DEVENS – The Parker Charter Essential Schools boys’ basketball team got hit hard by graduation from last year’s team, but with the right attitude, and a more favorable schedule, the Panthers are looking to be more competitive in the 2023-24 winter season.
Parker, which is a small school of about 100, was struggling to get enough athletes out on its boys basketball team, but reached 10 for the upcoming season.
“Even though we’re a small school and have our disadvantages,” Parker Charter head coach Bill Almond said. “We do have some people that can play. The outlook for this season is pretty good. I learned a lot in my first year being a public school high school coach, and that got me to be more involved in the scheduling, and how our schedule came together. Last year at one point we faced five of the best teams that you could face in a row, that doesn’t do anything for team morale.”
In response to the brutal schedule last year, Almond played more of a prominent role in crafting this year’s schedule, looking at non-league opponents that are in a similar numbers’ situation as the Panthers.
“We really made sure that we added programs (to the schedule) that were more in line competitively with what and who we are,” Almond said. “So we feel pretty confident coming into the season, that if we do the things that we need to do, to get better as individuals every day and get better as a team every day, that we can be as successful a program as Parker has seen in quite some time.”
Team morale is high this season, and there is a level of motivation with the program that is hoping to translate into some quality victories this season.
“The kids are motivated to play, motivated to see what they can do,” Almond said. “I think this year, being my second year, I’ve got players more bought into what I do and how I do things. There’s a lot of optimism.”
Shooting guard Liam Almond returns as the leading scorer in the Colonial Athletic League from last year averaging a tick over 16 points per game. He led the team and league in points per game, as well as total points for the season.
“(Liam Almond) has some lofty goals to not only lead the conference again, but also add to his points per game total,” Bill Almond said. “He worked very, very hard during the offseason.”
Fellow senior and small forward Nolan Dee also put in a lot of time in the offseason, Bill Almond says, earning a co-captainship with Liam Almond for this upcoming season.
“(Dee) is someone who learned a lot from last year,” Bill Almond said. “He was an off-and-on starter, I’d say he probably started 8, 9, or 10 games last year. But he really started to see what it would take to be more successful and in the offseason, he put in a lot of time working conditioning, his shooting, and I feel like he’s ready to make a real significant contribution to the team.”
Jake Bryant returns as the starting center on the team. Bryant led the Colonial Athletic last season in rebounding, and figures to exert his presence in the post again this upcoming season.
Sophomore Leo Reed ascends to the starting point guard position. Last season Reed made the varsity but felt that he needed some more seasoning practicing his craft at the junior varsity level, Bill Almond says.
“(Reed) came to me and told me he was ready,” Bill Almond said. “And I’m incredibly pleased from what I’m seeing from him in practice. His awareness, his shooting, and the fact that he’s seemed to have taken a huge step forward, both in regard to his confidence, and his leadership. It’ll be really interesting to see what we can get from (Reed) this year.”
Junior power forward Will Dawes will ascend from a bench role from last season, into a starting role this season. Bill Almond says Dawes has worked incredibly hard and wanted to make more of a contribution to the team this year.
“I can see where (Dawes) has really stepped up and improved,” Bill Almond said. “He’s very passionate about playing for the school, which at the end of the day is something that you’re looking for.”
Power forward/center Zaden Merriam-Bohannon, shooting guard/small forward Andrew Permatteo, athlete Danny Kaldested, guard Eli Holzer, and eighth grade point guard Noah Petricca will be key players coming off the bench.
“What I’m trying to teach my kids is that it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about competing,” Bill Almond said. “Giving everything that you have, at the end of the day as long as you leave it all out there that’s all that matters.”
It will be a quick start to the season, as the Panthers open up with 4 games in 7 days. Parker Charter opens the season Friday against Sizer at 4:30p.m. at Groton Middle School, Monday December 11 the Panthers play Bromfield in Harvard, then North Brookfield on Dec. 13, then Friday the 15th against Leicester High.
“It’s a bit of a grind but by Christmas we should have a good understanding of who we are and what we need to work on,” Bill Almond said. “The conference slate starts the Friday after we get back to school, we’ll play Bay Path. We’re in the Colonial Athletic Conference, and we’re not afraid of that.”