By Michael Muldoon
---- — METHUEN — It would be nearly impossible for two teams to have less in common than last year’s and this year’s Methuen High basketball teams.
In 2011-12, five of the top seven players were seniors. This year’s squad has one returning starter and the five other returning lettermen are just sophomores.
That starter is senior guard Nathan Bueno. For that, second-year Ranger head coach Matt Curran is eternally grateful.
“It’s kind of a unique situation,” said Curran, whose team opens up play in the 38th annual Greater Lawrence Christmas Tourney tomorrow night against Lawrence. “For him, it’s probably not an ideal situation. We’re lucky to have him. He’s been great.
“Since the day last season ended, he’s been our captain. He gives kids rides. He’s a true leader. He’s setting the example. He’s setting the bar pretty high. He goes hard every day. He’s non-stop. He’s a very respectful, hard-working kid. I love the kid. He’s what you want in your captain and leader.”
Bueno, who is the team’s lone captain, had his leadership skills put to the test from the get-go. The Rangers bolted to a 17-3 lead at Tewksbury only to see the Redmen storm back for a 68-64 season-opening win on Friday.
“I just told them, ‘It’s a long road. There are 19 more to go. We’ll get better. Keep your heads up,’” said the wise-beyond-his-years Bueno.
It’s flattering to be considered a highly respected leader, but Bueno can play, too.
He had 15 points in the opener and added six rebounds, five assists and three steals.
“He’s our best defensive player, he handles the ball,” said Curran. “He’s worked at it. The knock on him was his jump shot. He’s developed as an all-around point guard who can bring the ball up, can take it to the rim and has the jumper to complete his game. And for someone his size (5-10, 150) he’s one of our toughest kids and one of our best rebounders. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Sophomore Mark Sicard led the Rangers with 20 points vs. Tewksbury. That’s fine with Bueno.
“If he was more selfish, he could score more, but it wouldn’t help the team in the long run,” said Curran, whose club fell to 0-2 last night.. “He wants to see the team do well.”
While he is one of only three seniors on the team, Bueno isn’t complaining.
“We’re young, but it’s a great group of kids who work hard,” he noted. “I can’t complain, I love them.”
A big believer in leading by example, Bueno prides himself in not being outworked.
“That’s my personality. Ever since I started playing, I just wanted to win and work hard. I go 100 percent,” said Bueno, who averaged 8.2 points a game last winter en route to MVC All-Star honors.
Bueno, who was named a second-team All-Star (top 10 players overall) in the rugged 12-team Donovan’s Fall Ball League, is close to realizing his long-time dream of playing college ball. He said he’s being recruited by Salem State, Lasell and Regis.
Follow Michael Muldoon on Twitter under the screen name @MullyET.
Bueno's legacy in Methuen Nathan Bueno's legacy could be one of winning and leading. He tied for game-scoring honors with 17 points when the Rangers beat Malden last winter in the Division 1 North prelims. It was their first tourney win since 2000. And this highly-touted sophomore class, featuring the 5-11 Mark Sicard, 6-5 Tim Galloway-Burke, 6-3 Cooper Hammel, 5-10 Jamal Rene and 6-3 Corey Bell, has the potential to do big things. If they follow Bueno's lead, perhaps do things a Methuen team hasn't done since the Rich Barden, Brian Bettano and Dennis Dube-led teams of the mid-'90s. They won the school's lone title at the 38th annual Christmas Tourney and played in the EMass. Division 1 finals at the FleetCenter/Boston Garden.