St. Pat's starts anew, learns from test
Things are certainly different. For one, the sideline is a lot quieter now that the subtle personality of Chris Chavannes is anchoring the ship of one of the most storied high school basketball programs in the country instead of the fiery Kevin Boyle.
It’s only been several months since Boyle, the reigning National Coach of the Year, left his post as head coach of St. Patrick after 23 years, 17 county crowns, 10 sectional championships and five Tournament of Champions titles.
So while one of the Garden State’s most feared teams is adjusting to a complete overhaul– all but one returning player from last year transferred over the summer -- there’s still reason to believe in a deep playoff run.
The Celtics, now 2-2, boast just two seniors and start four juniors and one sophomore. They make mistakes that reek of inexperience on the varsity level. Yet, after impressing many in a holiday tournament in Florida last week, St. Patrick hung tough with No. 5 Teaneck in a 65-63 overtime loss at the Jump-off Classic at Hackensack on Sunday afternoon.
“It was a learning experience,” said junior Jared Nickens, a Division I recruit who finished with 12 points. “Throughout my first two years on JV, I had been trying to get better and better. We always knew we had the talent, but we have to play with a chip on our shoulders.”
In a contest that contained 13 ties and nine lead changes, the Celtics showed they possess the raw talent necessary to keep their sterling legacy in tact, at least marginally. What Chavannes and his crew need, however, is more time together.
“There’s been a lot of growth that’s taken place since we started up,” Chavannes said. “We knew today would be a good experience and we’d have to make plays. We talked about it in fall, how we needed to play well in games like this. They’re seeing why.”
“We’re young, and we faced better talent today than we did in Florida, so it showed how strong we are,” added junior DeAndre Bembry, who poured in a team-high 21 points. “We’re going to get more varsity experience and we’ve got to get used to playing with each other.”
Costly turnovers and puzzling decisions in the waning seconds of overtime doomed St. Pat’s, showing once again that great teams such as the Highwaymen always find a way to win. Always.
“It was a great experience,” junior point guard Darrian Collins said. “It was my first time playing in front of a big crowd. But we see the mistakes we made and it will help if we just listen more. So we’re going to do that. We’re learning, but we’re ready.”
To the naked eye, the Celtics were drastically overshadowed throughout. They were noticeably smaller in height and stature as a whole, and the 44-31 deficit in rebounds served as hard evidence.
Still, St. Patrick found a way to keep it close and hang with one of the top teams in the region by executing exactly what Boyle had preached so vociferously: defense and hard work.
Perhaps the Celtics wont make national waves the way they had for the last 15 years. Last season was a thrilling finale to such an era – at least for now – as Boyle and his team spent most of 2010-11 atop the national rankings and finished No. 2 in the wake of falling to St. Anthony on the North Non-Public B title game and mythical national championship.
But under Chavannes, who previously served as the head coach at former powerhouse Marist in the late 1980s and was the St. Patrick JV coach last year, the Celtics will be trained to perform as a scrappy, blue-collar collection of pests. Bembry admitted Chavannes is pushing each kid to his limit.
It’s a new identity that serves them well.
“It’s been a lot more work. I never appreciated it until Kevin left, but it’s a full-time job,” Chavannes said. “I haven’t had time to enjoy it. But the kids are young and working, so it makes it fun.”
Since several of the team’s starters played for Chavannes on the junior varsity last winter, developing relationships has not been difficult. In fact, it’s the one comforting aspect of a situation that calls for an entire program to start anew.
“It’s actually a big part of it,” Collins said. “It’s been hard, not really being used to the big stage. I mean, it’s the St. Pat’s name. We’ve got to show people we’re not gone.”
Nobody should write off this team. Maybe the group won’t show up in the USA Today every week, but it will be around when the state playoffs begin.
“Later in the season, we should jell and will be even better,” Nickens said. “The same mindset is there – defense and hard work. The only difference is we have doubters. That means guys like us have to step up.”
Brian Fitzsimmons is the award-winning author of Celtic Pride: How Coach Kevin Boyle Took St. Patrick to the Top of High School Basketball. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter