SOMERVILLE, NJ — There's plenty to look forward to as Chris Nevolo takes the reigns of the Somerville boys’ basketball team this season, with the season-opener Friday night against Warren Hills.
After bowing out in the first round of the state tournament last season, the Pioneers return to the court with a special group of athletes that present quite possibly the perfect winning formula. There's youth and experience; scorers and standout defenders; size and speed; all the components that can make a basketball team dangerous.
While the adjustment process is still taking place for Nevolo and his squad, it's impossible to ignore that the talent is there. And if things take shape, it could be a very fun season in the gym on Davenport Street for Somerville.
“The group as a whole hasn’t played together a lot, and me being a first-year head coach, we’re still getting a feel for that,” Nevolo told TAPinto Somerville. “Not having played together a lot, it’s going to take some time, but that being said, there’s a lot to work with. We have the potential to have a very nice season. We’re just trying to get better every day as a team, and letting the kids play from there.”
Somerville certainly has the potential to make things happen within the Skyland Conference, which will be very competitive this season. In large part, the Pioneers’ fate rests in the hands of a star-studded big three, consisting of sophomore guard Kyle Rolon, senior forward Kevin Sokol, and junior center Ethan Hilliman.
That trio combined for 764 points last season. All signs indicate that number will increase this winter, as those three will be the focal points of Somerville's offense, which looks to improve on its average of 56.3 points-per-game a season ago.
“We have those three guys offensively, and other guys will bring good defense and handle the ball,” Nevolo said. “But those are our three main guys.”
Rolon, who averaged 6.9 points-per-game and started in nearly every contest as a freshman last season, is an excellent scorer and will start at point guard for the Pioneers. A six-footer, he will help lead the backcourt along with fellow 6-foot guard Kyrie Hinton, a football star who won’t be relied on as much to score, but is arguably Somerville’s best on-ball defender. Austin Sasiak and Eric Bryant will also be called upon off the bench to do some ball handling.
Sokol, Somerville’s tallest player at 6'5'' will be a force in the frontcourt as a power forward. He averaged 11.3 points-per-game last season, including a stellar 27-point effort against powerhouse Rahway in the first round of the Section 2, Group 3 state tournament, a game Somerville. The senior will be joined in the front court by junior Sean Reilly, a 6'2" small forward whose duties will certainly increase after producing quality minutes as a role player last year.
Though they will be called upon as important wings, Sokol and Reilly will also do some ball handling, as well, according to Nevolo.
“We have a little bit bigger starting lineup than usual,” Nevolo said. “Rolon and Hinton are the true guards. We’ll kind of piece it together.”
Down low sits the 6'4" junior Hilliman, who led Somerville in scoring as a sophomore last year, and could very well do the same this year. Like Hinton, Hilliman is a football star as well, and is a terrific athlete who plays strong and physical around the basket. Hilliman also averaged over four rebounds per-game a year ago.
Off the bench, junior Evan Barr will provide invaluable minutes down low, too. The 6'3" Barr, a Duke lacrosse commit, is what Nevolo calls "a classic coach's player", as he does all the little things -- such as block shots, run, play above the rim, etc. -- exceptionally well.
All of those big men near the basket for Somerville -- Sokol, Reilly, Hilliman, Barr -- will help make up for the graduation of 6-foot-6 All-Conference big Chris Elwood. Somerville loses 284 points without Elwood, a two-year starter, but aside from him, Somerville wasn't hurt by the loss of graduating players.
"We’ll miss him, because he was a very skilled big man who could run, block shots, play above the rim, and do all kinds of stuff," Nevolo said. "But other than Chris, that’s really it from last year."
Competition should be tight within Somerville's Skyland-Valley Division. Bernards and North Plainfield, which enjoyed successful seasons last year, were dropped down, while Warren Hills, Voorhees, Delaware Valley, and Bound Brook also await the Pioneers in conference play.
"Every game in the league is going to be a battle," said Nevolo. "We’ll have 12 league games total — six teams that we’ll play twice — and I’d say all 12 can be close games. Everyone’s well-coached, everyone scouts, everyone has talent, and everyone’s evenly-matched. That’s the way it should be."