Despite key losses, depth, tempo will drive York Catholic boys' basketball team

Patrick Strohecker
York Dispatch
  • York Catholic is coming off a 22-4 season in 2016-17.
  • The Fighting Irish went 20-1 in the regular season before losing three of their final five games, all in postseason play.
  • York Catholic is replacing four of five starters from last year, with only D'Andre Davis returning in the same role.

Blaine Claiborne likes his York Catholic boys' basketball teams to play fast.

York Catholic's D'Andre Davis plays defense during practice at the school Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. Davis is the lone starter returning from last year's 22-4 Fighting Irish team. Bill Kalina photo

He always has.

It's the style of play that has transformed the Fighting Irish into the class of York-Adams Division III.

In order to play that style, the team must prepare itself properly.

So, at the start of practice on Tuesday, Dec. 5, the 10 varsity players had three minutes to score 100 points doing a three-man weave. One player would go in for a layup, one would take a mid-range jumper and the third would try to knock down a 3-pointer.

It was fast-paced, with little rest, designed to work on the players' conditioning, as well as their ability to convert when tired. With 22 seconds left on the clock, 100 points was hit. By the end of the drill, the team scored 117 points.

Players were exhausted, most bent over gasping for air, while a few took a seat on the floor. Meeting the goal was a good sign, but the end product showed that, with just days before York Catholic opens up its season against reigning District 3 Class 3-A champion Trinity, the players weren't quite in tip-top shape.

"It's the way we practice," Claiborne said. "We practice fast, we get up and down, we want to be in top shape and we have more guys to play. ... We'll get up and down again."

York Catholic's Mark Shelley defends a teammate during practice at the school Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. Shelley will have big shoes to fill down low, having to replace current Monmouth University forward Melik Martin, who led York Catholic in scoring last season. Bill Kalina photo

Topping 2016-17: That's probably not what rivals of the Irish want to hear going into a new season, especially after they proved they were far and away the best team in Division III a year ago.

York Catholic went 22-4 overall, including 14-0 in division play. After losing the first game of the season, the Irish rattled off 20 wins in a row to close out the regular season. However, York Catholic wound up losing three of its final five games, all coming in the postseason. There was a semifinal defeat in the league tournament to eventual-champion Northeastern, a semifinal defeat to Lancaster-Mennonite in the District 3 3-A tournament that led to a third-place finish and a first-round state exit to Neumann-Goretti.

It was a good season, but, the Irish also may have left some meat on the bone, especially considering they were heavy favorites to at least make the district finals, which would've set them up for an easier state draw.

"I don't want to undersell what those guys did because they had a good season, so you want to pat them on the back and congratulate them for that," Claiborne said about last year's squad. "But, you just hope that some of the things that we identified as probably problems of that group won't leak into this group."

Filling holes: It might take time for York Catholic to work up to its full potential this season, especially after graduating four of five starters.

Most notably lost from that group is Melik Martin, who led the Irish in scoring last season at 16.5 points per game and is now playing for NCAA Division I Monmouth University. York Catholic, however, also lost starting point guard Andrew Forjan, Steven Nigro and Kyle Derowski to graduation, leaving four key holes to be filled.

The one certainty coming back is D'Andre Davis (15.5 ppg last year), the lone returning starter from last year. While he'll have plenty of senior help this year, he's the only guy with starting experience, and he's taking it upon himself to help along his new starting cast.

"I have to be more of a vocal leader on the court," Davis said. "...I'm just trying to make sure there's no pressure, that everyone fits in with the offense and we can just execute."

While the style of play will be similar, it won't be completely the same. Much of that has to do with the loss of Martin. While big for the Y-A League, the 6-foot, 6-inch Martin was more of a power forward who could step outside and shoot.

This year, big-man duties will fall to Mark Shelley, who stands at 6-4, but plays a more traditional center role than Martin.

York Catholic's Robbie McNamara passes during practice at the school Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. Bill Kalina photo

"I like to play with more of a presence in the paint than he did. He liked to shoot a lot more," Shelley said. 

More depth, more pace: Mixed in with Davis and Shelley will be Robbie McNamara, who will likely take over at point guard, Torrey Thomas and Riley Brennan. It's after the starting five, however, that Claiborne gets excited.

According to him, this year's squad is much deeper than last year's, giving him the option to run nine or 10 deep. But, Claiborne said the group is younger than last year's, which will require time for them to develop. He'll turn to a junior, two sophomores and a freshman off the bench.

In terms of personnel, this year's Irish team will look different than last season's squad. When the team hits the court, however, much of the play will look similar. That means fast-paced offense, in-your-face defense and, by the end of the game, having opponents gasping for air.

York Catholic will have a chance to prove itself right off the bat against the Shamrocks. It'll be a test to see where it's at to start the year and where it needs to get to by season's end.

"I know I speak for everybody when I say that we can't wait," Thomas said. "We're ready for the opportunity to show everybody that we can play with this team, Trinity, and we may have a chance to beat them."

— Reach Patrick Strohecker