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Gazette Boys Basketball Player of the Year: Mat Sulda

Mat Sulda, of Smith Academy, has been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

Mat Sulda, of Smith Academy, has been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette Boys Basketball Player of the Year. Purchase photo reprints »

Mat Sulda had all the dreams — some farfetched and some more realistic — of a young basketball player.

He wanted to become the best basketball player at his high school, score 1,000 points and win championships, play Division I basketball, get drafted into the NBA and become a hall of famer.

Sulda’s Smith Academy teammates had some of those same dreams, too, and a sixth-grade Suburban League championship only fueled a need to follow in their brothers’ footsteps and attempt to win a title in Hatfield.

“I had the NBA dream and I still do,” Sulda said with a slight laugh. “Teamwise we always went to the high school game. Seaver (Rickert) had older brother, I had an older brother, Derek (McMahon) had an older brother. We saw them play and we thought it would be cool to play for that championship.”

Six years later and led by Sulda, the Falcons ended the program’s 20-year championship drought.

Sulda scored his 1,000th point and was the best player on his team. He led them on and off the court and to the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Tournament championship final. The Falcons eventually fell in the state final.

For his effort, Sulda has been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

“He works hard and he’s an unselfish player and an unselfish kid,” Smith Academy coach Matt Zerneri said. “What he learns he is willing to teach the other kids on the team. One of the best things to have in a captain and leader is if he’s at practice working hard and working extra, kids follow. They’re going to be there, they’re going to work. It sets a tone for how hard the rest of the guys will work. He does a great job of that.”

Sulda improved every year throughout his career, but with the help of former Pioneer Regional star and NBA guard Adam Harrington, he took it to the next level.

“He transformed my game,” Sulda said. “I was a one dimensional player who wanted to shoot the ball. I dedicated myself and prided myself on working on my weaknesses and strengths as well. A lot of credit goes to him. He showed me how to be abetter player.”

It was through Harrington that Sulda developed his step-back jumper from 21 feet, and improved his ball-handling and defense.

“Knowing where Adam came from and what he’s been through, not just in basketball but life in general, I bought everything he said,” Sulda said. “I wanted to take in everything he said knowing it would benefit me and it has.”

Sulda averaged 19.4 points per game during the regular season and only once was he held to single digits. In the postseason, the guard averaged 17.5 ppg. He finished his career with 1,633 points.

He made 64 3-pointers during the regular season. He made at least two in 17-of-20 games and was held without a 3 only once. In six postseason games, he made 17 3s.

On the defensive side, Sulda was a key piece to the Falcons 2-3 zone that led all of Division 3 in western Massachusetts in points allowed.

The unit allowed 43.5 points per game en route to a 17-3 regular season. Smith Academy lost to Greenfield twice and Mahar.

“We never really had a super low where we doubted ourselves,” Sulda said. “Mahar was our worst game in terms of playing as a team and playing on the defensive end, which we prided ourselves on this year.”

The Falcons also had a little extra push entering the basketball season. The soccer team, which featured many of the same players, lost in its sectional championship.

“It helped more than I thought,” Sulda said. “Knowing the intensity of the situation and the reality of it, the trip to western Mass. for soccer was a push for us, knowing that we lost. It was extra motivation for us.”

Sulda will attend Williston-Northampton in the fall for a post-graduate year.

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

First Team

Corey Baker, junior, Granby

Justin Burgos, senior, Northampton

Noris Cuevas-Nova, senior, Amherst Regional

Evan Marcus, senior, South Hadley

Derek McMahon, junior, Smith Academy

Keith Natale, junior, Smith Academy

Zach Parsons, senior, Belchertown

Jake Ross, sophomore, Northampton

Chris Starcun, senior, Easthampton

Mat Sulda, senior, Smith Academy

Avon White, junior, South Hadley

Second Team

Shane Andrews, senior, Hampshire

Justin Carey, senior, Amherst Regional

Jordan Castillo, senior, Smith Vocational

Paul Decker, senior, Frontier Regional

TJ Fitzell, junior, South Hadley

Andy Gifford, senior, Granby

David Longstreeth, sophomore, Smith Academy

Jesse Molin, sophomore, Granby

Seaver Rickert, senior, Smith Academy

Tyler Verville, junior, Belchertown

Honorable Mention

Eric Adzima, senior, Belchertown

Anthony Bullough, senior, South Hadley

Calvin Dowers, junior, Gateway

Curtis Dowers, junior, Gateway

Cam Earle, sophomore, South Hadley

Zach Kelley, sophomore, Hopkins Academy

Jeff Laprade, senior, Holyoke Catholic

Adam Laroche, senior, Hampshire

Sam Sharpe, senior, Smith Vocational

Peter Watroba, senior, Frontier Regional

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