BVP boys hold court in RIIL

BVP boys hold court in RIIL

Left, Blackstone Valley Prep senior guard and team captain Fawas Onifade, who is the lone 12th-grader on the Pride’s roster this winter, scored 16 points on Monday night to help lead the Pride to its first RIIL victory, a 60-53 win over Times2 Academy. Right, all eyes are on Blackstone Valley Prep freshman guard Jordan Mendez as he gets ready to shoot a three-pointer during last Friday night’s game against Exeter/West Greenwich. Mendez was one of four BVP players to score in double digits, but the Scarlet Knights ended up posting a 77-63 victory. (Breeze photos by Eric Benevides)
Hoop team shakes off rough start, tops Times2 for first D-III win

CUMBERLAND – When the Blackstone Valley Prep boys’ basketball team decided to make the move from the Coastal Prep League to the Rhode Island Interscholastic League’s Division III circuit during the offseason, they did so, in the eyes of most head coaches around the league, as an “under the radar” squad and one that was somewhat of a mystery.

One head coach who didn’t know a lot about the Pride was BVP’s own mentor, Kevin Payette. Not only did he graduate six players, four of them starters, from last season’s CPL championship squad, but he also returned only four players and welcomed a handful of players with no high school experience.

Unfortunately for the young team, wins have been tough to come by during the early chunk of the season, but on Monday night in Providence, the Pride were able to win their first game as a RIIL team by coming back from a three-point halftime deficit to defeat another former CPL team, Times2 Academy, 60-53.

The victory erased some of the sting from the Pride’s fifth straight loss, which took place three nights earlier on their home court against Exeter/West Greenwich. The visiting Scarlet Knights put on a shooting clinic in the first half, sinking 10 of their 13 three-pointers in the first 9:10 of the game to grab a 19-point command, before ending up with a 77-63 victory.

“We have a lot of things to work on,” Payette noted. “I think we have some talent, but we have a long way to go before we are where we should be – and could be. We like the kids that we have, and we think we can definitely build and grow and develop with this group. I just have to be patient that it’s going to take some time; it’s going to be a slow process. If it was easy to build a great team, everyone would do it overnight.”

Payette talked about his fifth-year program after last Friday night’s loss and the decision to jump to the RIIL after capturing last year’s CPL title with an 11-1 record and routing the Middlebridge School of Narragansett in the finals, 69-43. Payette also sprinkled in a handful of non-league games against nearby RIIL teams to his schedule and saw his Pride post a 3-2 mark in those contests.

Sensing a young squad with just one senior, guard Fawas Onifade, in his arsenal, Payette decided that this winter would be the perfect time to join the RIIL and expose his younger players to the tougher challenges that the D-III would present on a nightly basis. It was the best move for his program, and it’s one he hasn’t once had second thoughts about.

“I think this is the right fit for us,” Payette said. “Top to bottom, it’s a lot more competitive, and every night, we have to be ready to play. We’ve been getting into the habit of digging ourselves a hole and having trouble getting out of it, and we have to be ready to play from the start. But again, we have a lot of learning to do, and I think, in time, we’ll get there.”

The schedule makers didn’t do the Pride any favors, because after BVP opened its season with a 56-49 victory over D-II foe Moses Brown, the Pride kicked off their Division III slate by taking on two teams who might end up playing for the D-III title late last month, Ponaganset and Toll Gate, and losing to both squads, the Chieftains by a 93-57 score and the Titans, 67-57.

After the Christmas break, life didn’t get any easier for the Pride when they crossed state lines to take part in the Bellingham Christmas Tournament. Not only did the Pride drop their tourney opener to the host Blackhawks, an undefeated, senior-ladened team that rolled to a 51-30 victory, but they also suffered a 64-50 defeat to a Hopedale team that had been 5-0 before losing its first game the previous night.

“We kind of knew, looking at the schedule, that this first month or so was going to be a challenge,” Payette said. “But now, as we get into January, we just have to continue to take steps in the right direction everyday.”

Onifade, who is a four-year member of the team, is the Pride’s captain. He’s totaled 33 points in BVP’s last two games, and “we’ve been very happy with him,” Payette said. “He’s trying to keep everyone’s head on straight and still play hard, and we’re going to need him to continue to lead by example, direct traffic and put guys in the right place.”

Sophomore forward Xavier Mendez, who started some games last winter, scored 43 points in BVP’s first two games of the season and “is probably our leading scorer and rebounder right now,” said Payette, and junior guard Jarell Jose Carlos also received some experience in the starting lineup. The other returnee, junior guard Sory Traore, is currently out with a foot injury he suffered in his first game of the season.

Of the newcomers, four of the Pride’s top seven players are playing high school hoops for the first time: junior forward Abdoulaye Sall, junior guard Donovan Baptista, freshman forward Chris Rodriguez and freshman guard Jordan Mendez.

Sall, who is 6-foot-3 and a very strong player, may be the most intriguing player of the bunch. His breakout game came in the loss to Toll Gate, as he erupted for 22 points and 17 rebounds, and he also added 16 points and 15 rebounds in the defeat to EWG.

“He’s learning a lot offensively and defensively,” Payette said. “There are glimpses where you see him and you’re like, ‘Wow.’ He’s obviously big and strong, and he has a good touch and a lot of skills. The thing we’re asking from him is consistency – every play, every play – and if we can get him there, he’s going to be a handful for a lot of teams.”

Jordan Mendez, who scored 19 points in his varsity debut against Moses Brown, has been a forward “for most of his life, but now he’s on the perimeter,” added Payette. “He has some skills, but he hasn’t been a guard for eight years; he’s been a guard for a month and a half, so he’s learning, too.”

The Pride, who hosted Johnston on Wednesday night, will visit Central Falls on Friday at 7 p.m. Three of their next five games after that will be at home against neighboring rivals North Smithfield, Lincoln and Mount Saint Charles.

Blackstone Valley Prep junior guard Jarell Jose Carlos, #4, gets ready for Exeter/West Greenwich’s David Hanna, #21, to pass the ball, as BVP freshman guards Chris Rodriguez, #23, and Jordan Mendez, right, defend Exeter/West Greenwich’s Gavin Tierney during the first half of last Friday night’s Division III game. The visiting Scarlet Knights sank 13 three-pointers en route to a 77-63 victory.