Boys basketball puts up a fight against the injury bug

JC Silva '15 plays defense on Hightstown during February 12 Senior Night game. The boys won 50-47. photo: Leah Coppotelli

JC Silva ’15 plays defense on Hightstown during February 12 Senior Night game. The boys won 50-47.
photo: Leah Coppotelli

Coming off of a series of wins, the PHS boys basketball team seems unfazed despite a recent string of injuries that have taken a toll on its starting lineup. The team, coached by Mark Shelley, lost multiple players at the beginning of the season, including Andrew Braverman ’14, Maxwell Tarter ’15, and Paul Murray ’14. With a lack of players, the team had a rocky start, but was able to form a cohesive line-up and go on to win its next couple of games.

“We won our first game, and then we really hit a skid … and lost a bunch of really close games,” said Shelley, regarding Princeton’s losses to Trenton Central High School and Notre Dame High School by margins of two and five points, respectively. “I think we really turned a corner and [then] won our last three games in a row, so I think we’re finally playing better together as a team.”

This losing spell was made more difficult by a lack of healthy point guards. The three original point guards, Tarter, Murray, and JC Silva ’15, all brought different skills and abilities to the table. As Murray was temporarily out on a shoulder injury and Tarter down due to a concussion, the responsibility of being point guard had fallen onto Silva.

“Maxwell was the first to get injured … [which] hurt us a lot. Paul Murray hurt his shoulder, so we [were] down to one point guard,” said Captain Peter Mahotiere ’14, “[Silva] really stepped up, which was good … He started scoring more and getting more assists [which] helped a lot.”

Each point guard has his own playing style, and each contributes to the team in different ways.

“Paul is our best ball handler, [when it comes to] making moves and such, JC is probably our quickest point guard, [and] Max is one of our smarter players. He is also one of our flashiest players [with] quick passes,” said Mahotiere.

Previously, the three point guards had been rotating spots on the lineup, but the injuries allowed Silva to take over as lead point guard and develop with the team.

“We’ve seen a lot of improvement in [JC], but at the same time we hope that [our other players] can recover … I talk to them every couple of day[s], and they tell me about [their] status,” said Shelley.

Of all of the point guards, Murray has the most experience due to his seniority, but even with his brief absence, the team had confidence in Silva to perform.

“I feel like I’ve been playing better compared to earlier in the year. At first I had to fight for playing time … but now, [with the recent injuries], the team relies on me as a point guard,” said Silva.

This year’s lineup is filled with experience, with players coming from last year’s varsity and JV squads, along with some transfers. Originally the team lacked unity, but as the season progressed, the boys were able to use each player’s different shooting and playing styles to their advantage.

“There [were] a lot of issues with cohesion. It was not that they didn’t get along but [the problem was] mixing styles of play and getting the [players] comfortable,” said Shelley.

Using these different styles, the team has refined its strategies on both offense and defense. Practices consist of fundamentals as well as offensive and defensive plays.

“We talked earlier this year about playing more up-tempo, … but we can’t necessarily do that [because we’ve] only [had] one point guard. So that limits that option,” said Shelley, in terms of the team’s state midway through the season.

“We’ve been working hard as a team. We’ve been working really well together … recently because we all started to … have confidence in one another,” said Silva.

Several other players, such as Matt Hart ’16, have tried their hand at the point guard position in an effort to experiment with different playing positions.

“As a coach, you are always adjusting [positions] based on personnel or schemes and what the other team does,” said Shelley.

Silva is not the only point guard available anymore, as Murray’s injury has healed, and he is able to play again.

“The season was frustrating for me personally because I separated my shoulder early on so I had to sit out for about a month,” said Murray. “But I [was] back for the county tournament and senior  day, [which was] nice.”

“I expect [the season] to go a lot better … Now we are starting to win, and are on a winning streak,” said Mahotiere.

The team has set the tone for the upcoming post-season with a three-game winning streak and a notable win against Princeton Day School. Looking forward to the post-season, the boys are confident, regardless of the many injured players. The Mercer County Tournament is important for the team and they have high expectations.

“We’re confident. We respect everybody we play,” said Shelley. “We know that anybody can beat us, but we also know that we can beat anybody, so I think [we] have a healthy confidence going forward.”