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Senior captain Jack Naccarato and the Westbrook boys’ basketball team are hoping to improve on their eight-win tally from last year with a more experienced squad. Naccarato led the Knights in scoring last season. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain Nick Palumbo and the Knights return nearly their entire squad from last season, as that squad had no seniors on the roster. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
Senior Brenden Engles and the Knights hope to hone their motion offense to create open shots and lanes to the rim this year. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
The Westbrook boys’ basketball team looks to take the next step with a more experienced roster this year. Last season, the Knights posted an overall record of 8-15, including appearances in the Shoreline Conference Tournament and Division V State Tournament. This year, Head coach Jeff Beeman’s squad has aspirations of getting deep into the Shoreline bracket.
This year has already been complicated due to the COVID-19 pandemic pushing the season’s start date to early February for most squads. Westbrook High School actually had to go completely remote due to a positive COVID-19 test, which means that the Knights have yet to practice on the court together.
“We’re a bit behind everyone else in the league. We were set to start on the Jan. 19 in person, but we had a positive test at the school. We’re 100-percent remote until Feb. 1,” said Beeman. “It’s difficult to teach basketball remotely. There’s a lot of on-court stuff like positioning and spacing. There’s no study or anything to prove it, but I think that the players are just burnt out on virtual. After doing so many classes virtually and then coming to a virtual basketball practice, it’s just really hard. We’re doing ball handling, sit-ups, push-ups, burpees, but it’s just not the same.”
Still, the Knights have some solid tools at their disposal to work on conditioning. Coach Beeman hopes that his athletes are using them to their advantage.
“Westbrook invested in TeamBuildr. It’s actually really impressive. The trainer writes up sport-specific programs for the kids. Then they go online and do that day’s activities and check off that they’ve done them,” Beeman said. “It comes down to how self-motivated they are without a coach behind them watching. We don’t know how successful until we get on the court.”
Coach Beeman is expecting to see some growth from his squad even though the pandemic has kept many athletes at home. Last campaign, Westbrook’s roster featured no seniors, but with the majority of the squad returning to play, the Knights have three seniors with plenty of experience to offer: senior captain Jack Naccarato, senior captain Nick Palumbo, and senior Brenden Engles.
Naccarato served as a junior captain last season and earned All-Shoreline Conference First Team honors. His fellow seniors are also solid players in their own right.
“Last year, we started a junior, three freshman, and a sophomore, and we’ve nearly got the whole team back. We were hoping for good summer and fall seasons, but obviously that wasn’t able to happen,” Beeman said. “We have three seniors this year. Jack Naccarato was our leading scorer, and he’s going to be one of our captains. He was a junior captain last year. Nick Palumbo has made tons of steady progress. He’s going to be one of our captains this year, too. Our other senior is Brenden Engles. He’s unbelievably athletic with a lot of strength and speed. We’re going to be putting a lot on their shoulders.”
Coach Beeman knows that the Shoreline is well aware of Naccarato’s scoring capabilities, so he’s hoping to see some other Knights take some of the scoring load.
“Last year, we were dependent on Jack, probably overly dependent. We have more options this year for scoring. I had hoped we would develop them more through the off season, but we’ll be ready,” Beeman said. “The kids are more confident and mature. They know that we need options. When we asked them for personal goals, a lot of them wanted to be more aggressive offensively. We want to take that pressure off Jack.”
Some of that diverse attack will not just come from the senior class. Westbrook has a nice array of juniors in Joey Caslin, Sammy Freeman, and Evan McIntyre. They each saw plenty of varsity minutes last season.
“Joey Caslin has gained something like 20 pounds, and he’s grown three inches since last season,” said Beeman. “Sammy Freeman is also a pretty big strong kid at 6-foot-1, and Evan McIntyre is probably about 6-foot-3. They are all really solid, good contributors.”
Roster depth could prove much more important this campaign than in seasons past. The Knights have plenty of underclassmen who could see some time on the floor, but there are already two sophomores who saw meaningful minutes last year in Brandon Naccarato and Ryan Engles.
“Brandon played some varsity minutes for us last year. We love him. He’s a competitor, hard-nosed, and he really goes after it,” said Beeman. “Ryan’s very athletic, even if he’s not polished. Athleticism plays well in the Shoreline, and he has plenty of athleticism.”
Westbrook will mostly look to keep the players and the ball zipping around the court. Coach Beeman wants his team taking open shots and driving to the basket as often as possible.
“I’m a motion guy as far as offense is concerned. I want a lot of movement by all five guys,” said Beeman. “I think this day and age, we need all five guys facing the basket. If you can get to the basket in two or three dribbles, you should be going for it. It’s all about ball movement and people movement.”
Coach Beeman knows that he and his squad will have their work cut out for them this season. There will be plenty of bumps in the road that could include the need to temporarily shutdown or scramble to find a new opponent if another school shuts down. Regardless, he’ll be happy to see his players get whatever they can out of this season.
“It will be challenging, but we’re just approaching it saying that we are playing basketball. Whatever happens in the end, at least we get to play basketball,” Beeman said. “I’ve done this for 35 years. I’m not hearing balls bounce and sneakers squeaking. Obviously, I’m an adult, and I can deal with it, but I wonder how some of the kids that love the game are feeling about it. We are trying to be cognizant of that for the kids.”