Boys’ Hoop Success at Franklin Linked to Neely’s Formula

KEN HAMWEY Staff Sports Writer
Franklin High’s boys’ basketball success is a combination of strategy, good skill, team spirit and work ethic.
Issue Date: 
March, 2018
Article Body: 

CJ Neely has been the boys’ basketball coach at Franklin High for four years, and each season has produced a playoff berth. And, before arriving as the Panthers’ coach, his Foxboro squads managed seven tourney berths in his seven years at that school.
As his current edition of the Panthers get ready to test their tournament longevity, much of the credit for this year’s extraordinary success (16-2 record at Local Town Pages deadline) should go to the style, philosophy and attributes the 37-year-old Neely emphasizes and embraces.
“We rely on strong, man-to-man defense,’’ Neely said. “And, we like to take away our opponents’ first and second scoring options. We prepare diligently, and when we create turnovers, we’ll either be up-tempo in transition or be deliberate and work for the best shot.’’
The strengths of this year’s guard-oriented team, besides defense, are its unselfish nature, its work ethic, athleticism and skill-set. A polished group, the Panthers are also a contingent with a high basketball IQ. “For the tourney, we want to be sharper on offense,’’ Neely said. “And, we also want to be more consistent with our offensive execution.’’
One reason Neely’s teams, both at Franklin and Foxboro, have been dynamic (Franklin advanced to the Division 1 state title game against Cambridge Rindge & Latin last year) is the way he meshes the ingredients necessary for success. “The attributes I prefer when assembling a roster are passion for the game, mental toughness, unselfishness, and a willingness to sacrifice and be coachable.’’
Neely’s 13-man roster exudes all those traits, and there’s no better starting point than senior captain Paul Mahon, who’s averaging 10 points a game. A 5-10 off-guard who can also play the point, is a quality leader.
“Paul sets the tone for our program,’’ Neely emphasized. “He’s a leader by example, he’s unselfish, and he’s tenacious on defense. We assign him to guard our opponents’ top scorer. Paul’s also a very good shooter who can hit threes. When people see Paul play, they usually leave the gym impressed.’’
Mahon’s backcourt partner, sophomore Chris Edgehill, is Franklin’s leading scorer. A 6-foot point guard, he’s averaging 18 points and 3.5 assists a game. “Chris can drive to the hoop or shoot threes,’’ Neely said. “He’s an excellent ball-handler who makes other players better.’’
A trio of forwards round out Franklin’s starting five. They include seniors Jack Rodgers (6-2) and Matt Elias (6-1) and junior Jalen Samuels (6-3).
“Jack is a slasher who can rebound and defend,’’ Neely noted. “A smart player, he reads defenses well and reacts accordingly. Matt is an all-around player who can score and defend. He’s an intangible asset because he does all the dirty work. He sometimes gets overlook but he always delivers. Jalen is tall, a top-notch talent on the wing. He’s a great rebounder and defender and a good facilitator. He’s truly a front-court threat.’’
Two seniors provide Neely with depth — 5-11 guard Paul Rudolph and 6-3 forward Alex Klowan. “Paul is a great athlete who’s got speed and solid defensive ability,’’ said Neely, who teaches health and wellness at Foxboro High. “He creates havoc on the defensive end, but he can also score and knock down open shots. He’s very energetic. Alex is a physical offensive player who has speed, helps on the boards and can shoot from outside.’’
Three juniors in the rotation are Will Harvey (6-3 forward), Sean Leonard (6-4 center) and James Marsh (6-1 guard). “Will is a stopper on defense,’’ Neely said. “He’s got speed, excellent footwork and he really boosts our defense. Sean is a center who can score in the paint. A good back-to-the-basket player, he’s a physical defender who can rebound.’’
Rounding out the squad are a trio of guards — senior Gavin Farnan and sophs Jack Rudolph and Thomas Gasbarro. “They’re well-rounder players who know their roles, and they’re valuable, because they’ll be prepared when we call on them,’’ Neely noted.
Since he’s been at Franklin, Neely’s program has won one Kelly-Rex Division crown and one Sectional title (last year’s triumph over St. John’s of Shrewsbury). Whether the Panthers can duplicate last year’s state runner-up status or win in the final remains to be seen. But, as Neely wisely says: “It’s not important to look ahead, it’s more important to control what you know you can control.’’
Those “controlables,’’ as he calls them, are effort, attitude, maintaining team spirit, a strong practice regimen and smart decision-making.
Whatever results Franklin achieves in the tourney, Neely’s players will walk away knowing they were part of something bigger than themselves, that winning is often fragile and their commitment and passion for basketball helped them to experience success and learn valuable life lessons.