Season preview: Boys basketball

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Naugatuck
2020-2021: 10-3 regular season, lost to Sacred Heart in NVL championship game
Graduated: Justin Barth, Julaquis Minnifield (All-Iron), Grzegrz Lutrzykowski, Rob Sanders (All-Iron)
Seniors: Avery Hinnant (All-NVL), Ese Onakpoma (All-NVL), Aiden Robertson, Jayshawn Lindsay, Ryan Noble, Evan Swanson, Perris Sayler
Season Opener: Dec. 17 vs. WCA
Naugatuck returns one of the most experienced lineups in the NVL. Hinnant (222 points) and Onakpoma (346 points) are both within striking distance of the 1,000 point career mark for the two-time All-NVL, All-State players. The 2020 NVL champions didn’t get a chance to see how good they really were when the state tournament was canceled. They will get that opportunity this season barring any cancellations.
“There’s that scary word, potential,” said Naugatuck coach Mike Wilson. “This is the deepest senior based team in the history of Naugatuck. We will start five seniors with two coming off the bench. We have a couple of talented juniors who could get in the mix but they will be the eight, nine, 10 guys.
“We are coming into a season where there was no state tournament for the past two years so these guys are looking to leave their mark. We had 90 kids come out for the team. There is a whole lot of excitement for this season. With two All-NVL, All-State players in our starting lineup, I have to like our chances.”

Woodland
2020-21 results: 7-7 overall; reached NVL quarterfinals
Graduated: Conrad Filippone, Joe Giuliani, Nathaniel Smith
Seniors: Brady Anderson, Nate Bodnar, John Henry, Croy Mastropietro, Rob Moriarty
Other key players: Andrew Borajkiewicz, Danny Hartnett, Ethan Stepputtis
First games: Dec. 16 at Wilby; Dec. 21 vs. Oxford; Dec. 23 vs. Wolcott
Woodland coach John Mariano, entering his third year leading the Hawks, feels like his basketball program is hitting its stride.
“I’m excited about this group,” Mariano said. “They’ve been there with me since I got the job, so it’s good. I feel like the terminology that I use, they’ve embodied it and they’ve studied it.”
While the Hawks must replace their two leading scorers, Smith (18 points per game) and Giuliani (14 ppg), Mariano thinks that Moriarty (14 ppg), Bodnar (8 ppg), and Anderson (7 ppg) are ready to step in. Bodnar will miss the first few weeks of the season as he recovers from a leg injury suffered during football season.
The Hawks also stepped up their offseason programs with consistent weightlifting and fall league play to produce a more cohesive team entering this winter. Now, it will come down to what Woodland can do on the floor.
“It’s just a blend of guys who have been there before but also new guys,” Mariano said. “Our success this year will be based on how much we share the basketball and play as a team. If our group can become tough and make that our identity — physical and mental — if we can improve that, it will determine our success.”