Michael Vega, Globe Staff
When Ken Barer says that Stacey Moragne is a special player, he means it.
After all, Moragne, a 6-foot-4-inch, 215-pound junior forward from Evanston, Ill., was the first player Barer recruited when he took over as the head men's basketball coach at UMass-Lowell in 2001.
"This is a young man I've seen since he was a sophomore in high school," said Barer, who became good friends with Moragne's high school coach, Paul Pryma, while they worked at basketball camps. "I always wanted to be in a position to recruit [Moragne]. When I got the job here, I immediately called Paul and said, `I'm calling you to tell you that I'm coming after Stacey. I've got to have Stacey.' And so Stacey was my first guy of my first recruiting class."
Moragne, a former teammate of Boston College freshman forward Gordon Watt at Evanston Township High, has emerged as the River Hawks' best player and a Player of the Year candidate in the Northeast-10. He leads the conference in scoring (23.4 points per game). Moragne (pronounced MORE-rainey) also ranks among the conference leaders in field goal percentage (fifth, 59 percent), rebounding (fourth, 8.8 per game), defensive rebounds (second, 5.9), and offensive rebounds (sixth, 2.9).
"This is a young man who's incredibly efficient," Barer said of Moragne, who scored 26 points and grabbed eight rebounds in Saturday's 91-70 victory at Assumption that improved the River Hawks to 14-9 overall (10-8 conference). "He's not going to outrun you and he's not going to outjump you, but he's really, really efficient.
"Last year, he was second-team all-conference as a sophomore," Barer added. "People would ask me about him and I'd say, `Just wait. Just wait. You'll see.' Now he's just a junior and leading the league in scoring and shooting 60 percent from the field. And he's a 6-4 center."
Ask Barer if his player stands a chance for Player of the Year honors and he'll give you a straight (and quick) answer: "Absolutely. I think the league is filled with some fantastic players. Tim Forbes from Bentley, Matt Cahill at [Saint Anselm]. They are important to their program. But I think Stacey is incredibly versatile and poses the most difficult matchup in the league.
"He's a very, very difficult guy to guard."