There’s little doubt that, in years past, Liam Aldrich would have traded his spot on the bench for a spot in the Manchester Essex boys basketball team’s starting five in a heartbeat.
With a star point guard in Sean Nally -- who started three seasons for the Hornets, leading them to the Division 4 North semifinals all three years -- in front of him on the depth chart, though, Aldrich’s playing time was limited.
Where many young players would have become frustrated, though, Aldrich was unshaken, making the best of his situation and studying the gifted players ahead of him on the depth chart.
Now a senior, Aldrich is no longer biding his time. And the co-captain clearly learned something from those who came before him.
Aldrich has been a force for the 7-6 Hornets, pacing the offense from the point and piling up assists while putting up 12 points per game.
If the Hornets intend to repeat their postseason success of recent years, it may all begin and end with Aldrich.
“I had a lot of people in front of me that were very talented, so I was just kind of sitting back, watching them and learning and now I finally get my time to step up,” Aldrich said after Friday’s loss to Masconomet. “Sean Nally, he was very skilled, he started as a sophomore and he was definitely running the whole team and everything was through him, so I got to see that and just do whatever I can to mirror him.”
Aldrich has established himself among the top players in the Cape Ann League during his first season with starters’ minutes. He’s as slick as they come with the ball, slicing through defenders and breaking the press with ease.
Once on the attack, Aldrich makes the Hornets’ offense tick. For a team that likes to run the floor, a steady ball-handler is essential, and Aldrich’s ability to stretch the floor and find teammates both in the halfcourt and in transition has proven essential to the team.
Where he’s separated himself from many opposing point guards, though, is in his shooting ability. While he doesn’t take many shots due to his pass-first approach, he’s plenty willing to put up a shot from the perimeter when the opportunity presents itself.
It’s seemingly always a smart shot, and more often than not, he’s knocked those open looks down. Aldrich has drained 21 3-pointers, third most among area teams behind only teammate Max Nesbit and Rockport’s Tucker Meredith.
“He’s crucial to us,” Hornets coach Bryan Shields said. “When other teams press, we just get the ball in his hands and we let him go and he creates. He really sets the tempo for us every game. The fact that he’s able to control the ball and he’s able to go by people and create on his own and then make shots and find looks for other guys is huge for us.”
“I urge myself to facilitate first,” Aldrich added. “If I have an open shot, I hit it, but I want to get other people involved. That’s the mental side of it. You’ve got to be aware of the game and the situation and if it’s not the time to put it up I just don’t.”
What makes Aldrich’s success even more impressive is his size. Graciously listed at 5-foot-10 on the Hornets’ roster, the diminutive point guard is often shadowed by opponents.
But with his speed and smarts, Aldrich is able to easily negate any height disadvantage and slice through opposing defenses all the same.
“With the size that he has and the things that he does, it really is unbelievable,” Shields said. “He’s a real heady guy. He’s a smart kid overall, he’s a great student, and I think that transfers over onto the court. All the basketball he’s played, he’s seen almost everything you can throw and him and I just feel like he’s always making the right decision and that’s huge.”
As the Hornets enter the final stretch of their regular season, moving through Cape Ann League Small opponents for the second time before what they hope will be another trip to the state tournament, Aldrich will ponder his future.
He’s still mulling his college options, and ultimately hopes to land at one of his top choices: Northeastern, Holy Cross, UMass or UNH.
Before he moves on from Manchester Essex, though, Aldrich will be sure to cherish his last several games of a senior season he’s waited a long time for.
“He’s always worked his tail off,” Shields said. “He’s a gym rat. I think he was just biding his time and he knew that this was going to be his year, and he’s really stepped up and made things happen.”