A pair of area basketball teams lost a load of offensive talent from last seasonâ€™s state tournament groups, and so far this year, both squads have seen individual talents step up to help fill those voids.
Whether it be returning upperclassmen who were expected to be leaders, or incoming underclassmen who have needed little time to adjust to their new roles, the New Britain boys basketball team and the Plainville girls basketball team have both received strong performances from players that will be counted on heavily the rest of the way.
New Britainâ€™s Tyrone Cummings and Plainvilleâ€™s Jaida Vasquez are this weekâ€™s Athletes of the Week for their all-around performances in their respective holiday tournaments.
New Britain brought an almost entirely new look into the 2019-20 season, losing four of its five starters from last yearâ€™s group that reached the programâ€™s first state final appearance since 2002. Tahmeen Dupree and Nyzaiah Diaz, the teamâ€™s only returning players that saw significant minutes last year, were going to need help if the Hurricanes were to justify expectations for another state tournament run.
So far, it looks like New Britain might have those pieces, thanks to newcomers like Cummings.
The Hurricanes entered the new week with a 3-0 record, having beaten all three opponents by double digits, including Hartford Public on Saturday evening during the New Britain Holiday Tournament. Cummings was a big part of that blowout win, dropping 12 points, including a corner three just before the end of the first quarter to give New Britain a 23-9 lead and set the tone for the easy victory. Cummingsâ€™ 3-pointer was the fifth Hurricanes triple in the opening quarter, as he helped ignite a shooting streak that head coach Kurt Reis considered to be the teamâ€™s best shooting performance of the season so far.
Cummingsâ€™ 3-point shooting ability was apparent in the teamâ€™s season opener as well, when he drilled a triple with five minutes left in the fourth quarter to take a five-point lead over Bloomfield. Cummings finished that game with 11 points and earned high praise from Reis, who has high expectations for his sophomore sharpshooter.
â€śTyrone Cummings is going to be a crucial piece of the program,â€ť Reis said. â€śHe should be starting, but he has some things he needs to work on. Heâ€™s as good as anybody.â€ť
Cummings showed that on Saturday, and has showed it through the first three games of the season. After losing all-conference guard Kaiyon Gunn from last yearâ€™s group, among a number of other key leaders, New Britain needs another consistent scorer to get itself back to where it was last year. So far, Cummings is showing that heâ€™s more than capable of helping to lead that charge, even with minimal varsity experience.
Plainville came into this season expecting to begin a rebuild or a period of transition, especially after losing senior guard Sam Lozefski and 1,000-point scorer Caitlin Barker to graduation in June. But through the first five games of the season, the Blue Devilsâ€™ rebuild may be in better hands than they initially expected, thanks to a few new contributors and one key returning piece in Vasquez.
The junior guard earned an all-conference nod last season as a sophomore, and has carried that production into this season. Over the past weekend, during the Rybczyk Tournament, Plainville went 1-1, including its first win of the season on Friday night against Amistad. Vasquez was a huge part of that victory, scoring a game-high 21 points, including a driving layup midway through the fourth quarter, which gave the Blue Devils the lead for good.
Plainville couldnâ€™t pull out a second straight dramatic win on Saturday against New Britain in an overtime thriller, but Vasquez still shined with a team-high 25 points, giving her 46 for the tournament. Her clutch foul shots with 16.7 seconds left in regulation gave the Blue Devils a two-point lead over the Hurricanes before Maya Slisz sent the game into overtime by banking in a game-tying shot at the buzzer.
Still, even in a losing effort, Vasquezâ€™s impact on Plainvilleâ€™s young group is evident. It was evident last season as well, when she was second on the team in scoring with 13 points per game, behind only Barker, and led the team in rebounds (8.2), assists (3.6) and steals (3.4) per game. Given how sheâ€™s performed to start this season, Vasquez will likely be atop the Blue Devilsâ€™ leaders in a number of categories this year, and even without Barker, Plainville still has a legitimate scoring threat.