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By Ed Niser

eniser@nashobavalleyvoice.com

TOWNSEND — For those who say that the North Middlesex Patriots have graduated a lot of weapons — think again.

Point guard Drew Patno has since taken his talents to the University of New England, but Richie Sharp is still patrolling the shooting guard position.

“Losing Drew’s leadership and play-making ability hurts a ton, but with our starting five right now — they have really come together.”

The Patriots are looking to get out and run under second-year head coach Justin Maly. Maly’s North Middlesex team fell in the opening round of district play last season at Tantasqua in the Western Mass bracket after sounding off seven-straight wins in the middle half of the season.

“Richie caught fire when we made our run at one point,” Maly said. “The team always said if Richie could shoot, we would always be right there with him. A little of that will be true this year, too.”

Sharp led the Patriots in point production last season. He averaged 14.6 points per game. The six-foot-4 senior has the ability to stroke the three-pointer and crash inside.

North Middlesex returns its top on-ball defender in senior point guard Ryan MacDonald, who possesses a solid handle bringing the ball up the floor. MacDonald will share the point guard responsibilities with sophomore Zach Collins, who saw significant minutes a freshman.

“Zach is probably about two steps quicker than he was last year,” Maly said. “His body has really started to fill out a little bit. His outside and inside game has improved, too. He really looks like a seasoned veteran out there. Collins did not have any lag off of football season. Mac is one of those players that the kids just gravitate to cause of his energy and personality. He is very athletic. I think it is safe to say we have the best guard tandem outside of maybe Nashoba in the league.”

North Middlesex’s starting five will be a concoction of three guards and two forwards. Senior Sam Dorian spent some time on the bench last season learning the position.

Dorian will assume the center duties this season. Dorian has showed a lot of promise in preseason practices and scrimmages.

Sophomore John Begley has grown into his body and will play the power forward position, but has the tendencies of a guard with his willingness to rebound and dish the ball.

“Begley is one of those hybrid players like Draymond Green with Golden State,” Maly said. “He is a very unselfish player. He is the type who will rebound and go to work under the basket.”

Coming off the bench will be junior slasher Mike Farren and freshman Keegan Sharp, who comes in at six-foot-seven.

“Keegan is nursing a broken hand right now, but he has played a ton of basketball coming into the season,” Maly said. “Keegan broke his hand two weeks before the season, but he just keeps getting better and better. He wants to be a shooter. I told him that’s okay, but he also needs to post up down low.”

Sophomore Joe Couto played all through the summer and fall.

“Couto lives at the Pepperell courts,” Maly said. “It is going to be interesting for our kids off the bench. They’re all so new to varsity basketball. But, hopefully our upperclassmen leaders will rally everyone together.”

There are no easy games in the Mid-Wach B league — Maly knows that, and so do the rest of the coaches.

The Patriots host neighboring rival Groton-Dunstable.

“There isn’t going to be an empty seat in that gym Friday night,” smiled Maly. “Our kids are ready to go Friday night against Groton. I don’t know how the G-D kids are feeling, but my guys can’t wait. How cool is that for a first game? I really think it is going to be standing-room only. I don’t care what else is going in the state that day — NM-G-D is the game you want to go to.”

Follow Ed Niser on Twitter/Tout:@EdNiser

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