EAST PROVIDENCE — The games that truly count began this week for the East Providence High School boys’ basketball team as the Townies opened up Division I regular-season play.
A relatively inexperienced E.P. squad traveled to North Kingstown Tuesday night, Dec. 11, to tip off its league slate. The Townies came home to face Hendricken Friday evening, Dec. 14. E.P. plays two more league contests — Tuesday, Dec. 18, in Coventry and Friday, Dec. 21, at home against South Kingstown — prior to taking a break from D-I action over the holiday break.
Returning seniors John Vaughan and Alex Hurley along with junior Charlie Brown are expected to pace the Townies this winter. Vaughan, a 6-foot-2 guard/forward, scored 14 and 17 points in E.P.’s two non-league games to start the season, a victory over Tiverton and a loss to Barrington. Hurley is a 6-4 forward/center needed to rebound and score in the paint. Brown is the Townies’ best ballhandler and point guard, who moves up to varsity full time after swinging from JV last season.
“Those three guys are the key, no doubt,” said EPHS head coach Alex Butler, entering his ninth season in the lead chair on the Townies’ bench. Trusted cohort Joe Andrade is back as his assistant/head JV coach.
“Alex and John are the guys with the most experience on varsity. They’ve been through it before. We’re going to lean on them heavily,” Coach Butler continued. “Charlie has a lot of talent, but people have to understand these are his first real varsity games. It’s going to take time for him to adjust to the speed and physicality. He needs to learn when to pull the ball back and when to push. But we’re going to give him the ball. It’s going to be his responsibility to run the team.”
Six-foot-two senior Edwin Sam, at forward, and classmate Jashaun Bennett, at guard, round out the starting five to begin the year. Senior guard Justin Andrade is the Townies’ sixth man.
“Edwin is one of the other few returning guys. We’re going to ask more of him this year. He’s used to playing three or four minutes at a stretch. Now we need him to play seven or eight. We need him to score and rebound,” Coach Butler said. “Jashaun and Justin, we need those two guys to help Charlie handle the ball and to play good defense.”
There is a decided lack of varsity playing time in the rest of the E.P. ranks. The other guards on the roster are juniors Brandon Rebollo, Paris Sofikitis and Cristian Woods. The remaining frontcourt players include sophomore RaeQuan Kelly, junior Ryan Vieira, Lucas Flavin (6-5 center) and Ted Quaye, as well as seniors George Osei, and Ra’Kwon Jordan.
“This is a new experience for me with so many new kids on the team. I find myself doing a lot more teaching than I have in the past. I have to be patient and build confidence in the kids for what we’re trying to do on the floor,” Coach Butler explained.
He added, “All of the other guys have no varsity playing experience. Practice is still a shock to them right now, trying to get used to playing at a higher rate and pace. But John, Alex, Charlie, they can’t stay on the floor for all 32 minutes. We need some of the other guys to step up and support them.”
East Providence finished 5-13 a year ago in Division I-East and failed to make the state playoffs for a second year in a row.
All of basketball, including D-I, went through a slight reshuffling in the offseason. After two years in the top tier Portsmouth dropped back down to D-II, leaving 15 schools in D-I broken up into three five-team subgroups. The Townies were placed with Classical, Cranston East, Hope and defending state champ Central to form the new I-Central. The top 10 teams in the league at the end of the regular season qualify for D-I championship tournament.
“I think our division is going to be really tough,” Coach Butler said. “Classical probably has the best three-guard combo in the state. Central only has two of their guys back, but they’re still going to be solid. I think us, Cranston East and Hope are kind of in the same place. I look around the state and I see a lot of teams, including us, that are in a big cluster.”
The state tournament, having been played under a few different variations in recent years, has finally settled on a permanent format. As noted previously, champions will be crowned in each of the three divisions at the conclusion of brief playoffs.
Once divisions are over, the top 16 teams based on a points formula for combined victories during the regular and postseasons (1 for each D-I win, .8 for D-II and .6 for D-III) will advance to Open State Tournament.
“I think of all the ways they’ve tried to do it, this is best, more fair way of going about,” Coach Butler said of the Open Tourney.
It remains to be seen if the Townies can muster up enough points to qualify for either the D-I tourney or the state event. As always, however, it won’t be for lack of effort.
“This is a good group of kids. They’re going to work very hard. That doesn’t concern me,” Coach Butler added. “But we’re going to have our work cut our for us to be one of the 10 teams to make it from Division I. But obviously you have to be there just to get the opportunity to make it to states.”