun. They can hurt, but I just think ahead to the next play.”
Although Veras started every game for the Knights last year, after a couple of games this year, he volunteered to come off the bench.
“I was struggling the first couple of games, and I can see the way the game is going (while) on the bench,” said Veras. “I try to play hard and they use me as a spark, to keep everyone focused. Good things seem to happen when i come off the bench.”
Veras’ unselfish attitude does not surprise Stratton.
“I can’t say enough good things about him,’ said Stratton. “He’s really one of my favorite players I’ve had here.”
Veras began his college career at UMass Lowell but he didn’t play there because he was coming off knee surgery the summer before. Then, when his mother got sick, his grades went down and he eventually returned home to help out.
After a half year of inactivity, Veras transferred to Northern Essex and, missing basketball, decided to join the team.
“It helps me when I play,” said Veras. “I always want to be a student-athlete.”
In addition to his contributions on the court, Veras is also helping off the court as a mini-mentor for the injured Alicea. After all, he has spent time off the court with a serious injury himself.
“I tell him to stay positive, that every day will get better, even if it doesn’t seem that way,” said Veras. “I tell him to work so that it (injury) doesn’t happen again. I always talk to him about this.”
Veras is unsure if he’ll continue his career next year at a four-year school or whether he’ll try joining the work force. But Stratton is sure of one thing.
“Whatever he does, he’ll work at it and be a success,” he said.