With Lynn English comfortably ahead during Tuesday’s Division 1 state semifinal against Newton North at TD Garden, second-year coach Antonio Anderson put his arm around his starting point guard Jarnel Guzman.
The junior transferred to English after two seasons at St. John’s Prep, and under the tutelage of his lifelong mentor, dropped a game-high 22 points during a 76-62 win to send the Bulldogs to their first state final since 2009.
English (22-2) will take on Springfield Putnam (20-2) Saturday night at Holy Cross in pursuit of the program’s first state title since 1939.
“Ever since I was younger, I’ve looked up to [Anderson],” Guzman said of his coach, who starred at Lynn Tech, helped Memphis to the 2008 NCAA national championship game, and played professionally for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“I know he’s played at the highest level. He was one of those people that was close to my family, automatically. My parents always told me, surround yourself with people who have the same goals, and you’ll go far.”
The 5-foot-7-inch point guard has been clutch all year. His late-game heroics led English past Needham and Brookline in the Comcast Classic, and he came out on fire under the bright lights at TD Garden, draining his first four attempts from 3-point range to help English blitz North with a 30-11 run to open the action.
“[Guzman] is not afraid of the moment,” said Anderson. “This is what he loves to do. The kid eats and sleeps basketball. It’s good to see kids like that get rewarded. These kids work hard. This is where they want to be, and where they deserve to be.”
With help from Alonzo Linton (20 points, 8 rebounds), Jack Rodriguez (19 points, 4 assists), and Justin Fitzpatrick (6 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks), the Bulldogs delighted a Lynn-heavy crowd comprised of fans and rivals alike. The loudest supporters for English were some of the Lynn Classical players that fell to the Bulldogs this season.
“That’s Lynn,” Anderson said, with a shake of the head. “It’s not about Classical, English, or St. Mary’s, it’s about Lynn. When guys are playing, they all support each other.”
That familial atmosphere is something Guzman felt was lacking during his first two seasons at Prep, a private school in Danvers.
Along with Fitzpatrick (transfer from Burlington), he made the decision to transfer to English and play for Anderson. Guzman already had a close bond with the coach from many summers spent at Anderson’s Skills Academy camp, which has flourished this year, leading to over 600 points from the sharpshooting guard.
“I just wasn’t feeling comfortable [at Prep],” said Guzman. “ I wanted to go back home and get that comfort, and it’s really paid off.
“A lot of people in Lynn don’t have much, but when we’re together, we’re unstoppable. I love the atmosphere. It’s made high school way more fun this year.”
For Anderson, the joy of leading his players to the state finals eclipses any experiences he had as a player.
The 33-year-old Lynn native spent a couple of seasons as an assistant at Wheelock College, Salem State, and Franklin Pierce before answering what he felt was a calling to take over a public school program in his hometown.
“My days as a player are over and I enjoyed every bit of it,” said Anderson. “But now my job, I believe that I was put on this earth to help kids from where I’m from. This win means more to me than playing in the Final Four or playing in the NBA. Helping kids be on the biggest stage in their sport, means more to me than anything I’ve ever done.”Nate Weitzer can be reached at email@example.com.