By Kevin McCaskill Jr.
12/10/21 * 1:35 PM
(SPRINGFIELD) - The Paulo Freire Panthers Boys 🏀 team is ready for the 2021-2022 MIAA regular season.
Earlier this year, the Panthers played in the truncated regular season that started in January and ended in February. Their season ended unceremoniously: their final opponent had to cancel their game; no Senior Night; no playoffs.
This season, the goal for the Panthers is clear: MIAA State Championship.
That goal got harder this summer and fall.
Chandler Wilson Jr. left the program to attend Denver Prep Academy. He is currently on their National Elite team. Alex Barber, a 6’7” Sophomore, left for PRISE Academy in Missouri. Wilson was Paulo Freire’s most complete player. Barber has elite potential. He is already a very good, young player that may reach the NBA one day.
This season, Paulo Freire HC Steven Rodriguez is looking at two players to lead the way to their ultimate goal: Will Johnson Jr. & Emmanuel Cruz.
Will Johnson Jr. is a Senior G/F. He can do everything on the court. He is a good shooter from everywhere on the floor. He can get to the basket easily. He is good rebounder, especially on the offensive end. He also defends perimeter and wing players very well. His main goal this season is “to bring [Paulo Freire] the State Championship”. He also says that he “needs to step up and be a bigger leader”, in the absence of Wilson and Barber.
Emmanuel Cruz is a Junior Forward. He is one of the most athletic players in New England. If he gets any room to take off, he is attacking the rim. His overall game is also getting better. This season, he is expecting to show that he is a “great player” and co-lead the team with Johnson Jr. He believes they can compete this year for a State Championship.
Even though Cruz and Johnson Jr. have to lead the way, they will need consistent contributions from the other starters and role players. HC Rodriguez sees Junior Sandro Diaz as a player that will have a breakout season.
Sandro Diaz is a Junior Forward. Similar to his teammate Johnson Jr, Diaz can also shoot from everywhere on the floor and he is good offensive rebounder. He told me he expects the team to work hard and play defense.
Paulo Freire played Chicopee HS in their first game of the shortened 2020-2021 season. Chicopee’s starting guard was DJ Daniels. Daniels is now the starting PG for Paulo Freire. He says that now he is “playing with more talent” and that they have the potential “to go far”. In Daniels role as the PG this season, he wants to “elevate the team” and will score when he “has to”.
While his players did some shooting drills, I spoke with HC Rodriguez. According to him, “There’s no underdog story; you are the favorite. Now, you have to go win it”. Rodriguez won the MBCA Coach of Year Award for last season.
There are three players I think you should look out for: Senior Eli Delaney, Senior Bryan Jimenez and Junior Trevor Mims. They are very good 3-pt shooters. Mims and Jimenez also have the ability to get to the lane for a shot or a pass. They will have to be key contributors.
Paulo Freire should be in contention for a State Championship this season. College coaches and recruiting staff, from all 3 NCAA Divisions, should be at as many Paulo Freire games as possible.