By Dave Dyer
---- — They’re the Florida Connection and they may be the key to the Northern Essex men’s basketball team this winter.
Their names are Peterson Morency, an ultra-quick guard who stands a mere 5-foot-8, and 6-5, 220-pound Javonte Forbes, who is the team’s tallest and best option inside the paint. They’re best friends who came from Miramar, Fla., a city of 122,000 just outside of Miami.
“They’re both very talented and do a lot for us,” said Northern Essex coach Darren Stratton. “Peterson has been a real surprise for us and is the best point guard we’ve had in awhile. Javonte just has some great moves and has a knack for getting the ball.”
Thus far, that’s been evident as the Knights have compiled a 5-5 record and been competitive with every team they’ve played, including nationally ranked Mass. Bay Community College. No one has been able to slow down Morency (11.3 points, 6.4 assists) and Forbes (9.3 points, 6.8 rebounds) has been the lone factor inside against taller and more experienced players.
“They’re both playing well,” said Stratton. “They have things that they need to work on, but they’ll just keep getting better and continue to help us.”
But the Florida duo, who made their way to Northern Essex at the last minute when an aid package to Anna Maria College didn’t materialize as expected, seem to be benefitting as much as the Knights.
“I see this as a great opportunity,” said Morency. “I wanted to get out of Florida and try something new. This gives me the chance to learn to be away from home and develop my skills before going to a four-year college.”
They live off campus in an apartment and are learning life skills when not fine tuning their skills on the court. And the Floridians realize that they have areas in which they need to improve.
“Probably my ballhandling skills is the thing I need most work on,” said Forbes. “Rebounding comes naturally for me.”
As for Morency, he says he “needs to work on my decision making and work on my shot a little.”
Stratton has no doubt that the pair will make the improvements they need to go further in their career.
“They’re dedicated,” said Stratton. “Peterson works extremely hard and watches video all the time. The one thing I think he needs to work on is when to slow down and see the court more. He goes 100 miles an hour all the time.”
While they’ve fit in well with the Knights, both Morency and Forbes agree that it’s been a culture shock coming from south Florida to New England, but they’re adjusting.
“I don’t like the cold, but it’s interesting here and I didn’t come here for the weather,” said Morency. “And I’ve never been where there’s snow, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Whatever adjustments they’ve had to make have certainly been easier as a pair. They have each other to share their new experiences and, when necessary, to commiserate.
“It’s a big help,” said Forbes. “I’m an only child and I look at him as my brother. I go to him for advice about school, basketball, girls ... just about anything.”
Said Morency: “He’s a real good guy and a funny guy. And what’s really good is that he’s the kind of friend who, when you do something wrong, he’ll tell you. He’ll tell you the truth.”
And here’s some truth that is good news for the Knights. At this point, Forbes and Morency plan on staying at Northern Essex for an entire two years.
“It’s because of the coach (Stratton) and everything he can do to help me as a player and a student,” said Forbes. “I like the location here — you have access to everything — and I’m not fearful of the weather.”
Morency isn’t quite as comfortable with the weather, but he is also sure he’ll be in Haverhill for more than a year.
“I want to earn a scholarship, I don’t care where it is, and I think Coach (Stratton) will help me,” he said. “He’s a caring coach and keeps on you about your academics. I think I’ll need to stay here two years and I want to.”
Names; Javonte Forbes, Peterson Morency
Hometown: Miramar, Fla.
Team, grade: Northern Essex, freshmen
Positions: Forward/Center (Forbes); Point guard (Morency)