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Nipmuc Boys Basketball Eyes Deep Tourney Run

James McKinney. Contributed photo

By Chris Villani
Sports Writer
Nipmuc boys’ basketball head coach Paul King does not try to hide his excitement about his 2022–2023 team.
“This is the best team I have had since we went to the districts and won a tournament game a couple of years ago,” he said. “They look really good.”
There is plenty of evidence to support King’s optimism when looking at the Warriors’ roster. First and foremost, Nipmuc is huge for a high school basketball team at their level. Sophomore James McKinney returns and is in the neighborhood of 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-7. Alex Vanesse is around 6-foot-4, as is Drew Johnson, a transfer from Blackstone Valley Tech.

                                                     Luke Barnes. Contributed photo

“The best part is they can all shoot,” King said. “Every kid on the team is a three-point threat. The height is an advantage, we should control the boards and they are all athletic, they have basketball bodies. But every kid on the team can shoot and my top seven or eight guys are just lights out shooters.”
King is particularly excited about McKinney, who stood out during his freshman campaign and became an immediate impact player at the varsity level. He can see McKinney progressing significantly over the course of the winter.
“He is just more confident,” the coach said. “You’d forget last year that he had been playing eighth grade basketball the year before and jumped right up to varsity. I am expecting him to continue to get better.”
McKinney brings size and a strong outside shot — King said he might be one of the top two or three shooters on the roster — and he has been extremely coachable for King and the rest of the staff.

                                               Brayden Kelly. Contributed photo

Senior point guard Luke Barnes is back running the offense. A starter since his sophomore year, King said at the year’s outset that Barnes is in line for a big final campaign.
“He is so tough, so competitive,” King said. “He plays awesome defense, but he really ramped up his scoring coming into the year. It’s his last year so we’ve been relying on him to look for his shot more and he is going to get to the rim.”
Junior Brayden Kelly and his brother, sophomore Chase Kelly, are also key rotation players for the Warriors. Brayden is a slasher who can get to the rim, while King described Chase as one of the best high school shooters he has been around. King is excited to see whether his team will meet the high expectations they have set for themselves.
“I don’t want to put too much on them, but I do expect to be a district team,” he said. “I think we should also be a Clark Tournament team and we should compete in the Dual Valley Conference too. Our league is good, there are so many good teams, but I think we have a shot if we play our game.”