It stood as "the" hot rumor of the fall season.
Paul Neal was out as boys hoop coach at Lawrence High School. And that rumor had life. Neal, now a top administrator at the high school, will need to and actually wants to move on.
An honest Neal admitted a bit over a week ago that spending a couple hours with his freshman son Dante on the golf course has become just as rewarding as any time the two spend together in hoops, too.
"But I just felt as though if I left this year, after we went to the Garden, and then we graduated 10 players, it was just going to be unfair to Raymond (Nunez)."
Neal decided to stay on, and the Lancers, despite the losses, are rolling again — Christmas tourney finalists with a sharp 6-1 mark.
A 13-year veteran on the bench with 173 career wins, Neal lavishes credit on his top assistant Nunez. And if you've been around the local hoop scene thus far, it's easy to understand why.
"Raymond brings so much to this team right now," said Neal of the 29-year-old former standout point guard at Central Catholic. "He's not the head coach, but he's doing so much of what the head coach is supposed to do, whether it's keeping up with all the kids and their grades, study halls, all the little things that these kids need."
Neal has grown into such a huge fan of his JV coach that he's endorsing Nunez heavily if/when he walks away.
"I know that I absolutely want my son to play for Ray," said Neal. "He cares about the kids. He needs the opportunity to be the next guy. Lawrence needs people who go above and beyond. And he is that guy."
To his credit, the humble and extremely soft-spoken Nunez is thoroughly content in his current position.
"I'm trying to absorb as much as I can from Coach Neal, and I'm learning from the best," said Nunez, currently a Spanish teacher at the Greater Lawrence Tech School. "I love it, because I know he's in it for all the right reasons."
Nunez has seen more hoop than just about anyone in these parts. He scouts relentlessly for Neal. It's impossible not to bump into him in an area gym.
The incredible will to be on the go hasn't been lost on the athletes either.
"Coach Raymond works so hard, and it's just because he's trying to make us better players," said junior D.J. Gonzalez, who has played for Nunez at both the varsity and JV levels. "He pushes us to do the same. You can see him being the head coach here soon."
If Neal has his way, it could be very, very soon.
Windham looks to catch a break
Windham High coach Todd Stefanides still has playoff aspirations in this, the second varsity season for the Jaguars in New Hampshire Division 2.
The Jags are 0-5 in league play, but those teams are a combined 15-5 overall, meaning that Windham has faced the wood.
"Hopefully, things will get better and we'll see some teams with other than a 0 or 1 in the loss column," said Stefanides. "And we're getting healthier."
Windham welcomed smoother sophomore Jeff Peterson back to the fold from an injury that had kept him out of all the preseason action. Seeing his first varsity Division 2 minutes Friday night, the 6-foot-2 forward tossed in a dozen points.
"He's definitely going to help," said the coach, who will also welcome his banger, junior Joe Lorenz into the paint Tuesday night when the 2-6 Jags hunt their first in-state win at home against 3-2 Bedford.
Is charging for parking next?
If the fodder on my Bleacher Creature blog (blogs.eagletribune.com/mvsports) is any indication, the area's high school hoop fans were not happy about the $8 charge for tickets to Andover High's home game with Central Catholic on Friday night.
Well over 1,000 fans crammed into the Dunn Gym, paying the money whether they were students, adults or senior citizens.
One blogger asked, "What's next? Are they going to charge us to park?"
OK, things are finally starting to heat up on the area hoops scene.
Go no further than two top eight teams in Division 3 North colliding today at 2:30 when 3-2 Pentucket travels to 6-0 Whittier Tech.
"I like what I saw out of Leo's club," said Wildcats' coach Tommy Sipsey, who sprinted out of his own gym after beating Chelsea, across the Rock's Village Bridge this week to get a peek at Parent's Sachems in action.
"They play hard, and they're very talented."
Both teams have had their moments early. Each features a former project of a big man who has excelled and overcome through hard work in Pentucket's Will Angelini and Whittier's Marck Galva.
Sachem sharpshooter Corey McNamara and dynamic Whittier guard Ryan Grant are going to get their points.
The key to the matchup could be how Pentucket handles senior dynamo Gio Gomez, the Cats' lightning-quick 5-foot-7 point guard.
Player of the Week
How could you overlook Central's Doug Gemmell and the 22-point performance he had on Friday night, leading the Raiders to the 61-51 victory at Andover. Earlier in the week, the beefy 6-foot-4 junior tossed in a dozen in limited minutes against Billerica.
Central is now a perfect 7-0.
A look ahead
Sleeper game of the week Tuesday night is when Pelham, 4-1 in Division 2, hosts Campbell, 4-1 in Division 3. ...
Thursday, Central Catholic heads out to the Hoop Hall Classic to challenge Springfield Cathedral at Springfield College. ...
And keep an eye on the Pinkerton Astros this week as they tangle with Salem at Hackler Gym on Tuesday night, then head to Londonderry on Friday.