SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Around this time last year, St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.) couldn’t avoid the spotlight. The team was too busy living in it.
HBO cameras followed the Celtics' every move for a documentary on the team. The prep basketball world was in awe of star senior Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. And coach Kevin Boyle made it clear that a win at the Hoophall Classic was necessary to achieve one of the team's most coveted goals: the nation’s No. 1 ranking.
A similar spotlight shone on the Celtics on Saturday when they faced La Verne (Calif.) Lutheran at this year’s Hoophall, only this time the focus was on what they didn’t have.
Gone was every starter who stood over 6-foot-6. Gone was the lofty ranking, as the Celtics lost their third straight nail-biter in a 68-66 overtime defeat. And most noticeably gone was the star power of Kidd-Gilchrist and Boyle.
Senior Dana Raysor is the lone holdover from last year’s 26-1 squad, and the Celtics’ highest-ranked player is junior transfer DeAndre Bembry, the No. 53 small forward in the class of 2013.
But as La Verne Lutheran found out Saturday, what you see -- or don’t see -- in St. Patrick isn’t necessarily what you’re going to get.
Despite their size disadvantage, the Celtics effectively used double-team pressure to hold 6-foot-10 Trojans star Grant Jerrett to seven first-half points. Elijah Davis showed star potential with 25 points on 12-for-16 shooting. And signs of clutch ability surfaced when Bembry knocked down a last-second 3-pointer to send the game into overtime.
“What we’re trying to do is just stay the course,” says Celtics first-year head coach Chris Chavannes, who led the JV program last season. “We know what it’s like and what it takes. This is a team that a lot of teams in New Jersey aren’t going to want to see down the stretch.”
That much is clear even when the Celtics lose. In its last three losses, St. Patrick has fallen to top-flight opponents La Verne Lutheran, Plainfield (N.J.) and Trenton Catholic (N.J.) by a combined 11 points. At 5-5, the Celtics have managed to exceed the dire expectations of some while confirming the hopes of others.
“I think we have talent like last year. We just have to get mentally better because we lost so much leadership,” Raysor said. “That’s the difference in these close games. Once we chip away that and play with more intensity, things will start working together.”
Raysor admits he was shocked and upset in April when Boyle announced he’d be leaving the program to coach at Montverde Academy (Fla.). Not only was he losing his coach, but he also had to watch a handful of his friends transfer.
Boyle’s replacement, Chavannes, had been at St. Patrick for 20 years and watched as Boyle turned the program from a state laughingstock to a perennial national power.
“I’ve seen us go through ups and downs before. I was there when Kevin built the program,” Chavannes said. “I’m very confident that we will get it together. We’re not looking forward to next year; this is about the now.
“On any given day, we can match with anybody. There are a lot of teams out there that can say that, and we’ve proven it by taking a lot of good teams to the wire. Difference is, we have a lot of room for improvement.”