WINTHROP — David Sacco felt things went well for him last year in his first season coaching the Winthrop boys basketball team. The Vikings wasted no time catching up to the learning curve that comes with a new coaching staff and qualified for the Division 4 North state tournament. Winthrop reached the quarterfinal round, where it lost to Pope John in overtime. The Vikings finished the season 10-12.
“I think we did very well considering what we had back from the previous year,” Sacco said. “We had 10 seniors, guys who played a ton as juniors. The camaraderie between myself and the guys went smoothly. At times, things didn’t go the way we wanted them to. Being in the Northeastern Conference really prepared us for the state tournament. We had a three-point lead at Pope John with a minute to go. The kids did everything I asked of them.”
Now the Vikings have to figure out how to replace the 10 seniors who graduated this past spring. Gone are the likes of two 1,000-point scorers in Devin Pulsifer (now at Emmanuel) and Tayjaun McKenzie (now at Fitchburg State).
Sacco said high-caliber players like Pulsifer and McKenzie won’t be replaced easily, it has to be a team-wide effort.
“We’re a little bit of a different team than last year,” Sacco said. “Last year we could give the ball to Tayjaun and Devin and ask them to score the basketball. This year we have to stay with our sets and make sure we get the best shot available. We don’t have a lot of size defensively, so we have to make sure once the shot’s up we have five guys crashing the glass. We’re stressing that we have to do things as a team and not as individuals.”
The Vikings return senior Chrono Washington, who started at point guard last season and averaged 8.5 points with 6.5 assists per game. Washington will captain Winthrop this season alongside junior guard Engell Ramadini.
“I named Chrono captain once the year ended last year,” Sacco said. “He’s certainly been a leader for us in the offseason. Engell earned his captain role in the fall. He did a lot of work in the offseason. They’re going to be our leaders on and off the court, keeping guys together.”
Also slated to play key role are sophomores Cam Conway and David Dicicco.
Thus far, things have gone well for the Vikings in the preseason.
“Things are going well,” Sacco said. “We have a whole new group. We graduated 10 seniors with varsity experience. It’s a bunch of new guys with some upperclassmen. It’s definitely a process to have a group that hasn’t played together. We’re trying not to throw too much at them at once. Day by day, we’re getting better.”
Sacco believes the NEC will be a competitive conference this winter. Teams that struggled last season return improved groups, meaning the Vikings expect to be tested each night.
“Year after year, the NEC’s top-notch competition,” Sacco said. “This year’s no different. Beverly will be better than last year. English could be one of the best teams in the state. Danvers, Gloucester and Saugus are all much improved. It really doesn’t matter who you play. Night in and night out, you’re playing one of the best teams in the state.”
Winthrop opens the season next Tuesday when the Vikings host Malden Catholic at Chris Tsiotos Court.
“Between now and then we have a lot to do,” Sacco said. “We have a lot to get better at, a lot to improve on. We’ll be ready.”