Chris Canela and the Tanners defeated Salem for their eighth win of the season. (Item File Photo)

Tanners have slots to fill this winter

PEABODY -- The Peabody boys basketball team has serious holes to fill this season after graduating six seniors, four of whom started and all of whom played significant roles last winter.

The Tanners made their third straight Division 1 North state tournament appearance last year, finishing at 13-7 to earn the No. 9 seed in the bracket. Peabody lost to Lawrence, 77-50, in the first round.

The Tanners have an added challenge this season with only two players with significant varsity experience returning.

Nonetheless, coach Thad Broughton' s carrying plenty of optimism into his seventh season.

"We are breaking in an entirely new squad with only two players back who saw major varsity minutes last year, so there are a lot of unknowns," Broughton said. "We graduated several players who have been varsity mainstays for three and four years, but this year we don't have that luxury with 11 new guys who have to learn how to fit into our system. We have some large holes to fill, but as a coach, it's exciting to have such a huge and unique challenge."

The Tanners lost a chunk of offense in Northeastern Conference all-star Junior Estrella, who led the team in scoring (16 ppg) and rebounds (9 prg) and was second in blocks (40).  Also gone are Matt D'Amato, and Moisse Irizarry.  

The Tanners also lost a pair of experienced varsity players who Broughton expected to be major contributors this season -- junior Chibuikem Onwuogu and sophomore Sammy Battista, both of whom are at St. Mary's this year.

The good news is Peabody had a large turnout at tryouts with over 100 hopeful candidates, including over 40 freshmen.

The Tanners will be led by their returning seniors Marcus Barker, Adrian Medrano and Jake Irvine and senior newcomers Jake Gustin, a point guard, guard Avian Hernandez and guard Pasha Madyun.

Irvine was second on the team in charges taken and had a knack for knocking down timely 3-pointers.

“Jake (Irvine) is a great defensive player,” Broughton said. “But he also hit some huge shots for us when we needed them most.  He played some incredible basketball for us.”

Barker missed all of last year with an injury, while Medrano also struggled with injuries and missed most of the season. Both had been expected to play key integral roles on the team.

In addition to Irvine, the only other player with real varsity experience is junior Chris Canela, who will serve as a captain with Barker and Irvine.

Last year, Canela was the only underclassman in the Tanners' starting lineup.

"Chris was outstanding as our lone underclassman in the starting lineup and has a very bright future," said Broughton.  "We will be leaning heavily on his experience as the only returning starter along with Jake (Irvine) and Marcus."

Broughton said the ultimate goal is to get every player up to speed and bended into the Tanners' system of play.

"The biggest challenge is to make sure that everybody fits in with our scheme and with only two guys with real varsity experience, that's a huge challenge to get 11 basically new players to get on the same page," Broughton said.  "This team has a lot of room for growth and the key will be to make sure we are a different team at the end of the season than at the beginning.  It will be a unique challenge to blend all the pieces together."

The Tanners open the season on Dec. 19 when they visit Danvers.

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