KP Boys Quintet Aiming for Tournament Berth

By Ken Hamwey Staff Sports Writer
Issue Date: 
January, 2018
Article Body: 

The King Philip boys basketball team lost eight of 11 contests by three points or less last year and missed qualifying for the playoffs by two games. There aren’t any merit badges for losing close games in the Hockomock League, but the razor-thin defeats just might be an omen that success is right around the corner for the Warriors.
Coach Mark Champagne, who previously guided Ashland High to a Tri Valley League championship, not only likes the way his squad’s compete level improved during the second half of last season, but he’s also bullish on his Warriors overall strengths.
“We’ve got depth, decent size, balance and versatility,’’ said Champagne, whose six-year record at Ashland was 70-54. “Our compete level will be high right from the start and our leadership is also a plus. Another key is the players’ familiarity with the coaching staff. Before I arrived, KP had three coaches in six years. It’s not easy to build trust with so much transition.’’
The goals Champagne has set for this season are a clear indication that the Warriors will fare better than last season’s 8-11 campaign. “We want to qualify for the tourney, battle for the Kelley-Rex title and build on the foundation we started last year. And, we also want to see our youth programs (KP Youth Basketball and CYO) continue to improve.’’
Champagne has lost seven seniors from last year’s squad, many of whom were part of a 5-15 team the year before he arrived. But, it’s those seven seniors he credits for building a positive foundation and elevating the Warriors’ compete level as last season moved towards the finish line.
KP’s current four captains are an excellent starting point when assessing the team’s capabilities and they also embrace leadership responsibilities. The captains are seniors Tom Madden (6-3 forward), Nolan Bradley (5-11 guard), and Pharaoh Davis (5-10 point guard) and junior Kyle Layman (6-4 guard-forward).
“Tom battled injuries and illness last year but we’ve got high expectations for him,’’ Champagne said. “He’s skilled, he’s athletic, has good instincts and is solid on defense. Nolan has improved and gained confidence. His shooting is steady and he’s effective on defense. Pharaoh is an unselfish, pass-first point guard. He sees the floor well, is capable on defense and can score. Kyle averaged 13.1 points and 8 rebounds last year. We have high expectations for him and I believe he’ll be one of the best players in the league. He’s talented and athletic, can shoot inside or outside and he’s a shot-blocker.’’
Champagne, who’s lived in Wrentham for 14 years, likes his captains’ people skills and their serious approach to leadership. “These kids can really help us solidify the foundation we’re building,’’ he emphasized.
Tim and Tyler Nault are twins who provide KP with all-out effort and unselfish play. Both juniors, Tim is a 5-10 point guard and Tyler is a 5-11 forward. “Tim is a quality ball-handling guard who’s a good athlete. Tyler is aggressive, strong and a solid rebounder. Both provide intangible assets.’’
Three players with considerable upside are juniors Ian Khung (6-1 guard) and Bruce Santillus (6-2 forward) and sophomore Andrew McKinney.
“Ian is intelligent, has good skills, shoots well and is coachable,’’ Champagne said. “He could be a big factor this season. Bruce is athletic and also shoots well. His rebounding and footwork are very good. He and Kyle (Layman) can make great leaps this year. Andrew is an improving rebounder who’s athletic and maturing as a basketball player. He can run, has passion for the game and he’s got upside.’’
Champagne’s staff will feature familiar faces from last year. Steve Linehan will again be the varsity assistant; Tim Sheehan, a volunteer last year, is the jayvee coach; and Nick Glabicky will direct the freshmen.
Rating Mansfield, Franklin, Attleboro and Canton as teams to watch this year in the league, Champagne respects their tradition, talent and coaches. “Mansfield and Franklin are well-coached and traditionally strong,’’ he noted. “Attleboro is improved and Canton is well-coached and has some quality players.’’ KP opened its 2017-18 season with a 53-47 victory over Milford.
Although his competitive philosophy hasn’t changed from last year or from his days as Ashland’s coach, the 61-year-old Champagne remains pragmatic in his three-pronged approach that allows winning to take care of itself.
“It’s imperative that the basketball court be an extension of the classroom,’’ he said. “Secondly, players should reach their potential as positively as possible, and I strive to develop our players to be good citizens. If those three situations are fostered, then winning will follow.’’
As a player, Champagne averaged 13 points a game at Medfield High, Mass. Bay Community College and UMass-Dartmouth. He started his coaching career as an assistant at UMass-Dartmouth and later worked for one season as an assistant with the Boston University women’s team before taking the head-coaching reins at Bridgewater State, where his teams compiled .500 records during a 10-year span.
Leaving Bridgewater to focus on his painting business, Champagne, who is married and the father of two, later got the urge to return to coaching, spending two years as an assistant at Taunton. He returned to the head-coaching ranks at Ashland in 2010.
“If kids have a passion for basketball, then it’s my job to fuel it,’’ he said.
That’s basically Mark Champagne’s primary mission as a coach.