By Jon Gagnon firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — There aren’t many familiar faces that preside on the court at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute. St. Joe’s went 20-6 last season and graduated eight seniors, including all five starters.
But there’s one player Marauder fans are accustomed to seeing in forward Justin Hollins, who looks to lead St. Joe’s to a Monsignor Martin League championship. Hollins averaged 6.7 points per game last year as a junior and has made the leap into St. Joe’s star player early in his senior season, scoring 26 and 29 points in the Marauder’s first two victories.
“We’re inexperienced with really only one guy who played a ton of varsity basketball last year in Justin Hollins,” said coach Mark Simon.
But that inexperience hasn’t lowered Simon’s expectations for his team to win the league this year — a goal he doesn’t think is unrealistic. Beside Hollins is sophomore guard Justin Jones, who saw some varsity action in last year’s playoffs as a freshman. Jones averaged 6.4 points in five games.
“A lot of this year will be about growth and still trying to compete and go on the shoulders of Justin Hollins and Justin Jones,” Simon said.
Outside of Hollins and Jones, Simon doesn’t have the comfort of reaching to his bench for experienced players. The depth is young, especially at guard.
Matt Fritz, a junior, starts at point guard with 5-foot-5 freshman Naseer Jackson backing him up. Jackson saw extensive time in St. Joe’s blowout loss to Aquinas on Monday and displayed flashes of potential. He has a great handle on the ball and attacks the basket with creativity, but nerves as a young freshman seemed to plague his potential for a breakout performance.
“[Jackson] is a very talented player and an athletic young man, but he came from grammar school to varsity basketball so he’s still learning how to play,” Simon said. “He’s going to learn through trial and error.”
Simon stressed the necessity for the team to have a capable backup point guard, though he expects Fritz to be a leader as the starter.
Down low, the Marauders lack in size what they have in experience. Tyler Hill and Phil Wells are two seniors that Simon expects to bring physicality and maturity as role players. But Hill and Wells stand at just 6-foot-3.
“Experience is going to be our main weakness and we are not very big,” Simon said.
Junior Ed Tabone is the tallest at 6-foot-5 but he has yet to see much action this season.
Simon sees the team’s strength in its mental and physical toughness and its ability to get on a run behind the athletic swingmen Hollins and Jones.
It’s going to take some time to develop the younger players and there will be some growing pains, as Simon put it, but the Marauders have the skill at the top of the roster to cement themselves as a contender in the MMA once again.
<\z14f”sans-serif”>It’s been five years since James Ewing graduated from O’Hara. Ewing, a 2008 grad, was a star forward who averaged 21 points, 13 rebounds and went on to play Division I basketball at Toledo. He and Garrsion Gross led O’Hara to one of its best seasons ever.
<\z14f”sans-serif”>Six years later, O’Hara coach Dave Pfohman believes his 2013-14 team may be the most skilled since the Ewing-Gross era.
<\z14f”sans-serif”>“O’Hara has had some phenomenal talent come through,” Pfohman said. “I think this will probably be my most talented team I have had.”
<\z14f”sans-serif”>Pfohman took over a year after Ewing graduated and is leading a team that had just four wins last season.
<\z14f”sans-serif”>But this is a new year. The team features senior Zack Glowacki, a four-year starter, junior point guard Donel Cathcart and big man Jovel Littlejohn.
<\z14f”sans-serif”>Glowacki and his sharp shooting from deep has been the focal point of O’Hara. But the addition of Littlejohn, a junior transfer from Riverside who stands at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds, has been all the buzz for this year’s team.
<\z14f”sans-serif”>“Littlejohn’s got a nice little tear drop shot, control, moves and size,” Pfohman said. “With his touch inside, he’s a great presence in the court.”
<\z14f”sans-serif”>One of Littlejohn’s most impressive qualities has been his knowledge of the game. He’s not a hothead, stays within his own game and will take whatever the defense gives him. Pfohman said he’s a great team player.
<\z14f”sans-serif”>Littlejohn is exactly what O’Hara needs, a potential dominant big man to anchor what will be a guard-heavy offense.
<\z14f”sans-serif”>One of O’Hara’s biggest struggles last year was handling pressure from opponents. With Cathcart at the point and Glowacki at his side, Pfohman doesn’t foresee that being a problem this season. Cathcart is a pure point guard and a co-captain whose ball handling could make or break this team.
<\z14f”sans-serif”>With Cathcart running the point, Pfohman hopes it will open up more shots for Glowacki – who has played point guard at times in the past for O’Hara.
<\z14f”sans-serif”>“Everybody went box and one on us because they knew [Glowacki] can shoot,” Pfohman said. “Now he can come off screens and not have to start up the offense.”
<\z14f”sans-serif”>Pfohman raves of Glowacki’s stroke from deep and also notes he’s a great leader and the highest energy player he has ever coached.
<\z14f”sans-serif”>Depth at guard won’t be an issue for this team. With the speed, athleticism and talent, O’Hara will look to play more man-to-man defense than in years past. Pfohman says man-to-man is “basketball” and he hopes to split up the time between man-to-man and the 2-3 zone defense at about 50-50.
<\z14f”sans-serif”>But O’Hara’s biggest weakness may be its depth down low. If Littlejohn gets in to foul trouble, the team’s second big man is Darnel Hamilton, a 6-foot-1 forward – five inches shorter than Littlejohn.
<\z14f”sans-serif”>What Hamilton lacks in size he makes up for in hustle. He weighs 250 pounds and was a menace on the boards in O’Hara’s last preseason game.
<\z14f”sans-serif”>“If we get in foul trouble I can see that being our biggest trouble, with size,” Pfohman said. “If our big man gets in trouble we need to back off. Less size, more shooting on a good day that could be fine, but on a bad day if the shots aren’t falling, that could be trouble.”
<\z14f”sans-serif”>Pfohman’s hopes are for a .500 season. He wants to challenge the upper schools in league play and reach playoffs while the team is playing its best ball of the season.
<\z14f”sans-serif”>“I want to ultimately be a threat in the playoffs, regardless of the season,” Pfohman said.