Category: Feature

WELCOME TO THE CLUB: Profile’s Robie hits 2K mark in playoffs

By Mike Whaley

Honestly, the first thing that Josh Robie felt when he reached the 2,000-point milestone on Thursday night in a 58-33 win over Portsmouth Christian Academy in the Division IV boys basketball quarterfinals was, well, happy to get it out of the way.

The Profile senior guard moved past the 2K plateau with a left-handed layup in the fourth quarter of the playoff win, scoring 21 points. That, along with 22 points from junior Cayden Wakeham, helped the unbeaten No. 1 Patriots (20-0) reach the D-IV semis set for Monday night at Bedford HS (7:30 p.m.) against No. 4 Farmington (17-3). No. 2 Littleton and No. 6 Woodsville, the defending champion, play in the earlier semi at 5:30 p.m.

“It’s honestly a relief to get it over with,” Robie said. “Going into the final four it’s going to be a huge game, so it’s nice to get it over with. I can just focus on winning games.”

Robie is the first NH player to reach that milestone since Mascoma Valley’s current girls’ coach, Tonya Young, capped her career with the Royals in 2007, ending with 2,112 points. He is the first boy to hit the mark going back 25 years when former Concord HS and NBA star Matt Bonner and Kearsarge’s Steve Lavolpicelo did so in 1999.  Robie is the 12th NH boy to hit the milestone and the 17th player overall to join the elite club. He is also the first player from the state’s North Country to reach 2,000.

Courtesy: Chris Laclair, Chris Clicks Photography

“It’s great to have that done before we get to the final four,” said coach Mitchell Roy. “PCA is a great defensive team. They probably guarded as well if not better than anybody else. I’m like ‘he’s 16 away, that’s going to get it.’ But 16 is not 4 or 2.” That said, there was some drama as Robie didn’t reach the mark until the fourth quarter.

It was a different situation for Robie scoring 2,000 than 1,000. When he hit the 1K mark at the Farmingron holiday tournament in 2022, he didn’t know how close he was, so he felt there was no pressure on him. That was not the case Thursday. He knew he was 16 points away from 2,000 coming into the game. “You can say ‘don’t think about it.’” he said. “But it’s hard not to think about it.”

As Robie recalled, a lot of his points came from the free throw line. “It was a weird night,” he said. The milestone hoop came with 5:52 to play in the fourth quarter. Jackson Clough rebounded a missed PCA shot and pitched it quickly out to Robie at halfcourt on the left. He drove in for the lefty layup for his 16th and 17th point of the night and the 2,000th and 2,001st of his career. “It was a sigh of relief,” the 6-foot senior said. He has 2,005 points going into Monday, tied with Fall Mountain’s Jayson Waysville (1994).

Courtesy: Chris Laclair, Chris Clicks Photography

Some NH 2,000-pointers offered their congratulations through video messaging to Ball 603, including unofficial club chairman, Keith Friel, who played at Oyster River HS and later at Notre Dame and Virginia. “Congratulations on all the years of sacrifice by you, your family, coaches, teammates, and lastly your community. Good luck in the playoffs and keep it going.”

“It hasn’t been accomplished (by a boy) since the profile of the Old Man of the Mountain was still standing 25 years ago,” said Bonner, who scored 2,459 points at Concord HS, played in college at the University of Florida, and in the NBA with the Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs. “I know first hand how hard it is to do that with eight minute quarters and no shot clock. So congratulations Josh and best of luck for whatever life has in store for you, and live free or die.”

“Congratulations on this great accomplishment and great feat that not a lot of people have done,” said Young, the last NH hoopster to hit 2K 17 years ago. She later played at the University of Vermont. “Enjoy it. It’s so good in the moment and good luck in the future.”

David Burrows is the all-time state scoring leader with 2,845 points. “I too played for a D-IV school and I’m pretty confident that your fans and teammates are really enjoying this. You should enjoy it as well,” said Burrows, who graduated from Nute High School in 1990, leading the Rams to the Class S/D-IV title that year. He also scored in excess of 1,000 points at Bryant University. “Congratulations again. Good luck in the tournament and welcome to the club. Shooters shoot.”

Courtesy: Chris Laclair, Chris Clicks Photography

Robie has played for the Patriots since he was in eighth grade, something that only D-IV players are allowed to do. He scored right around 120 points that year, but played just 10 games his freshman year. The lion’s share of his points have come over the last three seasons. “When he got a thousand, you kind of knew he could get it,” said Roy. “But we’ve been very fortunate to be healthy. … It’s crazy to think that he has 2,000 and Alex Leslie is going to finish right around 1,500. That’s a lot when you see that in one class of kids. While we have almost 3,500 points in scoring between those two guys, neither of them led us in scoring last night in our quarterfinal win.”

While Profile counts on Robie to score, that has shifted as he’s gotten older and more of his teammates have grown into scoring roles. “I’ve been trying to find the right balance in winning games, which is our No. 1 priority, and trying to play at the right pace for myself,” Robie said. “I’m just trying to do what’s best for the team. My 2,000 points, that comes after winning games.”

“If you look at games when I was younger, I was probably forcing it more than I should have,” Robie said. “This year, I’m letting it come to me a lot more. My team finds me when I’m open. They give me confidence. Coaches give me confidence. The work that I put in, my teammates just believe in me out there.”

Courtesy: Chris Laclair, Chris Clicks Photography

Robie led D-IV in scoring, averaging right around 26 points per game, but it could have been a lot more. “I’ve held him back significantly,” coach Roy said. “We used to just say go, go, go. We weren’t as good, so I was kind of letting him do whatever he wanted because we were a young team and I was trying to help him gain his confidence. It’s tough, but he could score way more than I’m letting him. … He knows for him to get more open, and shots that we need now that are good shots for us, he needs his teammates to show up.”

That scoring balance is readily apparent. Leslie is averaging 20 points as the team’s No. 2 scorer, but it doesn’t stop there. Wakeham is right around 14 ppg and Robie’s brother, Karsen, is averaging a shade under 9 ppg. It also helps that the key players are now juniors and seniors. “We have a lot of weapons,” Roy said. “It forces them to get out of their box-and-one, get out of their zone or their triangle-and-two. It’s great because we can then play against man to man and Josh can really show off what he does as a player. It allows him to be more free because those other guys are huge pieces. It’s a lot more fun than having Josh score 30 instead of 40 now. I think they would all agree.”

Robie concurs. “I think as a team it’s gotten a lot better,” he said. “Last I remember in the playoffs in our loss to Woodsville we were basically going through me and Alex. We had a lot of other players who really weren’t doing a whole lot. Then you look at this year, when we played Woodsville, you get the ball to Karsen, it’s almost an automatic 3 every time. You have Cayden who can get by his defender and you have Riley (Plante) and Jackson (Clough) who are out there and clean up on the boards. It’s a big step forward. Those guys add a lot out there.”

Courtesy: Chris Laclair, Chris Clicks Photography

Roy, like Robie, is glad the milestone is out of the way. “It has been a distraction in a way,” Roy said. “It’s probably distracted me more than it distracted Josh. I have to make the decision when we’re up a good amount in a game, should I play him and risk his health out there or should I hold him back and avoid him from getting this milestone. I’ve got a lot of negativity from people; even this year. Our first-round game, there were comments online that we were still shooting, up 40 points (they beat Epping, 79-21, and Robie scored 34). They don’t understand, it’s the tournament. Some people think we take it too seriously. I think you’ve got to be really focused to be competitive. We’re going to keep that focus as we play a great Farmington team.”

“Aside from the shooting prowess, which is obviously pretty special, I’m really impressed with his focus,” said Farmington coach Adam Thurston. “I don’t think I’ve seen the kid smile in three years; just the way he carries himself on the court and developed his overall game. The fact that you have to account for him every single second of every single possession. I don’t think we’ve really had a player in the division since we’ve been in D-IV that’s garnered that much attention.”

Josh Robie will have Farmington’s full attention Monday night as Profile looks to advance to the championship for the first time in 20 years when the Patriots won the program’s only title in 2004.


2K TIDBITS: Three schools have two 2K scorers – Epping’s Kerry Bascom and Ryan Gatchell; Nute’s Julie Donlon and David Burrows, and Kearsarge’s Tom Brayshaw and Steve Lavolpicelo.

Two players scored their 2,000th point in a state championship game. Fall Mountain’s Jayson Waysville did it in his final high school game in the 1994 Class M final, a 67-55 win over Inter-Lakes. Burrows actually hit 2,000 in the last game of his junior year, a 58-39 loss to Epping in the Class S championship. Burrows scored 30 of his team’s 39 points. He did come back as a senior to lead the Rams to the state title, beating Wilton-Lyndeborough for the crown, 56-45. He scored 149 points in four playoff games, a state record across all divisions that still stands.

Here is a list of 2K players to play on a state championship team or teams and the year(s) they did it: Burrows, Nute (1990), Karen Wood, Henniker (1981, 1982, 1983, 1984); Gatchell, Epping (1989, 1991, 1992); Matt Alosa, Pembroke (1991); Bonner, Concord (1997, 1998, 1999); Kerry Bascom, Epping (1985); Scott Drapeau, Merrimack Valley (1989, 1990); Friel, Oyster River (1995, 1996); Young, Mascoma (2004), and Waysville, Fall Mountain (1994).

Many of the Division IV/Class S players like Robie played as eighth graders, the only division where it is possible to play on the varsity before high school.


Watch as Granite State legends welcome Josh Robie to the 2,000-point club…

Hoop Crusaders: Hadlocks give Littleton girls’ program a boost

By Mike Whaley

LITTLETON – The name Hadlock is synonymous with athletics in Littleton, but more so in recent years with the Littleton High School girls basketball team. After all, junior Addison Hadlock is one of the stars for the Crusaders (12-0), the only unbeaten team left in NHIAA Division IV. Her mom, Kelly, is the JV and assistant varsity coach, while older sister, Laney, who starred on the 2019 championship team, coaches the middle school team.

That’s win-win for Dale Prior, now in his 19th season as head coach (and 23rd overall). As far as he is concerned, the more Hadlocks the merrier.

“It feels like a good family,” Prior said. “Pun intended with the three Hadlocks because there are three of them. We just have a group that is really close knit. We can see that on the floor. We can see that in practice. This group has that special characteristic that it takes to get to the end.”

Basketball is a big part of the Hadlock family. All five children play or played basketball for Littleton (Grady is a senior member of the 11-1 boys’ team), including dad, Casey, who suited up for the Crusaders in the late 1980s. Kelly is the outlier. She grew up 40 minutes north in Groveton. There she starred for teams coached by the legendary Gary Jenness, the state’s winningest high school girls’ coach (641 wins). She played five years on the Eagle varsity starting as an eighth-grader, and was a member of the program’s first two state championship squads in 1988 and 1990.

From left to right: Kelly Hadlock, Laney Hadlock, Addison Hadlock, Dale Prior.

Kelly attended and played one year of basketball at St. Joseph’s College in Maine. She transferred and graduated from Plymouth State University, but did not continue to play basketball. Passion for the sport remained. When she graduated she served as an assistant with the Littleton HS girls’ program for four years under Steve Simons in the late 1990s before starting a family. She got back into it 12 years ago when Prior needed a JV coach and varsity assistant. There were some good applicants, but Kelly stood out to Prior. 

Kelly was already coaching Laney when she applied for the high school positions. Laney was in third grade when Kelly first coached her and she then followed her through fifth grade. She has also coached Laney at the AAU level.

Working with and/or playing for Prior has been a great experience for all the Hadlocks. “Dale is an amazing coach,” Kelly said. “He runs a great program. I’m thankful that he is and has been my daughters’ coach.”

Something that resonates year after year with Kelly is something Prior says at the beginning of every season – “If you give me 100 percent, I’ll give you more.” It makes her smile. “My children have learned so many more things than just basketball,” she said. “He’s been there for my family on a personal note when there was a sickness with my mother. He was there. He’s like that for all his players.”

Kelly notes that Prior is great at teaching kids about responsibility, and that education does not take a back seat to sports. “These children are held to a very high standard,” she said. “He knows that in life (education) is so much more important. We always have the rule: family, education, basketball.”

Courtesy: Jill Stevens

Prior is glad Kelly is part of his staff. “It’s a perfect fit,” he said. “We complement each other really well. She’s very knowledgeable. She relates to the kids. She’ll do anything for the kids. Her basketball background and knowledge has brought a lot to the program.”

Laney starred for the Crusaders from 2015 to 2019, leading them to the 2019 D-IV state hoop title while earning player-of-the-year honors. She also played soccer and tennis. Laney attended Rhode Island College to study nuclear medicine, and played two years on the RIC tennis team, including with the Little East Conference championship squad in 2021. She is back in Littleton working at Littleton Hospital as a nuclear medicine technologist.

Laney had planned to return to Littleton to work, eventually raise a family and certainly coach. The coaching came sooner than expected. She was still in school two years ago, returning over the winter break to help her mom and coach Prior out. At the time, the two were coaching all programs from Grade 7 to 12. They both felt Laney would be a good fit for the middle school position. “They mentioned that I’ve been through the program and know the style of coaching and all the stuff they do. It made sense,” Laney recalled.

Last year as a senior at RIC she became the middle school head coach, driving up from Providence to do the job when she could. When she couldn’t, Kelly and coach Prior stepped in. “There’s no way I could have done that all the time,” she said. “Their support was the only way to do it.”

Courtesy: Jill Stevens

Prior is tickled. “The fact that a kid wants to come back and give back to your program means a lot,” he said. “She’s just a great fit. I couldn’t think of a better kid to coach at that level. Hopefully she has future goals of coaching at the higher levels. I’m not going to be here forever. I’ve already been here longer than I thought (I would).”

Prior likes what he sees in Laney as a coach. “She has a calm demeanor,” he said. “She teaches. She has respect. She holds kids accountable. Ultimately, she just wants to get the best out of each kid. She challenges kids in a very professional coaching way. The kids just respond to that.”

One thing Laney is really good at, according to Prior, is teaching skill development. “We’re seeing that we need that most in our program – kids that have the fundamentals,” he said. “Kudos for her for putting an emphasis on that.”

Laney feels her coaching is a reflection of her mom and Prior, and what they taught her. “When I’m sitting next to (my mom) on the sidelines and sometimes we say the same thing,” Laney said. “You catch yourself doing that. I say the same things when I’m coaching my middle school team that Coach P and my mom would say. It’s like I’ve been taught by them and now I’m doing it as a coach.

Laney looks up to her mom as one of the strongest women she knows. “She wants me to be tough. I’ve definitely grown to be a tough woman, a tough person because of her.”

One big thing she picked up from her mom was not to cave into peer pressure. “As a coach she told me you have to learn to say no,” Laney said.

That Laney is grounded as she is, is testament to Kelly and Prior. She remembers at an early age learning that a starting position wasn’t going to be handed to her because her mom was coaching. She can laugh about it now, but she recalls being on an AAU team coached by Kelly. There was one particular game that stands out. Her team was losing by a few points late in the game and she was sitting on the bench. “I wasn’t as good as the other girls,” Laney recalled. “That’s when I started to realize if I wanted to play I’ve got to get better. There was no favoritism. Nothing like that. She (my mom) played the best players.”

Laney took that challenge to heart. She worked to get better. “My mom would bring me to the gym. We would shoot 500 shots,” Laney said. “We would work on ball handling and post moves. My dad came with me to do post moves. I got better.”

Another reason Laney improved is that Coach Prior let her play with the varsity when she was in sixth and seventh grade. Her mom was there coaching, so Laney was  just hanging out shooting on one of the side baskets. “They let me join in as a practice player playing defense against the starting five,” Laney said. Coach Prior also let her play summer basketball and go to team camps.

Those experiences gave her a newfound respect for her mom. “Once you see that those teams are being successful then you can see ‘oh, I should listen to that person,’” Laney said. “If they’re coaching those teams and winning those games, I should listen. That’s how it was for me. It was like building up trust by watching her being successful with those teams that she coached.”

There was an instance in high school when Prior recalled that Laney didn’t play well during a game at White Mountains Regional HS. A heated discussion at home created enough of a rift that Laney and Kelly ended up not speaking to each other for a while. With Prior’s help they came to an understanding. “Let me coach Laney,” he said. “Let me be the one that interacts.”

Courtesy: Jill Stevens

“I learned that basketball stays on the court,” Kelly said. “Home life is home.”

Looking at her daughters, Kelly said “they are very different in so many ways. But the ultimate goal is the same. It’s what I cherish most about being able to coach them. Both have a team mentality; very unselfish. To them, stats like rebounds and assists are important. It’s never about points.”

Kelly, to illustrate that, references Laney’s senior year when she surpassed the 1,000-point milestone. “She never knew she was at the point of scoring 1,000 points,” her mom said. “They are kids who never ask to look at the (score)book. They never worried about that.”

Recalling her 1,000 points, Laney laughs. “I had no idea. I was shocked. I didn’t know at all.”

For Laney, that season was all about winning the state championship. Scoring 1,000 points was nice, but the main accomplishment was the state title after being on teams as a junior and freshman that had lost in the final.

Courtesy: KJ Cardinal

Growing up watching her sister play and her mom coach has rubbed off on Addison. “I loved watching her play,” said Addison about Laney when she was a Crusader. “I went to her practice. Coach P and my mom were there. I got to practice with them when I was younger and it just inspired me to be a basketball player myself. … (Mom as a coach) challenges me. When I’m on the court, even shooting around during practice or in a game. She’s always there pushing me to be as good as she knows I can be.”

Addison respects what her sister and mom bring to the program. She embraces workouts with her sister, knowing it can only make her better. She knows that when her mom speaks, she’s offering advice that will help her improve her game. “If I do something wrong, they’ll be there to encourage me,” Addison said. “‘You got this.’Honestly, it’s awesome to have them there because they don’t bring any negative energy.”

Prior sees a lot of similarities between Addison and Laney. “She’s different from Laney in the sense that Laney was stronger inside,” the coach said. “But similar in that Addison can both post up, hit the mid-range jump shot and can shoot 3s. Right now, this season alone, she’s averaging over four blocks a game playing in the middle of our defense. It’s a huge benefit to have somebody like that back there. Laney was like that too.”

Courtesy: Shirley Nickles.

Prior said Addison is faster, which means this Littleton team is able to press a little differently than Laney’s Group. They have very similar leadership characteristics. “Addy is a vocal leader,” Prior said. “She leads by example on and off the court, which her teammates respect and appreciate. Both are or were captains.”

Prior said going into this year Addison was roughly point wise where Laney was at the same time – eight points separating the two. “They also mimic the same path so far,” Prior said. “Points were not important to Laney. Addison is unselfish at times. They both want that one thing and Addison still wants that one thing, which is to win a championship.”

Having Kelly on the coaching staff has been a plus for Prior. “We’ve developed that consistency that to me is so important in high school athletics. I’ve been around a long time and I see schools switch coaches after two or three years and wonder why they can’t get consistent. She believes in what we were doing. We have a lot of the same philosophies. One of the greatest things about our relationship is we talk things out. She’ll have an idea that I might not have thought of. … We bounce ideas off each other. We sit on the bench in the middle of the game and discuss strategies and what she sees as a coach. I try to treat her and Laney the same way. We’re a coaching staff. There is a hierarchy. But I like having that extra set of eyes and knowledge. It makes us special to work together.”

Which brings us back to that “good family” thing Prior spoke of earlier in the story.

“One of the great things about Littleton is that Laney comes up to help and Coach Prior comes down to help,”  Kelly said. “The three of us teach the same things, just at a different pace. That’s what makes our program successful. It’s pretty consistent. We use the same words. We use the same plays. We use the same defenses.”

“It’s a small town,” Prior said. “I’m not saying everybody knows everybody, but everybody knows the Hadlocks because they’ve had some pretty good athletes go through the school system.” Got some coaching chops, too.

NOTES: The two other Hadlock children who played basketball for Littleton are Regan (2017) and Cole (2021). Cole is attending Murray State University in Kentucky where he is a member of the bass fishing team.

Got a story idea, you can reach Mike at whaleym25@gmail.com

 

Welcome new intern Jayda Davis (UNH ‘24)

Join us in welcoming aboard Jayda Davis as an intern for the final semester of her senior year at the University of New Hampshire.

A native of Dennis, Mass., Jayda is majoring in Sports Management & Leadership with a concentration in Marketing and minoring in Business Administration. She will be assisting us in a wide array of areas including writing game recaps, graphic design, marketing and more. She is coming off a recent internship with the Oyster River High School Athletic Department.

Thanks for joining the team, Jayda!

Nate’s Take: New Hampshire needs a shot clock

By Nathaniel Ford

On January 3, 2020, Manchester West was facing Souhegan in Division II play. West led 26-23 going into the second half, and Souhegan came out in a zone defense. What happened next put on full display why a shot clock is necessary in the state. 

West held the ball at half court, and Souhegan did not pressure them. In the entire third quarter, one shot was taken. For eight full minutes of play, only a single field goal was attempted. 

This is not the first time this has happened, and if no shot clock is added, it probably will not be the last. This strategy really takes away from the essence of high school basketball. Holding the ball is not fun for the players or fans, and it diminishes the competition that every game provides.

This is far from the only reason a shot clock could be beneficial for the sport. In total, 27 states have approved a 30 or 35 second shot clock, including our neighbor Massachusetts. Multiple NHIAA athletes have voiced that the lack of a shot clock can be detrimental in their recruitment from collegiate programs.

The NCAA has a 30 second shot clock across the country. Transitioning from the high school game to college is a big jump already. The speed, physicality, and competition is all increased even more at the college level. Needing to adjust to a shot clock as well can just add to that tough transition.

Across the state, there is a lot of support from many people involved in the basketball community. Players, coaches, officials, and fans are all in support of a shot clock, and this is definitely the majority.

“I was hoping I would see it before I retired. I think it would add to the game,” said Coe-Brown head coach David Smith. He is a legend and very respected in the NH basketball scene.

“I think it would be a lot of fun to coach with a shot clock, and it would increase the importance of having quick hitters to get looks late in possessions,” said Profile coach Mitchell Roy. He had experience working with the Endicott College basketball team, so he’s worked with a shot clock.

One reason some have against the implementation of the clock is that it would require coaches to adjust their strategies and would be a very difficult change. However, it is evident that many coaches would love to see it added in the state, as it can provide some creativity with strategy.

“At the end of the game, it would make a difference if you have a slight lead and still need to get a shot up,” said Smith. 

This clock would force teams to continue running an offense and attacking the hoop, which would lead to more exciting finishes to games.

Another benefit of a shot clock is that it could increase defensive intensity across the board. “It gives teams a better opportunity to play defense, whether it is for 30 or 35 seconds,” said Smith. 

Overall, there are a ton of positives for a shot clock, which is why there are calls for its addition. However, the voices on the other side of the argument have some valid points as well.

The most obvious concern is the price and the installation of the clocks. Every school would need to buy two, one for each basket, and then wire them to the scorer’s table. While this would be a large upfront payment, there is possibly a larger concern.

“The biggest thing would be finding someone to operate the shot clock. You’d have to find another person willing to do the clock, and they would be paid the same as the game clock operator,” said Coe-Brown athletic director Samuel Struthers. 

Operating a shot clock takes training and full attention into the game. The operator must understand all of the instances where it needs to be reset, which can be pretty fast-paced at times in a game.

“We have a hard time finding someone to operate the clock at a smaller school. Now to make sure everyone gets training on the shot clock rules? It’s easier said than done,” said Roy.

Schools across the state already struggle to get an operator for the main scoreboard, and this person would not be able to do the shot clock as well. Finding a second person could prove to be a near impossible task.

Regardless, the nationwide trend is towards a shot clock, and at some point, New Hampshire will have to get on board. The benefits to adding a shot clock definitely outweigh the concerns. 

It seems inevitable that New Hampshire will bring it to the state. It could be within a couple of years, or it could be far down the line, but if a shot clock is on the horizon, the earlier it is implemented, the better. 

Holmes court advantage: Passion and consistency

By Mike Whaley

EXETER – Jeff Holmes’ enthusiasm for basketball, which spans 50-plus years, shows no signs of diminishing.

“I’ve always been passionate about basketball,” said Holmes, who recently completed his 25th year as the head coach of the boys team at Exeter High School and his 34th overall. “I played a lot when I was a kid. I really enjoyed the sport. I’ll watch it on a Saturday or go to a game and drive my wife nuts with basketball. I like it.”

Holmes has enjoyed a pretty good run. After playing three years at the University of Maine in Orono, in the late 1980s, his first coaching stop in northern Maine at Caribou High School yielded seven playoff appearances in nine years. In his 25 years in Exeter the Blue Hawks have made 24 Division I playoffs, winning back-to-back D-I state titles in 2019 and 2020. The 2019 team went 24-0, winning the school’s first state title in 42 years. 

His overall coaching record is 439-311.

Exeter High School went undefeated during the 2018-19 season to win the Division I state boys basketball championship under Jeff Holmes, its first title since 1977. [Courtesy photo]

After going 53-2 the previous three seasons, this past year Holmes had to completely revamp a team that lost its first six players. He did so with great success. No. 7 Exeter went 13-7 overall, beating 10th-seeded Nashua South in the first round of the D-I tournament, 67-58, before taking No. 2 Nashua North to the wire in a tightly contested 57-54 loss.

“I like to get a team to the next level,” Holmes said. “If it’s an average team, get that team to be a good team. If you’re a good team, try to get that team to be a very good team. My mindset is to try and get better every day in the gym.”

At 57, he is also one of the elder statesmen in the state’s coaching circles. Holmes remains involved outside of his own program helping to grow the sport around the state as a long-time member and past president of the New Hampshire Basketball Coaches Organization and past member of the NHIAA Basketball Committee.

Three generations of Holmes are pictured in 2012: Jeff, right, with his daughter Hillary and dad, Steve. The trio celebrates Exeter’s Division I spring track and field championship, which Hillary helped win by scoring 38 points. [Courtesy photo]

“When I first started out he was a guy I was able to talk to about the challenges of being a varsity coach,” said Jay McKenna, who recently completed his 17th year as the Winnacunnet HS head coach. “He was very helpful and he’s a guy I consider to be a very good friend.”

Holmes’ formative years in basketball date back to the early 1970s growing up in the southwest corner of the state as the son of a coach.

His dad, Steve Holmes, was the head boys hoop coach at Fall Mountain Regional High School in Langdon where he coached the team from the late 1960s until the late 1970s. His 1973 team won the Class I (Division II) state championship.

“I was always going to the gym with him,” Jeff remembers. “I got into basketball basically because of my dad.”

Steve Holmes at 85 is in his 60th year of coaching. He is a throws coach with the track and field team at Phillips Exeter Academy.

He remembers Jeff, the youngest of the three Holmes’ children, always having a real affection “for anything round. He was shooting nerf balls when he was 2 or 3 years old.”

The Holmes family lived off the beaten track on a dirt road in Westmoreland, a small town west of Keene. Steve recalls building a nice hoop on the back side of the garage and asphalting the area around the basket. “For the next 10 to 12 years (Jeff) would just go outside and shoot non-stop,” Steve said. “There was no one close by, so he had to make up all these games. He had a lot of fun doing that. He became an amazing shooter.”

Exeter coach Jeff Holmes, right, confers with Josh Morissette during the undefeated 2018-19 season. [Mike Whaley photo]

Steve, of course, got to follow his son’s evolution first hand. He even coached a Westmoreland team of fourth and fifth graders when Jeff was in fifth grade. He recalls one game vs. St. Charles of Bellows Falls, Vermont, a game Westmoreland won 31-29. Jeff scored all of his team’s points.

“That was a precursor of things to come,” Steve said.

His dad added,” I knew Jeff had a good competitive edge. When he was in third grade, he’d come up to Fall Mountain if he had a day off. He would take on some of the (high school) players in a game of HORSE. I don’t think he ever lost. He was only 9 years old.”

Jeff went on to star at Keene High School, becoming the school’s first 1,000-point scorer in the days before the 3-point shot. As a senior in 1983, the Blackbirds earned the No. 1 seed in the Class L tournament, but were upset in the quarterfinal round.

He drew plenty of college interest, including from Rick Pitino, then the coach at Boston University. Pitino, of course, is still coaching, having guided teams at both the college and pro level in a nearly 50-year career. He has two NCAA national championships under his belt.

Pitino came to the Holmes house in Westmoreland to recruit Jeff, decked out in a pinstripe suit. He walked into their house and, as Steve recalled, said,” This is the first recruiting trip I’ve ever made on a dirt road.”

Jeff accepted a scholarship to Boston University, but never played under Pitino. On the eve of the season, the coach took a position as an assistant with the New York Knicks – a season that Jeff ended up spending on the BU bench.

He transferred to Maine the following year, where he played from 1985 to 1988, serving as a captain in his senior season.

One of the highlights that Steve enjoys relates to a game with visiting Michigan State, coached by Jud Heathcoate, during Jeff’s sophomore season.

Michigan State had a 15-point lead with a couple of minutes to go, and both teams began clearing their respective benches. Jeff went in.

“Jeff took seven shots, all 3s, and drained them,” Steve recalled of Jeff’s 21 points in three minutes. “Jud didn’t know what happened. The eighth (shot) was a toilet seater – it went around the rim two or three times and bounced out.”

Michigan State reinserted its starters, but it was too late. Jeff’s heroics had ignited a late game-winning surge for Maine.

Not long after that, Jeff appeared in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” section, and was also mentioned in the publication’s story on the 3-point shot changing the complexion of the game of basketball. “Jeff was a pioneer,” his dad said.

Jeff graduated from Maine in 1988. He applied for and got his first job as a physical education teacher and basketball coach in Caribou.

It was a great experience. It’s where he met his wife, Janel.

“They love basketball in Aroostook County,” he said. Caribou is located three hours north of Bangor, so it’s not a place where you can jump in the car and easily drive to a college or pro game. “They had a nice gymnasium, similar to Exeter’s now,” Jeff said. “We had great crowds. They loved hoop.”

The chance to return to New Hampshire was alluring, so when a teaching and coaching post opened in Exeter, Holmes jumped at it. “It’s worked out well for me,” he said.

“It’s been a good fit for me,” added Holmes, who also coached track and field for 29 years in Maine and N.H. “Both are very different. One is more blue collar – farm boys. Exeter is not that way.”

Holmes immediately stepped into a competitive situation his first year (1997-98). “We were really good,” he said. “We made it all the way to the state finals. We lost to (Matt) Bonner and Concord. I was fortunate. I came in and we had a quality team.”

It was a good lesson, too.

During the regular season, Exeter lost to Concord by 10, but it was a two-point game with three minutes to go. Bonner, who went on to play at Florida and then enjoyed a long career in the National Basketball Association, scored 40-plus points.

“I outsmarted myself in the finals,” laughs Holmes as his team lost to Concord, 73-44, despite holding Bonner to 17 points. “I devised some defense to double team Bonner. They still beat us by 30. They had a good team. It wasn’t just him. I won’t do that again. You don’t change what you are come tournament time.”

Holmes continued to try and get better. “I went to a lot of clinics to try to improve and learn stuff,” he said. “Sometimes I get myself doing too much. You do too much, you can overload the kids. You kind of go backwards. That old saying: “Keep it simple, stupid.”

Holmes believes he had some good years up in Maine because he kept it really simple.

“Sometimes you learn and try to incorporate more stuff,’ Holmes said. “You can put too much in and be too complicated. I’ve caught myself doing that as I’ve gotten older. … You still have your nuts and bolts, what you do offensively and defensively, and get good at that.”

Holmes said he learned a lot from his dad and Exeter’s athletic director Bill Ball, who is also the school’s football coach.

“He was a real energy guy,” Holmes said of his dad. “He loved it. He was knowledgeable as a coach. I try to incorporate those things into my coaching. Be enthusiastic. Work the kids hard.”

From Ball he learned how to run a program, including how to increase your participation numbers. “I developed that over the years,” Holmes said. “We’ve got good numbers for freshman and JV. We have a lot of competition for spots.”

One thing Holmes has gleaned over time is that you have to coach the personality of the kid, and not treat everyone the same. He has also understood the value of embracing the whole program. “In basketball, sometimes you get caught up with your three best players,” Holmes said. “I try not to do that. To run a program, you’ve got to coach the 45 kids. I’ve learned about emphasizing the program, doing things the right way, the wins will come.”

Consistency has been key. “I have the same philosophy,” Holmes said. “I coach for the program; not just the top guys.”

Holmes is not a loud coach. It’s not his style. “It’s hard to be a yeller and a screamer these days,” he said. “You’re not going to last too long. … The way I look at it I’m more of a teacher. I don’t have to yell and scream at my kids if they’re playing hard. For the most part they play really hard.”

His dad sees that as a huge strength. “He has a really good demeanor and knows how to interact with the athletes really well,” Steve said. “To this day, he’s only got one technical (foul). He’s involved with the game and very close to the kids, but not enough where it spoils the coach/athlete relationship.”

McKenna thinks consistency is what has helped Holmes to stay in the game so long at the high school level where coaching attrition runs high. “He’s even keeled, he’s good with the kids, and the kids respect him,” McKenna said. “That goes a long way. … It’s Jeff’s consistency. You know what you’re getting with Jeff. The kids understand that.”

Holmes has also been a proponent of kids playing multiple sports. When he coached track and field, he’d try to get basketball players to give it a try. “A lot of times they found a lot of success in it,” he said.

There’s been a lot of positives over the years. Holmes’ teams have done well, and he’s even had the chance to coach both of his children – Hillary in track and field and Bryant in basketball.

When the state championship teams came along, he recalls those squads being set up to some extent by the agony of defeat.

In the 2018 semifinals at UNH, No. 2 Exeter had a lead at halftime against No. 11 Dover, but somehow lost a point when the game’s two official scorekeepers inexplicably counted a 3-pointer by Cody Morissette as a two. They actually went to the locker room up nine (38-29), and when they returned it was 36-29, although the score should have been 37-29.

Exeter was not the same team in the second half. Dover was able to catch them and upset them by two points. “That really focused those guys for next year when we went undefeated,” Holmes said. “That experience can also help you.”

The 2019 state championship was Exeter’s first in 42 years. The undefeated Blue Hawks were dominant in a season where just two of their games had winning margins of under 10 points. “We had a lot of talent and the kids came to play every day for practice and games,” Holmes said. “That’s a lot of pressure when you’re the best team. The best team doesn’t always win it.”

He added, “We hadn’t won it since 1977. There was some pressure. I was feeling it a little bit from my end. It was a great relief when we did win it.”

Although there was success the two years after that, there was also frustration because of the pandemic.

Exeter ended up losing one game in 2020, sharing the D-I championship with Portsmouth when the pandemic forced the tournament to be canceled after the first round. Exeter earned a first-round bye as the top seed, but it never got the chance to play a single playoff game.

Last year, the Blue Hawks went undefeated during the shortened regular season (13-0). However, due to the tournament’s random draw format that was used they had to play rival Winnacunnet in the second round for a fourth time. Exeter had won all three meetings during the season, but the Warriors caught them in the tourney with an overtime win. Winnacunnet ended up advancing to the championship game where it fell to Bishop Guertin.

“In my opinion, we were the best and they were the second best,” Holmes said. “We just couldn’t beat them a fourth time.”

Something that refreshed Holmes’ coaching experience came along unexpectedly in 2016. His friend and former teammate at Maine, Jim Boylen, was an assistant coach at the time in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls. He asked Holmes to help out scouting games at Boston’s TD Garden.

Over a two-year span, Holmes did 8 to 10 games a year when the Bulls needed him.

It was a lot of work, but a great gig. Most of the time, Holmes had to go on a school day during his basketball season. Often he’d have practice and then head to Boston.

There were a few times when he had to turn down an assignment when it conflicted with an Exeter game.

“I didn’t tell them you’ve got to guard Stephen Curry,” Holmes said with a laugh. “I had to jot down the time and the play they ran at the time. Just chart every possession they do. I learned a lot. It was kind of an eye-opener for me.”

The seating for scouts was courtside, which made it fun to be right on top of the action. He recalls that first season enjoying the games because the Celtics had Isaiah Thomas, and he was a pleasure to watch.

“It helped me out a lot as a coach,” Holmes said. “I had to do a lot of prep work before to learn the terminology that they use, and different sets that these teams run. It was pretty cool that way, at that point in my career to get rejuvenated a little bit, learning all this new stuff.”

Holmes said some of the NBA stuff rubbed off on his coaching. “The situational stuff,” he said. “After timeouts, end-of-game coaching. I run versions of a lot of stuff I learned as far as set plays.”

It was a different experience for Holmes from when he’d go to a game to watch for fun. “When you’re scouting, you really break it down,” he said. “What’s happening off the ball? What type of screens are they using? You’ve got to dive a lot deeper into it. That was good for me.”

He’s glad he got the chance. “Not only was it a great experience, but I got paid,” Holmes said.

In the twilight of his career, Holmes sees the end in sight, but it’s not immediate. “I enjoy it,” he said. “I think I’ll ride it out until I retire from teaching.” Which, he figures, is around 65.

“I don’t think I’d coach and not teach,” he said. “Being there in the school is a good thing.”

Speaking of good things, having Jeff Holmes on a basketball sideline certainly fits into that category.

360 with Ball 603: Freshman Ferdinando fuels Derryfield

By KJ Cardinal

With the win over previously unbeaten Epping on Friday night, the Derryfield Cougars appear to be hitting their mid-season stride just in time for the toughest portion of their Division IV slate and they are being fueled by an emerging freshman with a familiar name.

Thomas Ferdinando, son of Keith Ferdinando (Manchester Central ’88) is a do-it-all point guard for a deep Derryfield squad that currently sits at 4-1 on the season. Thomas is averaging nearly 22 points per game, including 26 in the big win over Epping.

“Basketball is life for Thomas,” said third-year head coach Ed Meade. “He is practicing, shooting or playing at all times. He’s a really hard worker and a very smart player. He knows the game and is 100% dedicated.”

His dedication on the court shows as he has a well-rounded game and veteran-like poise in the big moment. Down the stretch versus Epping, the Andover, Mass. native was unflappable, making savvy, winning plays at the most crucial of times.

“We purposely put our best defenders on him every day in practice, Janai Cruz or Alex Camire, and it doesn’t bother Thomas,” added Meade. “He’s very poised and has all the confidence in the world. I think his confidence is a factor of him playing so much basketball. He plays AAU in the offseason down in Mass. with some of the top players in Eastern Mass.”

Ferdinando is a member of the highly touted Middlesex Magic AAU team, which was home to the Miami Heat’s Duncan Robinson the Milwaukee Bucks’ Pat Cannaughton. “Thomas has a lot of opportunity to pick up a lot of knowledge during his AAU time and he takes advantage of it,” said Meade.

While he puts in the time all year round, Thomas also has family lineage on his side.

“He comes from a long line of good basketball players. His dad [Keith at Central] and uncles [Mark and Greg at Trinity] were all very good players in high school. His dad was a standout player at Bates College up in Maine.”

Thomas’ father, Keith Ferdinando, takes a jumper in the 1988 NHIAA Class L State Championship for Manchester Central.

In fact, Keith helped lead Central to a 1988 Class L Runner-Up finish and later went on to become a 1,000-point scorer (1,140) at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.

Ferdinando and the Cougars will be put to the test on Tuesday as they head to Concord Christian Academy for a highly anticipated match-up with the Kingsmen. CCA is 5-1 on the season with its only loss coming at Epping when the Kingsmen were without three players, including senior sensation Isaac Jarvis.

“We’ve got to rebound well and play hard,” said Ferdinando. “They’ve got size.”

Coach Meade echoed the freshman’s sentiments, “We’ll have our hands full on Tuesday. We have some plans for what we want to do defensively, but it’s a tough matchup for us with their size. We have very little size, so hopefully we can stay with them and make a statement that we’re a pretty good basketball team, win or lose.”

Derryfield may lack size, but that didn’t seem to slow the Cougars down on Friday when they took down an Epping squad with depth in the front court. Whether Derryfield can knock off CCA or not, the future is bright for the Cougars with Ferdinando at the helm.

Brian Cronin: The ball doesn’t fall too far from the basket

By Mike Whaley

NEWMARKET – There’s this hazy memory of a young, mop-haired Brian Cronin, maybe 6 or 7 years of age. It’s the turn of the century in the Rochester Community Center gymnasium – now “Coach Tim Cronin Court.” While the Spaulding High School boys basketball team practices, Brian is flying around the gym’s periphery, dribbling a basketball like the Looney Tunes cartoon character, the Tasmanian Devil.

The quintessential gym rat, Brian eventually played for his dad at Spaulding, graduating in 2011. His dad retired from coaching in 2020 after building the Red Raiders into a respectable Division I program (five trips to the D-I semis). Now Brian, 29, is a head coach himself, beginning his first year guiding the boys team at Newmarket High School.

He smiles at the memory. “When my dad took over (in 2001), I was there all the time,” Brian said. “There was nowhere else for me to go. My mom was working late. I was just leaving school and going there.”

Brian Cronin, right, hangs with his dad, Spaulding coach Tim Cronin, on the sidelines before the 2015 Division I boys basketball semifinals in Durham. [Mike Whaley photo]

He adds, “There’s an ongoing joke of one of the rec administrators over there that I was born in the rec, in one of the couches out back.”

Tim Cronin recalls bringing Brian along out of necessity. “I always had him with me,” Tim said. “So that went all the way up basically. He always enjoyed being around the gym. He always enjoyed being around the players. They all knew him. It’s a good start to his career as a coach.”

The coach said he never had to worry about Brian during practices. “He was always dribbling a ball on the side,” Tim said. “He always entertained himself.”

Basketball was Brian’s life because he didn’t know anything different. The Community Center was his second home.

Another benefit was that his dad was close with many D-I coaches. It wasn’t unusual for Brian to come downstairs on a Saturday morning and find a coach chatting with his dad on the family couch. Winnacunnet’s Jay McKenna, former coaches Mike Romps (Dover) and Tim Goodridge (Merrimack) are among that group. Noah LaRoche at Integrity Hoops is another influence. Brian is good friends with Great Bay Community College coach Alex Burt. “I became friends of my dad’s friends,” he said. “I was able to get so much knowledge because of that. … Seacoast guys have always been on my side. It was fun when I was in high school. They’d come over and talk to me on the side after a game.”

Although Brian says it wasn’t until he was out of high school in 2013 that he realized he wanted to coach, there were earlier signs. Close family friend Gerry Gilbert recalls coaching Brian on a third- and fourth grade recreation team. “He wanted to be a coach from the very beginning,” Gilbert said.

Tim believes all those years in the gym growing up rubbed off Brian in the right way. It made him a leader. “He would echo what he heard over the years from me,” Tim said. “He’d translate to the players on the court.”

Tim recounts a story during a game in Rochester. Winnacunnet’s McKenna told him the story. “Jay was yelling out some kind of defense that he wanted his team to run,” Tim said. “So Brian told everybody on his team what they were going to do.” McKenna told Tim that he knew his team was in trouble with Brian out there telling people where to go.

“He was like a sponge,” Tim said. “He always listened. He was a student of the game.”

Brian laughs at recalling his high school days at the thought of “being a coach on the floor.” “I don’t think in high school I necessarily believed I was striving to be a coach,” he said. “As much as I was striving to have my dad yell at me less. I’m a product of what he created.”

Although Brian started getting the coaching bug once he graduated from high school, it was not an easy or direct path. After a year of college, he returned home for a year, helping out his dad’s team as a volunteer assistant. Then he returned to college for four years at Keene State before rejoining his dad’s staff for his final two years from 2018 to 2020.

Brian Cronin (in checkered shirt) celebrates a big night for his dad, Tim Cronin, in 2020. Center court was renamed Coach Tim Cronin Court in the Rochester Community Center gym. [Mike Whaley photo]

In between he had to deal with the failing health of his mom, Leslie, who died from Alzheimer’s disease in 2015 at age 63. Brian did not handle that well. “Anyone who was an outlet for me to yell at, I was using,” he said. “I was really bringing only negative things to the table. My attitude as a whole, not just basketball, was very negative during those years.”

Brian was also disheartened by his dad’s final year as head coach at Spaulding. The team started 4-3 but lost its final 11 to end at 4-14 to miss the playoffs, ending a streak of 13 consecutive postseason appearances.

That season left a bad taste in his mouth. “It was constantly discouraging,” he said. “There was never a day that was better.” Then he applied for the Spaulding job, but didn’t get it. That hurt. “I felt kind of hit hard not getting that Spaulding job, even though I didn’t necessarily believe I deserved it,” Brian said. “It went to the right candidate (Lorne Lucas).”

Brian was a little soured with the sport of basketball.

But he took a job with the Raymond High School boys hoop team under Jay Piecuch. It was just what he needed.

“Those are probably some of the best kids I’ve met. Period,” Brian said of the Raymond players. “Having that back; having kids who wanted to be there. Having athletes that were there to be better basketball players and working together as a team. The fact that we had a little bit of skill really brought everything back to me. ‘Oh yeah, this is what I missed.’ This is the way it should have been going.”

Raymond had a solid season, advancing to the semifinals of the Division III tournament. Brian was prepared to come back, but Piecuch got wind of the Newmarket opening when Jamie Hayes stepped down after 18 years. He convinced Brian to go for it. He’s glad he did.

“Now being at Newmarket, I get goosebumps just thinking about it,” Brian said. “These kids are so amazing. Every single one of them is ‘Yes, coach. Thank you, coach. We’ll be there on time. Early. Whatever you need.’”

Brian Cronin cheers on his team in a recent workout session in Newmarket.

He likes that they are ready to work, ready to go hard. They are like pitbulls, a little chippy. “It rekindled the flame in me,” Brian said. “Jamie instilled a mentality in those kids to come ready to work.”

Having his dad in the background as a sounding board has helped. They talk on the phone three or four times a week. They talk basketball, but also about the off-the-court stuff that all coaches must learn to navigate.

What has Brian taken from his dad? “Being prepared,” Brian said. “The fact that my dad was watching game film right after the game, then watching again in the morning. That’s something I just did today “after Friday’s 58-55 opening loss at Holy Family.

“I don’t want questions,” he said. “I want to have answers. It’s something I watched my dad give to the kids.”

There’s also the encouragement piece – compliment and constructive criticism. “These are things you need to succeed,” Brian said. “When I was playing, my dad was prepping me for the real world.”

Another important point of emphasis passed on from father to son is not accepting failure. Brian recalls the early days of the Spaulding program under his dad – tough years with very little success. “That was a constant grind,” Brian said. “We’ve got to change the atmosphere. We’ve got to change the culture.”

Eventually Tim did just that, leading Spaulding to 14 playoff appearances in his 19 years.

When Tim Cronin looks at his son, he sees a lot of good things. “I think he relates to the players very well,” Tim said. “I talked with him at length about all the mistakes that I made in my early years. He learned a little bit from that.”

Tim added, “He’s in charge and he’s very organized. He knows the point he wants to get across.”

One important thing Tim learned from another coaching dad, Dave Faucher, whose son, Scott, is the head coach at Assumption College, is this: “He told me, it’s a big point, ‘I wait for him to ask,’” Faucher told Tim. “‘I don’t say that much unless I’m asked. He always calls me after games and we talk. But I wait until I’m asked.’ I think that’s a good thing to follow.”

Faucher, coincidentally, coached at Newmarket back in the 1970s, before going on to become the head coach at Dartmouth College from 1991 to 2004.

Although Newmarket lost its first game. Brian felt good about the effort. The team trailed by 14 points at the half and by as many as 17 points in the third quarter. They made a run from there, and had a chance to tie it at the buzzer, but a 3-pointer rimmed out.

After the game, a Newmarket dad came up to Brian, ecstatic about what he saw. Brian had to smile. “He told me it was awesome to see these kids grow as the game was going on,” he said. “They were getting better every quarter.”

Which, of course, is the product of good coaching.

For feedback or story ideas, email jamsession@ball603.com