Derry basketball thinking even bigger this season
When Andy Panizzi and the rest of Derry boys basketball seniors were freshmen, the Trojans suffered through a 0-20 season. The program was in the midst of 45 losses in 46 games.
Now, Derry is a winning team that's won over the hearts of the school and community.
“It feels good basketball is actually something to talk about again,” Panizzi said. “It's good to know that it's gone from laughingstock of the entire school to something to come out and watch and see.”
The Trojans are 5-4 and 2-2 in Section 3-AAA, having won four of their past five games. After going from consecutive 1-20 and 0-20 seasons to a respectable .500 (11-11) later last year, Derry is thinking even bigger for an encore.
“We have a goal to be in the section race, and definitely to get into the playoffs and win a playoff game,” coach Damon Rause said. “Those are goals we can achieve, definitely, with this senior class.
“The way the community has responded is nice to see. The Derry community is excited about boys basketball, and the crowds have been ridiculous. The fans are getting into it, and it's been fun to be a part of.”
Fitting that the Trojans' renaissance from rock bottom coincided with when Rause took over before the 2010-11 season, which was also the first in which the Trojans' four seniors were contributors on the varsity level.
Panizzi and Nick Clayton have evolved into Derry's primary offensive threats. The 6-foot Panizzi served as point guard the previous two seasons but was moved to more of a scoring role this season at shooting guard. He leads the team with more than 15 points per game.
“He's been kind of the kid in control the last few years,” Rause said. “The kind of kid everybody turns to, definitely the leader of the group.”
Clayton is a 6-4 forward who can do a little of everything for the Trojans on the inside. Another multiple-year senior starter for Derry is Lucas Maloy, an aggressive point guard.
When healthy, 6-5, 300-pound senior Alex Mylant, for obvious reasons, can make an impact. Junior forward Matt Vasinko is arguably Derry's best pure athlete, and junior guard Luke Ridilla is in his second season of providing significant, valuable minutes.
A pair of sophomores — point guard Ryan Maloy and forward Cam Gerhard — come off the bench and have even made spot starts.
“We're really starting to come together as a team and really starting to click,” Panizzi said. “Everyone just believes in everybody. We really don't have as much pure talent as last year, but every single player, as team we all go out and do it together.”
Whereas last season Derry preferred more of a run-and-gun style, now the Trojans are more deliberate offensively — and more reliant on defense. They've allowed an average of 38.2 points in their five victories this season.
“We really focus on basic, hardcore half-court man defense,” Rause said. “We're not very flashy or a full-court trapping kind of team. We get back on defense, and we get our defense set and we make other teams really work the ball to get good looks. That's the defensive-minded focus we want out of this team.”
One that's “a laughingstock” no longer.
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.