Notebook: Derek McMahon leadership guides Smith Academy to Division 4 final

Last modified: Wednesday, March 12, 2014
AMHERST — Derek McMahon had just started school in Easthampton when found someone to look up to.

In first grade, McMahon had a writing buddy in middle school. That buddy was a natural athlete who went on to be a three-sport star in high school — Drew Domina.

“I really looked up to him,” McMahon said. “He was a great leader and a really good person on and off the court.”

McMahon has since moved to Hatfield and turned out to be a pretty good leader at Smith Academy.

“Kids have had four years to watch him,” Smith Academy coach Matt Zerneri said. “I hope Derek keeps coming back and keeps helping out. He is someone who I can put the ball in his hands and say run the show. That’s so valuable to have out there. His basketball IQ is high, especially as the point guard. He sees what’s going on and he’s great at it. I wish him all the best.”

The senior point guard’s season came to an end Saturday when Quaboag beat the Falcons 63-48 in the Western Massachusetts Division 4 Tournament championship at Curry Hicks Cage. For fans in the Pioneer Valley, watching McMahon run the Falcons is like watching John Williams run the Boston Pops. He is a magician with the ball, a true point guard with a pass-first mentality. He keeps his head up at all times, knows where everyone is on the floor and anticipates plays before they happen.

“It’s been fun and I’m going to miss it,” said McMahon, whose college choices include Bentley, Merrimack and Endicott. “Nothing compares to high school basketball, my coach tells me that all the time. Yeah, I’m going on to play college basketball but it won’t be anything like playing with your brothers. I’m going to miss it. I hope the best for next year’s team and all the seniors moving on.”

With little kids all around the Cage, McMahon had some advice for anyone who wants to play point guard.

“If you’re going to be a point guard, be a floor general, be a leader on the floor,” McMahon said. “Every team needs that leader and being a point guard makes it that much easier because you have the ball 90 percent of the game. Being a floor general and leader is big for a team.”

LAST TIME OUT — It was also the final game for seniors Keith Natale, Will Halloran and Bobby Gagne.

Natale joined the 1,000-point club this season. Halloran missed the first half of the season recovering from a knee injury. Gagne fought leukemia last year and was an inspiration to the school and team during its state finals run. With cancer in remission, according to Zerneri, Gagne returned to the team and was a reserve this season.

“It’s been great,” Natale said. “It’s been great playing with all the guys. I wouldn’t want to have done it with anybody else. I love them all. I’m just glad to have played with them. Couldn’t have asked for more.”

SIZE MATTERS — Size certainly made a difference in the outcome.

Quaboag’s Jake Wisniewski was 6-foot-5, Greg Sokol was 6-3, Ethan Lacaire was 6-2 and sixth man Will Watkins was 6-1. Their length made it tough for the Falcons inside as Natale was held to 14 points, none of which came around the rim.

“It forced us to take jump shots,” Natale said. “It was tough getting inside and finishing down low.”

It also made it hard on McMahon, who thrives on finding the open man anywhere on the court. McMahon had a few turnovers on passes that normally would have gone for layups, but instead were slapped away.

“That size wears on you and it makes passing lanes tighter,” Zerneri said. “It’s pretty much one shot and done.”

McMahon finished with 20 points, four assists and four steals.

“They played tough man-to-man defense with a lot of help and it really clogs the lanes and makes things difficult,” he said.

A difference maker for Smith Academy could have been David Longstreeth. The 6-foot-3 junior (13.4 points per game) missed the last four games with a broken foot.

“It’s a different game with David in there,” Zerneri said. “He’s someone else who’s big. The thing about David is that he’s such good all-around player. People don’t realize that he’s great in the zone, he rebounds well, shoots outside, can score inside. He’s strong as a bull. We missed him today. We got by the first two games in the tournament without him, but he was a needed body that we didn’t have.”

OTHER FINALS — Quaboag swept the Division 4 titles. The Cougars girls beat Ware 46-33.

Sabis and Hoosac split their Division 3 doubleheader. The Hoosac girls won 72-41, while the Sabis boys won 71-56.

In Division 2, Longmeadow swept Shepherd Hill. The girls won 54-46, while the boys won 55-39.

STATE SEMIFINALS — The eight state semifinals between West and Central will be played at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

Division 1 boys: St. Johns vs. Putnam, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.

Division 2: Concord-Carlisle vs. Longmeadow, Wednesday, 7:30.

Division 3: Tyngsboro vs. Sabis, Wednesday, 4.

Division 4: Hopedale vs. Quaboag, Tuesday, 4.

Division 1 girls: Westford vs. Central, Tuesday, 5:45.

Division 2: Nashoba vs. Longmeadow, Wednesday, 5:45.

Division 3: Bellingham vs. Hoosac, Wednesday, 2:15.

Division 4: Millis vs. Quaboag, Tuesday, 2:15.

Mike Moran can be reached at mmoran@gazette.com.