PORTSMOUTH — Portsmouth High School basketball coach Joe Occhi said basketball wunderkind Henry Bolton arrived as a freshman out of nowhere several years ago.
“Henry was a complete surprise. I think he literally got here from Japan the day of the tryouts,” said Mr. Occhi, noting that Henry’s mother, Zeporah Dasher, is in the U.S. Navy and has moved around quite a bit. “His mother went crazy getting him eligible to actually try out. You could see the player in him right out of the gate. Just a good kid, good player right from day one.”
Now Henry, who spent two years at PHS before moving on to the private St. Andrew’s School in Barrington, is making good on that favorable first impression. On Monday he announced his intention to play basketball next year for Utah State University.
“It means a lot to me,” said the 6-foot-1-inch senior point guard for St. Andrew’s. “The next part of my life is starting right now.”
Henry wasn’t the only St. Andrew’s hoopster to choose a Division 1 school Monday, as forward Bonzie Colson II verbally committed to Notre Dame.
“When they verbal to a school, they end their recruiting with the other schools,” explained Michael Hart, head basketball coach and director of athletics at St. Andrew’s. “Then, in the second week of November, they have a signing period. It’s kind of like a rite of passage for high school basketball and high school athletes in general. It’s a big day. Their senior year will be made up of keeping their grades strong, preparing for college and helping us win a championship, hopefully.”
Henry said having a mother in the military has actually helped his game through the years.
“I started playing basketball when I was about 4 years old. Since then, I’ve moved to so many different places that I’ve acclimated to many different techniques to my game as I’ve traveled with my mom,” he said, adding that he’s also lived in Virginia, Tennessee and Japan, where he played on the Navy base.
“I loved Japan; it was my favorite tour. The kids were great. It was a small base, but everybody in it was friendly,” he said.
Now he lives on the St. Andrew’s campus, as his mother is now stationed in Washington, D.C. “I love St. Andrew’s. The campus is great, the kids are great. I live with my teammates, so it’s like home,” he said.
Mr. Hart said Henry, a solid student and role model on campus, is a prototypical guard.
“He can play the point, he can play the two,” he said. “He’s in great shape, he’s strong. (He’s a) very good shooter, very good at getting to the rim, and very good defensively. I think he fits the mold of the high-major, Division 1 guard.”
PHS lost another one
Henry is just one of several outstanding athletes to play for Portsmouth High briefly before going on to a private school. Another is Andrew Chrabascz, a former teammate of Henry’s at PHS before leaving for Cushing Academy in Massachusetts.
“I keep in touch. He’s at Butler (University) right now. We see each other from time to time,” said Henry.
While Mr. Occhi regrets seeing such good players leave the public school system, he understands why they do it.
“It’s totally mixed emotions,” he said. “Of course you want to coach these kids, but there are different times when they need different things, too. We understand, especially with the bigger kids like Andrew. They need to bang against bigger bodies, which you don’t see in Rhode Island. There’s good and there’s bad. The bad is that it kind of dilutes the interscholastic league, which we can’t do anything about. But it’s good to have so many kids to have that kind of success from such a small community.”
PHS, he said, takes pride in helping to produce so many star athletes who have gone on to bigger and better things, and not just in basketball. As a junior at Holy Cross, John Pedrotty was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 13th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball first-year player draft. Another left-handed pitcher from PHS, Southern New Hampshire University’s Tim Flight, was selected by the New York Yankees in the 17th round of the 2012 MLB draft
Of course, everyone knows about former PHS outfielder Ryan Westmoreland, a five-tool player who was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the fifth round of the 2008 draft. The top prospect announced his retirement from professional baseball earlier this year, however, after undergoing two surgeries stemming from a cavernous malformation on his brain.
Like those former PHS stars, Henry would like to play professionally after college.
“I wouldn’t mind at all,” said Henry. “It’s a job, so if that time comes I’m definitely down for it.”
Whatever happens with his basketball career, Henry’s former coach at PHS will be following his progress.
“I’ve been keeping track of him, watching the box scores,” said Mr. Occhi.