Earlier this week, Manchester Essex sophomore Joe Mussachia received one of the best compliments that a basketball player can get.
In a game against Cape Ann League (CAL) rival Rockport on Monday, Vikings head coach Tim St. Laurent elected to try to take Mussachia completely out of the game, the ultimate sign of respect for an individual. St. Laurent put a box-and-one defense on Mussachia and ran several swarming double and triple teams on the Hornets' swingman.
In one regard, the strategy worked, as Mussachia was held to just 12 points. But more importantly, Manchester Essex still won the game easily, 71-39, with Mussachia also tallying 14 rebounds and freeing up his teammates for open looks.
It was a perfect example of how much the 6-foot-4, 170-pound lefty has meant to the terrific 5-4 start for Manchester Essex in the tough CAL. Last year, the Hornets finished just 7-13.
The Rockport game aside, Mussachia has been a scoring machine this season, averaging 24 points per game to go along with 12.6 rebounds and two blocks. Now that opponents have taken notice of those gaudy numbers and made Mussachia the focal point, the Hornets have become a very tough squad. It's pick your poison: Mussachia or everyone else.
"Teams are really starting to try to take him out of the game," said first-year Manchester Essex head coach Duane Sigsbury. "Last year he was more of a role player and now he is the focal point. He has a high basketball IQ and he really understands the game, so he knows he has to call for the ball and make plays down the stretch. He has really embraced the role.
"To me as a coach, I love having teams trying to stop him. We have other guys that can hurt you if you don't pay attention to them."