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NARRAGANSETTâ€”In 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 stateâ€™s 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.
â€śWe returned when you think about it probably No. 7, 8 and 9 [in our rotation] and thatâ€™s it,â€ť Thomas said. â€śI havenâ€™t had that in a long time where we didnâ€™t return a starter.â€ť
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 NKâ€™s first of the season and Thomas says he has started to see progress from his inexperience group.
â€śWeâ€™re starting to get familiar with each other,â€ť he said. â€śWe will play hard, we will play defense or you wonâ€™t play here. Now itâ€™s about playing smart and knowing the situation.â€ť
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.
â€śGrantâ€™s starting to come along as our big guy,â€ť Thomas said. â€śHe really started to do some nice things at camp.â€ť
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.
â€śWe just scratched the surface with him last year,â€ť Thomas said of Gillisâ€™ potential. â€śSome of the games it was difficult to get him in because the speed of the game was just way too fast but heâ€™s starting to get his level up a bit right now.â€ť
Thomas also said he has liked what he has seen from forward Spencer Bode.
â€śI think Spencerâ€™s going to do some nice things for us too,â€ť Thomas said. â€śThis is going to be that senior group coming though but itâ€™s interesting to see how everybodyâ€™s going to mesh together.â€ť
The big question the Skippers are trying to address this summer is depth, and in particular a second big man behind Gillis.
â€śOur biggest weakness right now that we donâ€™t have an answer for is we donâ€™t have a second big guy and weâ€™re desperately looking,â€ť Thomas said. â€śEven if itâ€™s going to be a sophomore kid. It might happen. We have to find a second big guy.â€ť
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.
â€śLike anything else, weâ€™ve got a long way to go but Iâ€™m happy with where we are right now,â€ť Thomas said. â€śThe key is to play together.
â€ś...Weâ€™ve played in leagues all over the state. We used to play in the Providence league and we couldnâ€™t get guys there. Itâ€™s not necessarily important who we play, itâ€™s more important we play as a group and get the experience together.â€ť