Nearly blind in one eye, Smith Academy point guard Derek McMahon still has great vision on the basketball court
Derek McMahon of Smith Academy, right, passes away from Lenox defenders Anthony Martino, left, and Ben Herrick Thursday during the Spalding Hoophall Classic at Springfield College.
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Mat Sulda and Derek McMahon of Smith Academy are among the many players who have worked with Adam Harrington in his Aspire Basketball program. In this undated photo, Harrington stands with, from left, Patrick Dickert of Hatfield and Loomis Chaffee, Sulda and Smith Academy's Keith Natale, second from right. Purchase photo reprints »
Smith Academy junior point guard Derek McMahon looked diagonally across the school’s basketball court Thursday and, with his hand over his left eye, could tell what color the bleachers were.
However, he couldn’t though make out the “SA” on the rail padding on one side of the bleachers, or the “Falcons” on the padding on the other side.
That’s because McMahon is 95 percent blind in his right eye. He’ll be starting for the Falcons against Danvers at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in the state Division 3 boys basketball championship game at the DCU Center.
“It’s been like this my whole life and I’m accustomed to playing with it,” McMahon said. “I wouldn’t know it any other way.”
From the looks of his game, it appears McMahon has three eyes. He sees the floor exceptionally well and he finds open teammates like it was a 5-on-0 drill.
“I’ve been playing with our guys for a while and they trust me as the point guard,” McMahon said. “They get to the spots that they know they’ll get the ball. A lot of that is chemistry with the team, more than my vision.”
McMahon earned the starting nod last season and has blossomed this year, leading Smith to its first sectional title in 20 years and first state final in 21.
“He’s not afraid to make the pass and he anticipates extremely well,” Falcons coach Matt Zerneri said. “He has a good idea what the defender is going to do. He knows his own game. He knows everybody else’s own game. He knows where guys like the ball.
“It shows defensively when he’s thinking a pass ahead of the guy he’s defending, where he’s able to get his hands up and tip balls and he anticipates a lot,” Zerneri added. “To me he’s very good at that.”
Senior shooting guard Mat Sulda, who passed 1,600 career points in the postseason, can credit a lot of assists from McMahon.
“Derek does everything a point guard is supposed to do,” Sulda said. “He finds people when they’re open, creates plays for himself and creates plays for the team. He makes our team better.”
ASSIST TO HARRINGTON — Sulda and McMahon credit their offensive growth to Adam Harrington and his Aspire Basketball program.
“The gist of it is he teaches us things that are out of our comfort zone,” Sulda said. “He makes us train at a level that we’re uncomfortable at. It really is helpful. When you train at a level that your uncomfortable at, that’s how you stretch and grow as a player.”
Harrington, who starred at Pioneer Regional and later played in the NBA, expanded Sulda’s repertoire. Last season, the guard would drive and pull up at the elbow for a jumper that was often defended closely. This season, Sulda has shown off a step-back jumper that he has used as far back as the 3-point line.
“I have Adam to thank for that,” Sulda said. “He taught me how to create space and if a defender keeps defending, you can always make another move with a big step that can create space and you can hit the jumper.”
Other players who have worked with Harrington include Falcon starting forward Keith Natale, bench player Christian Smiarowski and Hatfield resident and former Northampton player Patrick Dickert, who now plays at Loomis Chaffee in Windsor, Conn.
“He made them more fundamentally sound,” Zerneri said of Harrington. “He does a lot of getting back to basics and really taking extra motion out of shots, learn how to shoot off the dribble and shoot off the catch. He does a lot of strength stuff.”
FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING — When South Hadley beat St. Bernard’s in the state semifinal round, it became the first school from Hampshire County to advance to the state Division 2 final.
“It’s a great accomplishment to be here,” South Hadley senior Anthony Bullough said.
Since the state tournament was broken into three divisions in 1972, western Massachusetts is 6-9 overall in state Division 2 finals. Since 1979, only Wahconah (1987), Sabis (2010) and Mahar (2012) have won championships.
The other three were by Commerce from 1976 to 1978.
ALL-STAR GAME — The International Association of Approved Basketball Officials Board 28 will host its annual Hampshire County vs. Franklin County All-Star Game tonight at Hopkins Academy.
All proceeds will benefit the Williams F. Casey Scholarships, which are awarded to seniors from each county.
The girls game starts at 6 p.m. followed by the boys at 7:30.
Local players for the girls East squad are Sarah Mangels (Amherst), Marissa Kopacz (Belchertown), Jillian Lund (Belchertown), Brooke Labrie (Granby), Briannah Mercier (Granby), Olivia Mathieu (Hopkins Academy) and Megan Lynes (South Hadley).
Local players for the West girls are Kelly Avard (Easthampton), Elizabeth Whitney (Easthampton), Sydney Judge (Frontier), Jordan Rowe (Frontier), Brooke Fairman (Gateway), Kaitlin Mastello (Gateway), Sarah Kober (Hampshire), Susan Bell (Northampton), Emiko Barker (Smith Academy) and Priscilla Sepulveda (Smith Vocational).
Local players for the East boys are Noris Cuevas-Nova (Amherst), Zach Parsons (Belchertown), Tyler Verville (Belchertown), and Andy Gifford (Granby).
Local players for the West boys are Chris Starcun (Easthampton), Paul Decker (Frontier), Peter Watroba (Frontier), Ryan Fisk (Gateway), Shane Andrews (Hampshire), Adam Laroche (Hampshire), Justin Burgos (Northampton), Jordan Castillo (Smith Vocational) and Sam Sharpe (Smith Vocational).
Bullough, Evan Marcus (South Hadley), Sulda and Seaver Rickert (Smith Academy) are also on the rosters but are not expected to play because their teams are in the state finals Saturday.
Mike Moran can be reached at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.