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Tim O'Sullivan: Pembroke basketball senior co-captains are the total package

  • Matt Persons and Rene Maher are both four-year starters at Pembroke Academy.<br/><br/>JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff

    Matt Persons and Rene Maher are both four-year starters at Pembroke Academy.

    JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff

  • Matt Persons and Rene Maher are both four-year starters at Pembroke Academy.<br/><br/>JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff

Rene Maher doesn’t need to look. He knows Matt Persons will be there.

“If I’m pushing it up on the break, or getting into the paint, I always know where he’s spotting up,” Maher said. “You can just kind of sense it after playing together for so long.”

They’ve been playing together since they were both 12 years old, the last four years at Pembroke Academy. Maher and Persons, now senior co-captains, have a 62-9 record while playing together at Pembroke, including a 9-0 mark this year as the Spartans are once again at the top of the Division II standings.

“Everything is a lot easier when you have that kind of senior leadership every single day in practice and they know

exactly what I expect of them,” Pembroke Coach Matt Alosa said. “They both put in a lot of effort and it really rubs off on the younger kids in my program. And they’re both exemplary students, too, so they set a great example for all of Pembroke Academy.”

Maher, a 5-foot-8 point guard averaging 10 points, seven assists and four rebounds per game this year, started from day one his freshman season. Persons, a 6-foot guard/forward averaging 15 points and five rebounds, got in the starting lineup toward the end of that season, when Pembroke reached the championship game before falling to top-ranked Milford. Their roles on the team have, essentially, stayed the same for all four years – Maher is the distributor, Persons opens the court with his movement and outside shooting, and both play tough defense.

During that run to the final in the 2009-10 season, guard Coleton Neely was the Spartans’ leading scorer. Patrick Welch stepped into that role the next season and has been one of the state’s most dangerous scorers ever since. While Welch (24 points per game this year) is a special talent, there’s no doubt the presence of Maher and Persons has allowed him the space to develop. Maher takes care of the ballhandling duties, Persons stretches the floor, and they both draw some of the defensive attention away from Welch.

“Teams can’t afford to take their focus off of Rene and Matt; if they could, Pat would be double- or triple-teamed every night, but you can’t do that because those other guys are there,” Alosa said. “And they’re all very unselfish and share the ball really well.”

Maher and Persons may have the same basic jobs on the court they did as freshmen, but they have perfected those jobs over the years.

“Without Rene on the court, our offense can have a hard time,” Persons said. “Everything just runs so smoothly when Rene is on the court because he gets everybody the ball when and where they need it, and I think that’s the biggest thing he’s improved on.”

“Matt is a smart kid in the classroom, and he’s always been smart on the court, but I think over the past couple of years he has really mastered how to move without the ball and set himself up for shots,” Maher said. “His understanding of the game, knowing where to be, how to come off screens, how to read screens, stuff like that, that’s where he’s improved the most.”

But both payers have skills that go beyond their specific roles. Maher can also score, especially in the mid-range or at the rim, and he’s an excellent defender, both on the ball and off it. Several Division III colleges have noticed that complete package and are eager to bring in Maher, who has always dreamed of playing college ball.

Persons has developed into a good scorer off the dribble, he can defend multiple positions, and he’s an effective offensive rebounder. He will select a college based on academics, but hopes that playing basketball can fit into that plan.

There was, however, one skill that both of them have needed to work on this year as senior captains – being vocal.

“Matt and I have always both been lead-by-example type guys, but coach told us we were definitely going to have to be more vocal and be better leaders this year,” Maher said. “I think both of us have stepped up in that category, but we still need to continue to talk even more because we are kind of quiet.”

That leadership will likely be needed in the tournament, where the Spartans have fallen short the last two years. They were the No. 2 seed in 2010-11 but lost to No. 10 Souhegan in the quarterfinals. It was the same story last year as they went 16-2 in the regular season, earned the No. 3 seed, but lost to No. 11 Coe-Brown in the quarterfinals.

Pembroke’s goal during this regular season is to become the kind of team that can avoid early upsets, and developing its senior leaders is part of that process.

“I think we’re trying to become a team that can go on a run to finish off a team, and a team that if we’re not shooting well (like in the past two playoff losses), or if things aren’t going our way, we have the leadership and poise to grind things out,” Maher said. “I think this team definitely has that as opposed to some of our teams in the past. I think we can get the job done in a lot of ways other than just hitting a bunch of 3s.”

The Spartans, and their two senior captains in particular, won’t be satisfied with anything less than a state title this time around. But even if Maher and Persons aren’t cutting down the nets at the end of the season, they won’t let it detract from all the success and joy they have had during their time at Pembroke.

“This is it, it’s either win it this year or we won’t do it,” Persons said. “And it will be a disappointment if we don’t win the championship, but it’s also been great playing with these guys the last four years. It’s still been a really good time, no matter what happens.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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