Hand on his heart, Mark Taylor swears he never takes for granted the rare gift of having three superstar guards on the floor at the same time.
While the St. Benedict’s Prep first-year coach isn’t one to boast about the spectacular things his basketball team has accomplished this winter or the potential for even greater feats, he has every right to proclaim how special Tyler Ennis, Isaiah Briscoe and Melvin Johnson truly are.
“No one has the guards I have,” Taylor emphatically said in the locker room following his team’s latest victory, an 81-53 drubbing of in-state rival St. Patrick at the PrimeTime Shootout at Roselle Catholic.
The former leader of St. Joseph (Metuchen) and Ridge isn’t just talking about New Jersey, either. No, his gifted trio very well may be the best in America.
Really, who could argue against such a statement? Ennis, Briscoe and Johnson combined for 58 points on Sunday afternoon in front of a jam-packed crowd and helped the Gray Bees improve to 26-1 while maintaining their No. 6 ranking in the USA Today Super 25.
Since St. Anthony edged Huntington Prep (W.V.), which entered the week No. 5 in the national poll, on Saturday, Taylor’s group will likely move up.
St. Benedict’s got off to a hot start in this one, jumping out to a 16-3 lead midway through the first, but let the rebuilding Celtics crawl back in the ensuing quarter.
“In the second quarter we relaxed a little bit,” Taylor said. “But we changed a couple of things and guys responded to it. We stopped pressing the ball in the second, but we stepped up again on defense and we forced them to play our style of game.
“We challenged the kids at halftime. We said, ‘This is why you’re at St. Benedict’s. There’s a sold-out crowd, you’re playing in the PrimeTime Shootout and you’re playing against St. Pat’s.’”
The Gray Bees heeded the call and outscored the opposition, 24-6, in the third to put the contest out of reach. Johnson shined the brightest by pouring in a game-high 26 points, while Briscoe chipped in 17 points and nine assists and Ennis scored 15 and dished out eight helpers.
“We all have our own strengths,” Johnson said. “Tyler is a pass-first guard. Briscoe is a slasher and I shoot well, so we’re really hard to stop.”
Johnson, a Miami commit who was forced to transfer for his senior year in the wake of Rice (N.Y.) High School closing due to financial issues, expressed he has found a home at the Newark institution and has taken a liking to his underclassmen teammates.
“It’s a real good environment,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think we’d be where we are now, but we’ve come together. Everyone here really likes each other and I think that definitely helps a lot.”
Ennis, though just a junior, is generating tons of hype in the recruiting circles and figures to be a high Division I floor general. Meanwhile, Briscoe has established himself as one of the top freshmen in the United States.
“Briscoe was great today,” Taylor said. “When he stays within himself and doesn’t try to do too much, he’s one of the best guards around. He can be one of the best guards in the country – and I’m not saying he’ll do that as a senior. I’m saying he’ll do that by next year.”
Ennis and Briscoe's rapid development this season can be attributed to Johnson, a vocal leader on the court who so often puts the scoring load on his back.
“I was very impressed with his shot when I saw him over the summer and he’s improved so much,” Taylor said of Johnson. “I’m very proud of him how he’s handling the ball now, too. He’s definitely improved tremendously.”
Such progression was on display in the second half, when Johnson drilled four of his six 3-pointers consecutively in a span of three minutes.
“It feels good. You just always think every shot you take is going to go in,” Johnson laughed.
A confident attitude is contagious, and perhaps that’s why St. Benedict’s enters next weekend’s state prep tournament as arguably the hottest team around. Truth be told, though, the Gray Bees will only go as far as the trio of guards will take them.
Based on Taylor’s post-game quotes, that predicament is just fine with him.
Contact Brian Fitzsimmons at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter