Cruz and Wilson Lead Panthers Over Minnechaug 63-50

By Kevin McCaskill Jr.


On Thursday night, I was back in the spacious town of Wilbraham for a Boys Basketball game. Paulo Freire travelled east to take on the Falcons of Minnechaug Regional HS.


As I was arriving at Minnechaug, so was the Paulo Freire team bus. That wouldn’t be a problem, if I was “super” early. The game started at 6 PM and we both arrived at 5:45 PM.


The Panthers didn't have much time to warm-up. The start of the game was delayed also.


Minnechaug celebrated 1 Senior player on Thursday, Anthony Grasso. He got to share a special moment with his parents before the game. He also got to start the game.


(Senior Night art for Anthony Grasso)


As expected with less than 15 minutes to warm-up, Paulo Freire got off to a slow start.


Paulo Freire Junior Will Johnson started the game still in his slump from the game on Monday. He and some of his other teammates missed easy shots and settled for contested jump-shots. Their vaunted "press" still hadn't tuned up yet in the 1st and Minnechaug exploited that. They got past the pressure and got some easy layups.


Minnechaug's Matt DeVine was a little slow to start the game but he found his rhythm and hit two 3s in the 1st quarter.


In the closing seconds of the 1st, Minnechaug was up 18-8. Paulo Freire's Chandler Wilson came down the court and calmly hit a 3 to make the game 18-11 at the end of the 1st.


In the second quarter, the "Paulo Freire Press" was revved up and ready to go. They sped up Minnechaug and made them operate outside the 3-point line. The Panthers were able to get easy layups but their jump-shots still weren't falling in bunches. Chandler Wilson was the only Panther player that could get it going in the 2nd; he scored 8 of his 18 points in the 2nd quarter.


(Chandler Wilson attempts shot; defended by Senior Anthony Grasso)


Minnechaug was gettting to the basket but they missed several open layups and contested layups that should be made at this level.


During the second quarter, Paulo Freire Athletic Director Wes Jackson had to take over coaching duties for HC Steven Rodriguez. Rodriguez' voice was gone.


(Mike Pelletier shoots a FT as Chandler Wilson and Paulo Freire AD Wes Jackson look on)


(Emmanuel Cruz goes up for a layup; Paulo Freire AD Wes Jackson looks from sideline)


The Panthers arrived 15 minutes before game-time; one of their best players was still in a shooting slump; their AD had to be their HC. With all those obstacles and Matt DeVine on the opposing team, Paulo Freire led at halftime 26-24.


Minnechaug would keep the game close until the middle of the 4th quarter. DeVine had a nice play in the 3rd. One of his teammates missed a FT. DeVine got a one-handed rebound, stayed in the air and guided the ball in the basket for two.



The 3rd and 4th quarters were controlled offensively by Johnson and teammate Emmanuel Cruz. Cruz got a lot of baskets in transition. He was also active on defense, in the press and individually.


(Cruz gathers alley for 2)


Johnson hit two 3s and hit is final FTA of the night. He also took the ball to the basket strong in the 2nd half.


(Will Johnson attempts a 3)


(Will Johnson goes up for a layup)


As the lead for Paulo Freire grew, the "jawing" back and forth between the Panthers and Falcons increased; It really had been going on all game. Each time a player on either team scored, that player said something to the nearest opponent. Friendly competitive nature 👍🏽.


Two players got warned by the referee. The talk didn't stop and two players, one on each team, got a technical foul.


That gave the Panthers some more energy and they widened their lead on the Falcons in the 4th. They would close the game out and get a good road victory 63-50.

Scorers for Paulo Freire:


Emmanuel Cruz - 20 points

Chandler Wilson - 18 points

Will Johnson - 12 points

Alex Barber - 7 points

Sandro Diaz - 6 points


(Alex Barber goes up for a layup)


Scorers for Minnechaug:


Matt DeVine - 15 points

Mike Pelletier - 11 points

Jake Thomas - 9 points

Caleb White - 7 points

Anthony Grasso - 3 points

CJ Cronin & Emanuel Ramirez - 2 points

I spoke with 2 HCs and 1 AD/reserve HC after the game:

🟣PF HC Steven Rodriguez⚪️


How did you overcome the late arrival and slow start?


"We got here late, we started the game off really, really slow. In the second half, I think we really found each other. We started moving the ball. When this team moves the ball, they are really good. When the ball sticks and gets stagnant, we are very mediocre. In the second half, they really shared the ball...and they committed to playing defense. Our man-to-man today was our calling card in the half court".



Who is your Assistant Coach? [I mistakenly didn't recognize AD Jackson 😢😅]


"My assistant Coach and Athletic Director Wesley Jackson...I didn't have it today. My voice is all crackled...he had to step up and coach the guys tonight."

🟣PF Athletic Director Wes Jackson⚪️


What did you tell the players once you took over tonight?


"Relax and have fun. Get back to how we play basketball. We space the floor; we run; we play hard; we play together. [We do] that and we'll be fine..."



🟢Minn HC Mike Orzech⚪️


Can you speak on why Chris Moreno and Jonas Saabye were out tonight?


"Jonas...isn't feeling well; Chris is on vacation".


What led to the lead in the 1st quarter?


"We just came out with great energy. We executed on offense. We did a decent job of preventing those guys from getting to the rim early in the game. We knew if they get to the rim we are in trouble. They can shoot it but we would rather take our chances and let them beat us from the perimeter rather [than] inside the paint."


[The game got "chippy" at the end. Minnechaug had a 5 minute team meeting in the auditorium after the game before I spoke with HC Orzech] Can you give us any insight on what you told your players after the game?


When it comes to the 'talkin', I try to tell these guys, let their actions show rather than their mouths. That was an example where an official called a double technical and if we just kept our mouths shut, we're shooting FTs. We would have shot 2 FTs [for the technical], 2 more FTs [a foul was called on PF before the technicals] and we would have gotten the ball which could have been a 6 or 7 point possession. It's a lesson these guys gotta learn, things aren't always gonna go their way. Certainly, mouthin' off like that is something I don't tolerate. I understand in the heat of moment, sometimes you can't help it but we end up hurting ourselves by doing that."


Can you tell us about Matt DeVine?


(Matt DeVine)


"Matt DeVine is a tremendous talent, probably one of the most talented kids I've coached here at Minnechaug. He's got the whole package. He can defend, he can block shots. On the offensive end, obviously he can get to the rim, he can knock down 3s. We ask him to do everything. He can run the Point for us when we need him to. He can play on the block when we need him to. The kid's got tremendous upside...he will be playing at the next level".


Is he getting any offers from schools?


"He's getting 'looked at'. He's got a work-out with URI after the season...but no commitments at this point".


Can you tell us about Jake Thomas?


"He's a Junior...he does have a lot of potential...he has tremendous upside".


(Jake Thomas)


What position do you see him playing here?


"I tell these guys all the time, this game has evolved to the point where there is no such thing as 'you're a post player' or 'you're a Guard'. You gotta work on the whole package. if you're able to handle the ball on the perimeter and shoot it, I don't care if you're 6'4" or 6'5"".


Another great Western Mass HS basketball game.


(Banners in Minnechaug Regional gymnasium)

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