Tim O’Sullivan: Granite State Raiders make mark on NBA Finals
San Antonio Spurs' Matt Bonner (15) shoots over Golden State Warriors' Carl Landry (7) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Oakland, Calif., Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Miami Heat shooting guard Mike Miller (13) looks to pass as San Antonio Spurs point guard Gary Neal (14) defends during the second half of Game 1 in the NBA Finals basketball game, Friday, June 7, 2013 in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Basketball fans across the state are surely aware of at least one New Hampshire connection to the NBA Finals between San Antonio and Miami. But Concord’s Matt Bonner, now in his seventh year with the Spurs, isn’t the only player with a local tie.
Even though he’s a South Dakota native, Miami forward Mike Miller played for the Granite State Raiders AAU program back in the summer of 1998. Miller was on his way to the University of Florida then, and Bonner would follow him the next year. The two formed a connection during the recruiting process that eventually led Miller to the Raiders program, which Bonner had been part of since he was 9.
“The other night Matt (Alosa) called me and said, ‘Can you imagine, there’s 10 players on the court playing for the NBA championship and two of them played for the Granite State Raiders,’ ” said Concord native Frank Alosa, Matt’s father, who started the Raiders program in 1985. “It’s really kind of incredible.”
Miller didn’t spend much time with the Raiders, but he did play on the ’98 team that went to the renowned Boston Shootout. Bonner was also on that team, as was Adam Harrington, a Massachusetts native who went on to play at North Carolina State and saw some time in the NBA. Kearsarge grad Steve Lavolpicelo, who started playing for the Raiders when he was 12, was the starting point guard for that ’98 team.
“I’ll never forget this, and I tell this story to everybody, but we were at one of our practices before the Shootout and Coach Alsoa said to me, ‘Listen, Steve, I’m handing you the keys to the Cadillac, I’m trusting you not to crash it on the way to the party.’ That’s all he said and he didn’t have to say anything else,” said Lavolpicelo, who went on to play at Southern New Hampshire University and just finished his third year as the Newport High boys’ basketball coach. “It was a lot of fun for me to be on the floor with talented, talented players like those three.”
Lavolpicelo didn’t crash the Caddy, but it didn’t reach the party’s end, either. After beating a team from New York City in the first round of the eight-team tournament, the Raiders lost to a New Jersey team that featured Jason Williams and Dahntay Jones, who both played at Duke and in the NBA.
“It was a great tournament, a great environment down there at UMass-Boston, there wasn’t an empty seat in the gym,” Lavolpicelo said. “We lost to the New Jersey team by four points, and then they beat the Massachusetts team by like 30 in the final, so basically, to me, the championship was decided in that semifinal.”
While most of the Raiders had been playing together for years by that point, Miller was the obvious newcomer. But he had no problem adjusting to life with the Granite Staters.
“He was a really, really nice kid, got along with everybody and fit in perfectly with the group,” said Matt Alosa, who playing professionally in Europe at the time but was home in New Hampshire for the summer and working with the Raiders. “I remember him being a really nice guy and what I hear about him today is that he’s still that way.”
And, of course, Miller loved to be on the court.
“We had just had a two-hour practice at 10 or 11 in the morning before one of our Shootout games and we were walking over to a sub shop to get some lunch, and, I’ll never forget this, Mike Miller looking back at Adam Harrington and saying, ‘I can’t wait ’til tonight to hoop,’ ” Frank Alosa said. “And he just had such a smile on his face, I’ll never forget it.”
While Miller and Bonner were stars for the Raiders, they’re role players now, taking a back seat to superstars like LeBron James and Tim Duncan. During these playoffs, Bonner has averaged 14.7 minutes per game, 4.5 points, 2.2 rebounds and is 15-for-32 from beyond the 3-point arc, an impressive 46.9 percent. Miller’s numbers in the postseason are similar – 11.4 minutes, 3.6 points, 1.4 rebounds and 14-for-29 on 3s (48.3 percent).
In the Finals, which is tied at 2-2 with Game 5 scheduled for tonight, Miller’s numbers have increased – 19.8 minutes, 7.3 points, 1.3 rebounds and an amazing 9-for-11 from beyond the arc. Bonner’s stats have gone in the other direction – 8.5 minutes, 2.8 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1-for-4 on 3s.
But there are still two games, maybe three, left in the series, and Bonner may yet have an impact. The Spurs, after all, rely on their role players to complement their aging trio of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli.
“You have to buy in to play for a guy like (San Antonio Coach) Gregg Popovich, and that’s why Matt is a perfect fit for the Spurs,” Matt Alosa said. “He’s the smartest kid on the block, he learns the system, he knows his job and he goes out and does his job. That’s the perfect fit for Matt. … I’m kind of indifferent to which team wins, but I hope Matt gets another ring (Bonner won a title with the Spurs in 2007). I always want our own to do really well. So I just watch it in the background and hope for the best.”
(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)