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NARRAGANSETTâIn each of the past few seasons the North Kingstown boys basketball team has lost strong players to graduation but had enough veterans return to stay amongst the stateâs elite programs.
This summer, however, has marked the beginning of a drastic change for long-time coach Aaron Thomas and his Skippers.
North graduated the top seven players from its rotation this spring and have had to rely on lesser-used reserves from last season in Grant Gillis, Jake Mansfield, Matt Madoian and Chris Lenox.
âWe returned when you think about it probably No. 7, 8 and 9 [in our rotation] and thatâs it,â Thomas said. âI havenât had that in a long time where we didnât return a starter.â
If this summer has been any indication though, the Skippers could avoid rebuilding for yet another year.
A loss to undefeated West Warwick Monday was NKâs first of the season and Thomas says he has started to see progress from his inexperience group.
âWeâre starting to get familiar with each other,â he said. âWe will play hard, we will play defense or you wonât play here. Now itâs about playing smart and knowing the situation.â
If North Kingstown has one thing going in its favor as it tries to reload for next season it its size.
Lenox, Mansfield and Madoian are each over six feet tall, while at 6-foot, 7-inches Gillis gives the Skippers a presence at the back end of the defense.
âGrantâs starting to come along as our big guy,â Thomas said. âHe really started to do some nice things at camp.â
Last winter in his first season in the program Gillis was very raw as far as his skill set went but in a game against Chariho last Wednesday he showed marked improvement in his post skills.
âWe just scratched the surface with him last year,â Thomas said of Gillisâ potential. âSome of the games it was difficult to get him in because the speed of the game was just way too fast but heâs starting to get his level up a bit right now.â
Thomas also said he has liked what he has seen from forward Spencer Bode.
âI think Spencerâs going to do some nice things for us too,â Thomas said. âThis is going to be that senior group coming though but itâs interesting to see how everybodyâs going to mesh together.â
The big question the Skippers are trying to address this summer is depth, and in particular a second big man behind Gillis.
âOur biggest weakness right now that we donât have an answer for is we donât have a second big guy and weâre desperately looking,â Thomas said. âEven if itâs going to be a sophomore kid. It might happen. We have to find a second big guy.â
The Skippers will have plenty of time solve that question though, and for now are focused on just getting the experience necessary to try and keep the tradition of winning basketball alive at North Kingstown.
âLike anything else, weâve got a long way to go but Iâm happy with where we are right now,â Thomas said. âThe key is to play together.
â...Weâve played in leagues all over the state. We used to play in the Providence league and we couldnât get guys there. Itâs not necessarily important who we play, itâs more important we play as a group and get the experience together.â