Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

January 2, 2014

David beats Goliath as Giribaldi has game of life in annual classic

Giribaldi has game of life in annual classic

Michael Muldoon
The Andover Townsman

---- — The 39th annual Greater Lawrence Christmas Tourney underwent numerous changes to try to regain the old magic.

It’s now the Commonwealth Motors Christmas Classic thanks to a generous sponsorship from Charlie Daher and his son, Charles, and daughter, Kim, all from Andover.

There are two four-team divisions. It’s back at Merrimack College. The girls and boys tourneys are now linked at the hip.

But what was really needed was some drama. Some of that good, old-fashioned, make the hairs stand up on your arms drama that has a jam-packed crowd howling for more.

Andover boys provided it five-fold last Saturday night with a stunning win over Central Catholic, which has ruled the tourney with an iron fist, winning six of the last seven titles.

That didn’t matter much to David Giribaldi. Nothing much seems to matter to David Giribaldi.

The Andover junior just goes out there and he might hit five straight 3-pointers with a hand in his face or he might miss 10 straight shots. And the next shot, he’ll take it and expect to hit it.

In this David and Goliath story, David (Giribaldi) won.

Giribaldi’s full arsenal was on display with a virtuoso 27-point performance (11 for 21 shooting, 4 for 7 on 3-pointers, four steals) in a 72-68 win before an overflow crowd of 1,300 at the Volpe Complex in the finals of the Licare Division (top four seeded teams).

(An aside to the 50 to 100 people who couldn’t get in to the packed gym: You missed quite a show.)

“This is the best feeling ever,” said Giribaldi, who bounced back from a couple clunkers prior to the Commonwealth Classic to earn tourney MVP honors.

When asked if there was pressure, Giribaldi shot back, “No way! You can’t think about it.”

Every time he hit one of his floaters or step-backs or fearless drives against the giants, I’d hear in the back of my head college basketball analyst Bill Raftery shouting, “Onions!”

He’s a junior in class, but not in name. He and his father, also named David, have different middle names.

Big David was an Eagle-Tribune All-Star in football and basketball at Lawrence High and a Christmas Tourney All-Star in 1981. He was an assistant to Dan O’Rourke with the Rigo Nunez-led Lawrence team and was later head coach at Lawrence and assistant to David Fazio at Andover.

“He doesn’t talk about it too much,” young David said. “But I’ve heard from others. It’s nice to fulfill some legacies.”

Giribaldi and mates have plenty of skill, but he said this wasn’t about skill.

“We’re all a bunch of tough kids,” he said. “We were the tougher team (Saturday night).”

Giribaldi used to be the biggest, baddest kid on the block.

But he’s had an unusual career. He was the youth football and hoop phenom, but then kids shot past him.

He’s only about 5-8 ... the 6-foot he’s sometimes listed at is laughable.

“I used to be the biggest, now I’m the smallest,” said Giribaldi, who was a starter in football as a freshman, but gave up the sport.

Smallest except in the harder-to-gauge categories of quickness, confidence, resilience, skills and, of course, heart.

Coach Fazio seemed pleased and relieved but this had to mean everything to him. He had to endure the hazing scandal a few years back and while he’s one of the winningest coaches in state history (now 377-172 at Andover), all those losses to Central had to take their toll on the former Central star, who is in the school’s Hall of Fame.

Fazio brought his A game. He kept the “Oh, no, not again!!” thoughts out of his club’s head when his Golden Warriors fell behind 8-0 at the outset. Then Andover built a 16-point lead in the third, only to see Central charge back to within 1 early in the fourth.

He confronted the Central dominance — the elephant in the room as he called it — head-on with his team.

“This is your legacy, your team, your season,” Fazio told his team.

Equally as important, he devised some box-and-one and triangle-and-two defenses to take the Raiders’ marvelous guard Tyler Nelson (11 points) out of his game.

The same Tyler Nelson who was the most impressive player on the floor last Friday night in Central’s game with St. Anthony’s, arguable the premier high school program in the country.

Central coach Rick Nault was less than pleased with his team. He quickly shot down any excuses that playing St. Anthony’s was too much of an emotional roller coaster.

“Giribaldi had 27 points against us, I can’t remember the last time a guard did that to us,” he said. “I thought we’d come in fired up playing Andover in the championship game. We dug ourselves such a big hole and we couldn’t get Tyler untracked. I’m not happy at all.

“We are what our record is (3-2). We are average. We have to get better. It starts with me.”

He doesn’t look at this as a fluke.

Not with the Blue and Gold featuring Giribaldi, hotshot freshman E.J. Perry, 6-5 center Connor Merinder, improbable hero Gabriel Hernandez (2 3-pointers, one a half-court bomb just before the first-quarter buzzer) and underrated seniors John Pisacreta and Ben Brown.

Andover didn’t seem to think it was a fluke either. We’ll soon see.

In case you are wondering: Andover-CCHS Round 2 is Jan. 10 at Dunn Gymnasium.