Hopedale High Boy Hoop Team Eyes DVC, District Titles

KEN HAMWEY Staff Sports Writer
Issue Date: 
January, 2020
Article Body: 

A capable eight-man rotation and a plethora of strengths make the 2019-20 boys basketball team at Hopedale High a definite contender to repeat as Dual Valley Conference champions and be in the mix for a District 4 crown.
Coach Tony Cordani, who’s led the Blue Raiders to 18 tourney berths in 20 years at the helm, is cautiously optimistic that his forces have the talent, desire and attitude to produce more favorable results.
“We’ve got experience, some size and depth,’’ said Cordani. “I also like our team’s athleticism, its high basketball IQ, its mental toughness and resiliency. We’ve got some quality guards and If we improve daily, then we’ll contend for the DVC title and the District crown.’’
The Blue Raiders, who finished last season with a 9-1 league record and an 18-5 overall mark, advanced to the District semifinals where they bowed to Assabet. That Hopedale squad had only three seniors — Rob Sefring, Gabe Terando and Wes Rodrigues. Losing that talent hurts but returning six experienced players is a plus that creates optimism.
Seniors Dan Liberatore (5-11) and Sam Morelli (6-1), last year’s top two scorers, are vital keys for Hopedale. Liberatore plays guard and Morelli is a guard-forward. Liberatore led the scoring with 18 points a game and Morelli was second with a 13-point average.
“Dan has great offensive ability and he’s really good at shooting threes,’’ Cordani said. “He was the DVC Player of the Year. He’s improving his drive to the hoop and his defense. Sam was our leading rebounder with seven a game. He knows how to get position, he can leap and he’s a tenacious battler. Sam attacks the basket, gets to the rim and is a good finisher.’’
Senior guards Ian Driscoll (5-9) and Jake Wilson (5-11) have experience and likely will get more minutes because last year’s starting backcourt (Sefring and Terando) has graduated.
“Last year, Ian averaged five points a game but he was a defensive stopper,’’ Cordani said. “An all-around player who passes effectively, he’s got a high hoop IQ that leads to good decision-making. Jake averaged four points but he can rebound and pass. Another high IQ player, he’ll be used primarily as an off-guard. We expect Ian and Jake to give us more contributions on offense.’’
Alex Luccini, a 6-foot-3 junior center, averaged five points and four rebounds in limited minutes off the bench last year. His statistics this year should increase.
“Alex is very athletic and his work ethic in practice is excellent,’’ Cordani said. “He’s a strong rebounder with good post moves. He can score in the interior. A good offensive rebounder, he’ll get put-backs, and his perimeter game includes a 15-foot jumper. Alex will benefit from more playing time.’’
Senior Alex Waswill, a 6-foot-2, 220-pounder, can also play center. “Alex is strong and gives us a physical presence,’’ Cordani said. “He’s a strong rebounder whose interior defense is solid.’’
Senior Chris Casey is another guard in Hopedale’s backcourt array. Last year, he was used primarily as the back-up point guard to Terando. “Chris has good court vision and his passing is excellent,’’ Cordani said. “He also does good things on offense — like driving and shooting threes.’’
Six-foot junior John McDonough, whose playing time was limited last year because of an injury, will likely be utilized at power forward. “John is smart, runs the floor well, can drive and he plays solid defense,’’ Cordani said.
Cordani’s style of play often involves a deliberate pace with his players in a grind-it-out mode. For the last few years, however, his squads have exhibited more of an up-tempo offense that applies pressure defense. “We usually employ a style that’s based on the personnel we have,’’ he emphasized. “But, for the last couple of seasons, we’ve been more up-tempo.’’
Although his team’s style may change, one aspect that remains a constant for Cordani is the attributes he prefers in prospective players. The qualities he lists no doubt are the major keys to Hopedale’s success and long-standing tradition.
“I want players who are selfless and provide plenty of effort,’’ he noted. “A high basketball IQ is important because that leads to playing the game effectively. Leadership is a key attribute and having players who are team-oriented and coachable means a lot.’’
Hopedale’s captains include Liberatore, Morelli and Wilson, who get high marks from Cordani on leadership and team play. “They’re great leaders who worked hard during the off-season,’’ he emphasized.
A phys-ed and health instructor at Hopedale High, Cordani’s competitive philosophy is another element that defines him and makes him a breed apart.
“Winning will take care of itself if our players reach their potential and approach the game the right way,’’ he emphasized. “A strong work ethic is a key. It’s also important that players enjoy their athletic experience. Before a team can be labeled ‘successful,’ I have to wait and see how the players develop in society. Basketball is an extension of their education.’’
The characteristics that define Hopedale basketball are worthy. And, because of the way Tony Cordani emphasizes them, it’s obvious why the Blue Raiders have had 18 playoff appearances in the last two decades.