MCHS freshman Paul Laliberte breaks out in 1st home game
The cheers don’t start when Paul Laliberte steps onto the floor.
His baskets don’t create the resounding cheers like Jordan Wilson’s layups or Dylon Camilletti’s 3-pointers.
Instead, when Laliberte sinks a free-throw or lands a 3-pointer, there is one cheer he hears more than any other from the crowd.
Still, it’s like smooth music to the 15-year-old Moffat County High School Bulldog.
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“I like it,” he said about the cheer. “I mean, it has to be embarrassing for the other team. It has to get on their nerves to see a freshman out there, kicking butt.”
That’s exactly what Laliberte was able to do Saturday against visiting Battle Mountain High School.
Down, 39-22, at halftime, MCHS coach Steve Maneotis decided to go small with his lineup to try and neutralize the Huskies’ speed.
“In the Battle Mountain loss, I saw a lot of positive things from all the guys we put on the floor,” Maneotis said. “In the fourth quarter, we were forced to go smaller to put some speed on the floor, and we really hadn’t practiced with that.
“I thought our guards, in combination with (forward) Jordan Wilson, did a great job in fighting to get us back in it.”
Part of that turnaround came from the wiry freshman guard, who is the only member of his class playing varsity this season.
Laliberte’s first chance to prove himself on his own court fell short — he was fouled, and his first free throw clunked off the rim.
His second foul shot hit nothing but net and shattered the silence in the Moffat County gym.
In the waning seconds of the third quarter, Laliberte set up near the top of the key, off to the right with the bigger Camilletti a few feet in front of him setting a screen, and drained a long three-pointer.
Any nerves he might have had in the third quarter disappeared when the fourth quarter started.
He showed some flash with a finger-roll layup, and he again showed shooting range with another long 3-pointer — this time off the top of the key and to the left.
He also showed touch at the free-throw line.
With the game on the line and his team needing to capitalize on scoring opportunities, Laliberte cashed in.
He wasn’t too nervous as he stepped to the line — he was the state hoop shoot champion in 2007 — and trusted he could knock down the shots.
“I used to do the free-throw competitions, so it comes easy,” he said. “All that work has paid off.”
His 9 points, including 4 of 4 from the free-throw line, led the Bulldogs in the fourth, but it wasn’t enough as Battle Mountain capped a 73-63 road win.
Laliberte finished the game with 13 points, but that wasn’t his goal.
“I just wanted to be a spark,” he said. “I tried to get something going.”
Maneotis said he wasn’t surprised with how Laliberte handled his second league game.
“I’ve been watching Paul since he was in junior high,” Maneotis said. “I’ve been very aware of his commitment to the game.”
Despite his apprehension before the game, Laliberte said the weekend series against Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain gave him an idea of what home-court advantage means.
“I was nervous before the game, but I liked it,” he said. “It feels good to have the crowd behind you.
“I just wish we could have won.”
Laliberte isn’t the first freshman to log significant varsity minutes under Maneotis.
“My first year of coaching, I had Dylon Camilletti who played as a freshman and contributed in a large, large way,” Maneotis said. “My philosophy has been ‘It’s not what grade you’re in, (it’s) where are you skill wise?’”
Camilletti, now a junior, averaged 17 points per game in the two games during the weekend.
Like his backcourt partner Camilletti, Laliberte has a chance to excel, Maneotis said.
“I think he’s still getting used to the speed of this level,” he said. “I think he’s adjusted really well and we will bring him along at a pace that’s good for Paul.”
Hard work in the off-season has been important for Laliberte, he said.
While most of his friends are out enjoying the sunshine in the summer, Laliberte can be found in Denver, playing summer league games or practicing at the MCHS gym.
“I definitely think it’s paid off,” he said.
Even with Saturday’s performance, Laliberte will still log minutes on the junior varsity, Maneotis said.
“It’s kind of a tough situation for us, because our numbers are down,” he said. “We have 21 kids in the program this year. It’s a good situation for Paul. He’s one of our better guards, but he still will play a lot of JV because of the number situation.”
But he will be expected to build on his most recent effort, his coach said.
“I expect him to do exactly what he did in the Battle Mountain game,” he said. “If you’re called on to go into the game, you contribute. He did a great job, and that’s what we hope to build on.”
In addition to Laliberte, Moffat County has a young core of guards expected to lead the Bulldogs for the next two years.
“Looking down the road, we’re solid at the guard position,” Maneotis said. “People will have to be concerned. When you return a Dylon Camilletti, a Zach Raftopoulos, a Dustin Carlson, Paul Laliberte — that’s a pretty solid group to have to deal with.”
But to be in the conversation with some of his teammates, Laliberte said he needs to improve all areas of his game and conditioning.
“Physically, I need to get bigger, I need to work on my vertical, I need to get faster,” he said. “Those are some of the things I’ve noticed on varsity.”
But those are things Laliberte has time to work on.
Because, after all, as the crowd tends to remind him, he’s a freshman.
Ben Bulkeley can be reached at 875-1795 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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