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Winchendon star's game is backing up his talk.

Byline: Fred Sullivan

The 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds sat on the edge of their seats as the Notre Dame Prep basketball five exited from their locker room, for they knew what was going to happen in the next few moments. The Crusaders were going to put on a dunking exhibition which would suck the air out of the Fitchburg State Gymnasium as youngsters like Terrance Jennings, Melquan Bolding, John Higgins and Kimmie English soared. And that is exactly what happened.

But it takes more than fancy dunking exhibitions to win basketball games, as Notre Dame Prep would learn last Saturday evening on the campus of FSC. Outstanding basketball teams need playmakers who can feed the ball to their teammates, who can then smash the ball through the hoop, and Notre Dame did not have that player last Saturday, but The Winchendon School did. His name was Anthony Raffa from Strathmere, N.J., and he is a cocky tough kid, who showed those youngsters sitting in the stands how the game of basketball should be played. Anthony played nose-to-nose on defense with Kimmie English who stood three or four inches taller than Raffa, but the tough New Jersey kid never backed off once during the contest. His defense included constant chatter, which was just quiet enough so that the referees could not slap him with a technical foul, but could be distinctly heard by English and his teammates.

If you are going to have a mouth, than you have to back it up with your performance, and that is exactly what Anthony Raffa did. When Notre Dame put on its full-court pressure, Anthony dribbled with great confidence through N.D.'s press to give his teammates easy baskets underneath the hoop. And with his 32 points, Anthony Raffa showed that he can put the basketball through the hoop. What kind of player is this kid from Jersey? He is the kind of guy that you always want on your team and the kind of opponent you just love to have, simply a pain in the butt. And Coach Mike Byrnes of The Winchendon School knows exactly what he has in Raffa, and the coach lets the kid run the show. The Winchendon School has players from nine countries, which are found upon three continents. Their featured player is John Riek Suas from Khartuom, Sudan, who is truly a giant, standing 7-foot-2. How would you like to have been Terrance Jennings of Notre Dame when you jumped center at the beginning of last Saturday's contest? Terrance, who stands 6-foot-10 and can leap through the roof, had to look up at Winchendon's center as the referee stepped into the circle. Bet that was a first. Riek Suas, who is reportedly going into the NBA draft this spring because he has already reached the age of 20, is a very rough work in progress. I would think that the youngster form Sudan could use two or three years in a good college program refining his game, but you know the lure of big bucks and fast-talking agents. His efforts in Winchendon's victory were minimal when compared with Anthony Raffa's, but you know how things are. Anthony will go to the University of Albany and probably have a fine career in a second-tier college program while Riek Suas could very well be a first round draft choice. That's the way it goes!

When you watch the play of Ozan Dilik from Turkey, Luis Leao of Brazil and Romaric Lasme of Gabon, you can begin to understand why American basketball teams are being challenged all across the globe. These guys can leap and dunk the ball, but they also have very good basics which allow them to make great passes, play strong defense, and block out on the offensive and defensive rebounds. It is no longer a cakewalk for basketball players when they put on that uniform which says, "USA." Just ask Larry Brown about the Olympics in 2004!

Much of this column covers the exploits of Anthony Raffa and his Winchendon School teammates, and that is rightly so, because their 75-59 victory over N.D. Prep was very impressive, but let's not forget about the squad located on South Street in Fitchburg. There is a very good reason why these kids will be playing at schools like Louisville, Missouri, Duquesne, Syracuse and UMass; they are very good. Rick Pitino of the Cardinals of Louisville knows that he has two blue-chippers in Melquan Bolding and Terrance Jennings, who simply play a game of basketball with which most of our local players are not familiar. They play above the rim, and their quickness is superior. You will watch them on ESPN during the next two or three basketball seasons.

Coach Pitno can only hope that these two kids can have the impact that Michael Beasley is having at Kansas State University. The N.D. graduate has been an early-season sensation for K-State and some ESPN guys are saying that Michael will go Number One in the NBA draft in June 2008. That is the type of reputation that Notre Dame Prep players are acquiring across the country. Kimmie English and John Higgins, who will go to Missouri and Duquesne, respectively, in 2008 will also be seen playing on ESPN on Big Monday or Saturday afternoons over the next few years. Unfortunately, Notre Dame does not play many local contests, but if you see any tournaments listed within 50 miles in the next three months and you consider yourself a basketball fan, go.

I enjoyed Jay Gearan's excellent article in last Saturday's Telegram and Gazette regarding Lindsey Hagens' outstanding swimming accomplishments at Gardner High School and for the Greenwood Memorial teams. Lindsay is the latest in a line of tremendous athletes who have been produced under the coaching of Don Lemieux. Next year, Lindsey will be swimming for Villanova University, which has pretty much become the norm for Lemieux swimmers. Put the work and efforts into the program, and you will get rewarded with a scholarship at an excellent college. The record is there for all to see.

But let me tell you what I like most about Jay's story on Lindsey Hagens. She was a school choice student from Westboro High School, therefore Lindsey had to sit out her sophomore year at Gardner. That is the way school transfers were handled 40 years ago before this school choice baloney in which the kid is allowed to play immediately, especially if that athlete brings a lawyer to his meeting with the mealy-mouth MIAA. Lindsey and Coach Lemieux knew what the penalty was regarding her transfer and abided by the rules. Maybe some of the football and basketball coaches around Massachusetts should stop their playing with the rules and do what Lindsey Hagens did. I'll be cheering for you this winter, Lindsey, and best of luck in Gardner in March when you show Eastern Massachusetts and the Boston Globe who the swimming All-Stars really are.

Let's continue to hand out the Christmas congratulations! Jordan Storro and Erica Cordio have been tremendous assets to Leominster High School during their four-year high school careers both on the playing field and in the classroom, and last week they received their rewards. Jordan and Erica received athletic scholarships to play softball at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and the University of Rhode Island, respectively. These lifelong buddies and teammates have once again shown if you make a commitment to Matt Palumbo and The Crush, your day will come. These are both great kids who should shine in college. One comment: If you are recruited by UMass, you must be special, Jordan; bring that big stick out to Amherst and show what you got.

Emily Jones of Bromfield finished 11th in the national Footlocker Cross-Country championships. This junior will soon be joining the duo of Lynn Jennings and Ari Lambie as all-time greats in Massachusetts cross-country history. Emily, you are deservedly in great company!

ART: PHOTO

PHOTOG: GEORGE BARNES

CUTLINE: Lee Cunningham, second from left, with fellow Birch Hill Striders Jim Fay, George Graves, Joe Dimucci and Matt Studner of Templeton and Peter Erickson of Gardner, received the Fred Brown Trophy last week at the Knights of Columbus in Fitchburg in honor of his many years celebrating running in the region.
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Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Dec 13, 2007
Words:1386
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