By Michael Muldoon
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — Chris Bardwell always bled Central Catholic Red, White and Blue.
He was going to be the third Bardwell brother to follow in their father Dr. David Bardwell’s footsteps and make a name for himself on Hampshire Street.
But his frustration over limited playing time with the Raider basketball and baseball teams led him to make a decision he never dreamed he’d make.
He transferred to his hometown school, North Andover High School, over the summer.
“It was a tough decision,” said Bardwell, a strapping 6-5, 205-pound senior. “I really do miss Central.”
He was a reserve on the basketball team, with no guarantees of big minutes with the return of two of the most talented big men in Eastern Mass. in Nick Cambio and Doug Gemmell. The playing time was even tougher to come by in baseball, where he split time with the varsity and JV teams as a junior last spring.
North Andover is thrilled with the decision. Bardwell is a player to watch when the 38th annual Greater Lawrence Christmas Tourney taps off Thursday night at Lawrence High.
He dreamt of starring at the Christmas Tourney, just not with Knights.
“I’ve been going to Central games since fourth or fifth grade watching Jonathan Cruz,” he said. “Ever since then, I wanted to go there.”
That desire was only heightened watching his brother, Zach (CCHS ‘11), who was a two-time Eagle-Tribune All-Star in baseball, a two-year starter in football and a reserve on the 2010 state championship basketball team.
“I just wanted to be a part of what he was part of,” said Chris.
There has been a lot of preseason buzz over the 6-5 senior based on his play in the Hoops for Hope Summer League and the Donovan’s Fall Ball League. He has proved it was no fluke with 43 points for a balanced yet talent-laden Scarlet Knight squad, which is 2-0.
That’s a prodigious leap from the 31 points he totalled all last winter with the Raiders.
North Andover coach Mike McVeigh paid him high praise when he remarked prior to the opener, “We had a young man, Jared Clough, a number of years ago transfer in. There are an awful lot of similarities.”
Clough also was a rugged big man who could score and rebound. He also transferred in for his senior year (from St. John’s Prep). Clough averaged 16.0 points and nearly 15 rebounds and was named an Eagle-Tribune All-Star in 1999.
Bardwell’s game has taken off. Playing well was a given, but he’s dominating in the early going.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect to do this,” he said. “To progress this much. My game is getting better. I’ve been doing workouts with Rick Gorman (coach of the New England Storm AAU team). It’s just to live up to my potential.”
Bardwell’s also a talented baseball prospect. A 6-5, 205-pound southpaw with an 88 mph fastball is mighty intriguing. But playing time was tough to come by for Bardwell, who is working hard to fine-tune his sometimes shaky control.
“I didn’t think I got a chance,” he said. “It was mostly about baseball. I felt like I had a better chance to play at North Andover. ... If I got more time in basketball, I probably would have stuck it out.”
He said his father, a dentist in North Andover, was on board.
“We both knew it was the best decision for me,” said Bardwell, whose father played baseball at Central.
When a talented player transfers, it can be a tricky situation. Particularly since the Knights were going to be very good with or without him.
When one person plays, another sits. That’s sports. Bardwell and McVeigh said, though, it was has been nothing but a positive.
“The kids accepted him,” said the coach. “He has a very good personality. It’s been a lot easier than expected. He’s just been a terrific addition.”
Bardwell said, “I just want to help the team. I can do anything: pass, get a lot of rebounds, get some points, just play North Andover basketball. Whatever I can to help.”
He’s found his teammates and his classmates more than welcoming.
“It’s been great,” he said. “I’ve known everyone. I went to North Andover Middle School. I fit in perfectly.”
The basketball gods didn’t do the Scarlet and Black any favors. The opener is vs. Andover, only the 11th ranked team in the entire state according to ESPNBoston.com. If the Knights, who have a lofty No. 8 ranking themselves, can get past the Warriors, up next would likely be No. 2 Central.
“I’m pumped,” said Bardwell. “It will be hard. If we beat Andover, we’d have Central. I’d be pumped, I’ll tell you that.”
Follow Michael Muldoon on Twitter under the screen name @MullyET.