Rogers, Over and Out
By Tim Rogers
Chemistry will carry Irish through loaded D-II field
Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary will win the Division II state basketball championship.
There, I said it.
Despite all the risks of setting myself up for ridicule, I said it. Despite being the target of coach Dru Joyce’s familiar pre-game stare – you know coaches hate it when you put their teams on the hot seat – I said it.
I am sure folks in Dayton, Defiance, Columbus, Cleveland, Athens and elsewhere will take exception. They won’t be able to wait to take their pot shots at the prediction, and with valid reasons. So be it. Goes with the territory.
But, in the summer of 2012 I made what turned out to be my best prediction ever. Oddly, it also involved SVSM.
While preparing for the imminent football season I was required by my employer to pick the eventual state champions in each division. I had watched the Irish scrimmage and liked what I saw, both on and off the field.
There was talent, for sure, but there also was a certain chemistry, a feeling that everyone was pulling in the same direction. I thought, why not? Made sense to me. Besides, no one will remember – or care – who I picked four months later.
So, I picked SVSM to win it all. I got a little nervous as various publications came out. My colleagues did not share my feelings. Paranoia set in. Had I made a colossal blunder? I was the only media person in Ohio to pick SVSM, as far as I could tell. It’s one thing to be one of a bandwagon of pickers. It’s another to be the lone ranger.
Best pick I ever made. The Irish went on to win the state title, beating their five post-season opponents by almost 30 points a game.
Alas, as I predicted, no one remembered. I had the last laugh on the entire state and no one cared.
But, that brings me to basketball.
What is the fascination with this year’ SVSM team? How can it be compared to the past SVSM state champs?
Obviously, there is no LeBron James. Of course, there isn’t anyone on this planet as talented as LeBron in those days.
There isn’t a starter taller than senior Jibri Blount at 6-6 and only three players on the roster taller than 6-5. The 2009 team, which beat Thurgood Marshall and Columbus DeSales in the final four, had JaKarr Sampson, Daylen Harrison and Davonte Beard and vastly under-rated point guard Ricky Johnson.
The 2011 team, which beat Thurgood Marshall and Columbus Bishop Hartley, had Beard, Johnson, Lorenzo Cugini, Victory Dorsey and Nick Wells, another under-rated player.
But, what I like about this year’s team is its chemistry. Oh, there is skill all right. Josh Williams is one of the best guards in Northeast Ohio. Blount and 6-4 junior Henry Baddley can be relentless under the boards and electric in the open court. Senior Johnnie Robinson and sophomore Jayvon Graves are better than I originally thought and the bench, led by 6-5 Niko Lalos and junior Dom Davis – the football quarterback – is deep.
Joyce, in his 13th year as head coach, has emerged as one of the best in the business. The 2011 team was not as talented as the Thurgood Marshall team it beat in Columbus. An argument could be made that this year’s team is not equal to St. Edward and New Jersey’s St. Benedict. But the Irish has beaten them both.
Many people felt the Irish took a severe hit with the graduation of Jalen Hudson and the exodus of highly-regarded V.J. King. Both were highly-skilled players. Others close to the program have hinted it was closer to addition by subtraction.
Unlike last year’s team, which lost to state runner-up Columbus Watterson in the state semifinals, I get the impression that no one cares who puts the ball in the basket as long as it gets there.
That wasn’t always the case in 2013-14.
A big test comes this weekend. The Irish, ranked first in the state polls conducted by the National Guard and JJ Huddle and the Associated Press, travel to Dayton to play second-ranked Dunbar on Saturday and Balboa, out of San Diego, on Sunday in the Flyin’ to the Hoop event in Trent Arena.
The result of the weekend will not change my thinking. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.