By Michael Ingram-Rubin
Can the Fitchburg State men’s basketball team become the next Kentucky Wildcats of Division 3? As head men’s basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, John Calipari has been able to keep fans on their feet with his well-balanced and very talented teams. This year, Fitchburg coach Derek Shell plans to do the same. “This year I am hoping for a complete turnaround from last year’s season,” Shell said. “I think our disappointing year has made players on this year’s team hungry and more determined.”
That determination seems to be paying off – Fitchburg State’s men’s basketball team has won all four games played so far this season. Last season, the men’s basketball team only posted a record of 4-19 while winning just one game in conference and the other three out of conference. However this year the team seems to be clicking on all cylinders thus far.
Adam Fahey and Tom Henneberry were expected to be the team’s leading scorers last season, but both players suffered season-ending injuries after playing in just a few contests. Although Fitchburg missed their play throughout the season, on the plus side they were both granted their junior-season eligibility for this year. Both Fahey and Henneberry bring an inside outside game to the team and they are both major threats with the ball whether it’s driving to the hoop or shooting the three.
“It feels great to have two full seasons on our shoulders,” said Fahey, who earned a game-high 24 points in the Nov. 22 win against UMass Boston. “Let’s see if we can make the most of it.”
Zach Valliere is another returning junior who played a key role last season as the starting center for the Falcons. He received MASCAC Player of the Week honors on a couple of occasions throughout the season. Indeed, his 6-foot-8-inch frame represents an intimidating presence for opponents.
Junior Jeremy Kimber is a 6-foot-3 shooting guard who plans to pick up where he left off last season, when he averaged over 11 points a game. Mark Vickers is another key junior who can beat opponents off the dribble as well as grab rebounds off the glass. “We only have two years together and it’s going to be a grind, but we can be legit from the get go,” said Vickers.
Every great team has a leadership figure who bring experience and helps set the tone for others. Rolffi Canela, Sean Sullivan, Donald Hunt and Kyle Berk are all seniors who have played in big games for Fitchburg in their four years. Canela, last year’s starting point guard, brings his tremendous speed and agility to the table along with his high energy and lock-down defense. Sullivan, last year’s back-up point guard, always seems to find the open person. Hunt and Berk are both wing players with three-point ability that will certainly go into effect this season.
“We only won four games last year, and two of them were against the same team,” Canela said. “This year we need to set the bar early and push forward one game at a time.”
So far, the team seems to be following that plan.
The next home game is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. against Becker College.