Sports Editor

GROTON –The crescendo has been building for two years now for the Groton-Dunstable boys basketball team. Youthful inexperience has come full circle to become full-blown confidence, and the Crusaders figure to be on a short list of the top teams in Central Massachusetts and a certain player in Division 2 circles.

“Our goal is to win a state championship,” said veteran coach Keith Woods. “We play in Division 2 but have 10 or 11 Division 1 games on our schedule. Come tournament time we will be battle tested. Last season was our breakout year. We are looking to take another step or two this season.”

The Crusaders lost a pair of leaders to graduation in Ricky Akins and Ryan Barrett, but with four returning starters the cupboard is hardly bare.

The starting frontcourt consists of senior captain Mike Silinonte at small forward, and junior captains Ryan Romich at power forward and Cam Wllcox at center.

“Mike wasn’t healthy last season and I am encouraged with the way he has been playing,” said Woods. “He is our X-factor. He can slash to the basket or hit the three-pointer and he has taken it to another level.

“Ryan is a superstar who can do everything on a basketball court,” said Woods. “He can rebound, block shots and can score in all manners. He is a force offensively and is a good team defender who is working on his individual defense.

“Cam is a special player,” said Woods. “He draws the opposition’s best scoring big man, and he can also hit the outside jumper. He is an unsung player and a quiet leader.

The Crusaders feature experience in the starting backcourt with junior Derek McCaffrey and senior Patrick McKinney.

“Derek will be the best point guard who has ever played here,” said Woods. “He sees the floor well and can hit the three-point shot. He is an above average defensive player, and offensively we are looking for him to penetrate and kick the ball out more this season.

“Patrick had significant playing time last season,” said Woods. “He has progressed the past two years and has had some big games. He is a good shooter with range, works hard defensively, and he will mix it up inside.”

Groton-Dunstable starters have played exorbitant minutes over the past two seasons, something Woods thinks can change this season because of added depth.

Junior guard Brian McCarron figures to be the first player off the bench.

“Brian is a strong defensive player, either one-on-one or in our press,” said Woods. “Offensively he is strong in the open court and takes the ball to the basket well. He is working on his outside shot.”

Rounding out the second five will be freshman point guard Kyle Romich, junior forward Joe Cullen, junior forward Brett Ursprung, and junior center Andrew Scire.

“Kyle is heady and isn’t intimidated at this level,” said Woods. “He protects the ball well and adds depth at an important position. Joe came off the bench last season and provided instant offense with an excellent mid-range shot. Brett is a physical presence and he is playing with more confidence. Andrew also came off the bench last season and adds defense and rebounding.”

Those five add an element that we haven’t had in two years, and our starters should be able to get more rest.

Looking to find a niche will be freshman forward Will Peregoy, sophomore guard Pete Liljegren, junior forward/center Phil Brady, and sophomore forward Eric Rahnasto.

“Will has made an impression and he will challenge for time off the bench,” said Woods. “Pete handles the ball well and has a good shot. Phil is a banger who put a lot of hard work in over the summer. Eric also has worked hard and he is a shooter with good range and he is willing to mix it up.”

What the are strengths of this year’s team?

“We have the experience of having four starters in their third varsity season,” said Woods. “They have played in a lot of big games. I like the balance we have, both inside and outside, plus the added ability of being able to go to the bench. I also like our defense and the work ethic of the kids. Also, we can shoot from the outside, which should open things up inside.”