The Cranston East Thunderbolts boys basketball team is preparing for the 2019-20 winter season.
The Bolts first battle will come against the Falcons on Friday, Dec. 13th during an injury fund contest at Cranston High School West.
Leading East this season will be Noah Berg, a guard, and forwards Skyler Delgado and Rasheed Sem Louis.
“We’re looking for Noah, Skyler, and Rasheed to take on the leadership role as the three returning seniors,” Bolts head coach Isaiah McDaniel said. “To kind of just make sure the kids are getting comfortable with the way we practice, and practicing at a high level every day in the gym. And not settling and making sure we’re always working towards our goal.”
Last year, East finished the regular season with a league record of 14-3 and went 23-5 overall. This season, McDaniel feels his team will once again contend with the other schools. “I definitely think we're going to be good again,” McDaniel said. “We're going to compete every night. I really don't see us right now rebuilding.”
The ‘Bolts will use three sophomores, who swung last year between the junior varsity and varsity teams in Brayam Murakawa, Alvin Baez, and Miguel Espinal.
“We're definitely looking for those guys to contribute right away and have an impact on everything that we do,” McDaniel said. “So, with those six guys, I think that we have a pretty solid core moving forward and we should be able to compete every night in Division I.”
East added two players that transferred in, one of which is Jamari Bell, who played at Hope High School last season.
“I believe he was second-team All-Division,” McDaniel said. “So, that's going to help. He's going to be a junior this year.”
The other transfer is Roberto De La Rosa, a senior guard from St. Rays, who McDaniel also expects to contribute right away.
Rounding out the roster are a group of younger guys that played on the JV squad last season and McDaniel hopes they can provide some valuable minutes.
“We’re definitely ready for them to step up and contribute,” McDaniel said. “They've been in the program for two years, so they’re definitely ready to contribute and they’re used to the things that we do scheme-wise. So, I definitely feel they’re ready to step in and give the minutes that they need to give.”
As of Tuesday, McDaniel had not yet decided who would be in the starting lineup and who would be coming off the bench, but time will tell.
“We’ve really just been conditioning after the three days of tryouts,” McDaniel explained. “Today we’ll really start to see what pieces fit together well and who does what well on the court and piece together some different lineups throughout this week.”
And the coach will be looking for a lot of players to step in so that the team can maintain a high level of energy throughout each game.
“I’m planning on playing at least 9-10 guys in being able to go as deep into the bench as I can with the tempo that we like to play at, pressing a lot, and always having guys moving around,” McDaniel said. “We're going to need to play as many guys as possible to sustain our tempo.”
McDaniel, a ’04 Bolts alumni and former forward, is heading into his fourth season as head coach of the basketball team. The past two seasons McDaniel was awarded Coach of the Year for Division I. Prior to the varsity job, McDaniel had a previous stint as East’s freshmen basketball coach for two seasons and he was also the JV basketball coach for a season. McDaniel has also been an assistant coach for the football team since ’06 and he currently works in the Special Education Department at East.
Last season, East star senior Aireus Raspberry made All-State for his second season while Nelvin Blanco, also a senior, made All-State for the first time. The school has also had multiple All-Academic picks over the past three seasons.
With the absence of those two prolific scorers, the Bolts will be looking elsewhere for points. However, McDaniel doesn’t want the team to try to emulate last year, but instead to operate the way it’s most comfortable.
“The biggest challenge I believe we're going to have this season is just not living up to last year or the previous years, but making sure this team has its own identity, and making sure that we compete every night,” McDaniel said. “And know that they're trying to set and reach their own goals and they don't have to live up to what teams have done in the past. They just have to go out, compete every night and play the best that they can play.” And the coach is convinced that if they do that, this year’s squad can do some big things.
“Most definitely,” McDaniel said. “I definitely feel confident in the group that we have that we're going to win some games in Division I. They might not all be pretty, but I definitely feel that we have the roster to be able to compete and hopefully make a playoff spot and get back to the state tournament.”