LYNN — Classical boys basketball coach Jasper Grassa felt his Rams underachieved last winter. They had no shortage of experience and talent on their roster but hit their bumps along the way and suffered a first-round exit at the hands of Lowell in the Division 1 North state tournament. Classical finished the 2017-2018 season at 12-9.
“It was a disappointing season,” Grassa, who played college basketball at Bentley University, said. “We had a lot of talent but we weren’t able to convert it into enough wins. We didn’t make that run at the end.”
The good news for Grassa, now in his second season at the helm of the program after taking over for his father, Tom, is the Rams have carried a fresh mindset in the preseason.
“They feel good,” Grassa said of his players. “They’ve been very positive with feedback from other teammates. It just seems like the energy’s different this year. Last year, we had a lot of talent but they didn’t get after it like we did in previous years.”
Classical returns four experienced seniors this season in guards Jaylen Johnson and Dyrrell Rucker, and forwards Malik Anderson and Deontae Plouffe. Sophomore guards Jeff Barbosa and Jeff Hill, and junior guard Brandon Summers are also slated to play key roles.
“I think we should be okay,” Grassa said. “We have a lot of guys returning, a lot of guys who were on the team last year. They know that if they’re not doing the right thing, things won’t go the right way for them.”
Athleticism and experience project to be Classical’s two main strengths this year.
“Our athleticism is usually what our strength is,” Grassa said. “Our experience and our athleticism are our two main strengths. We’re going to try to get into the lane on offense and try to create as many turnovers as possible on defense.”
Grassa and his Rams know life isn’t easy in the Northeastern Conference. With a handful of tournament mainstays up and down the conference, Classical expects to be tested by its NEC opponents on a nightly basis.
“It’s always tough,” Grassa said. “I think as long as we focus on taking a step forward every day, we should be OK.”
Returning to the coaching staff are assistants Tom Grassa, former Salem State player Nick Grassa and Simmie Anderson. Nate Simpson, a former teammate of Nick Grassa’s at Salem State, joins the coaching staff. Former longtime assistant Ken Turner retired during the offseason.
“I feel good with them. Me and my father have worked for about five or six years now,” Grassa said. “My brother (Nick) played with Nate at Salem State so that’s where that stems from. Coach Anderson has worked with us for a while now. We feel good going into the season.”
Classical opens the new season Dec. 14th when the Rams visit NEC rival Somerville.