By Jeremy Balan
Last season, Riordan’s Ivan Dorsey and Mission’s Angelo Gulley were two of the top pure scoring guards in the City, averaging 21.7 and 18.7 points per game, respectively.
Now, with both players having graduated, the two teams will look to find new offensive identities when they face off today at 8 p.m. in the opening round of the Crusader Classic, hosted by Riordan.
“We’re starting from scratch,” said Mission head coach Arnold Zelaya, who will return only one starter from last season’s Academic Athletic Association championship team in forward Travis Price-Moku. “I think this year, more than ever, we’re really going to rely on our motion offense. When we were stuck in a rut last year Javaughn [Shannon] or Gulley would get their own shot, but we don’t have that guy this year.
Riordan will also find itself in a similar situation, returning only two starters in senior guard Adam Del Castillo and forward Aaron Anderson, who averaged 12.6 points per game for last season’s 13-15 squad.
“We’re two young, athletic teams,” said Riordan head coach Rich Buckner. “Adam and Aaron are not as skilled as Ivan, but they bring a lot to the table as far as leadership. My best players are my best leaders, and I haven’t been able to say that in the past few years.”
While some of the faces may be different for the Bears, the high-pressure, full-court defense that feeds their transition offense will be on display as usual.
“We’re always going to have pressure,” Zelaya said. “It’s been our identity. The full-court pressure, get up a bunch of shots and run. They’ve bought into it and it’s what they’ve seen since they were freshmen. There’s no doubt we’re going to run.”
But to aide the run-and-gun Mission offense will be what Zelaya calls his “biggest team ever,” led by 6-foot-5 forward Alec Tatum.
“Our height will change our style slightly, but these guys can all move,” Zelaya said. “They’re tall, but they can all go.”
Riordan will look to apply pressure on defense as well, but the Crusaders will also experience an influx in height, with four front-court players over 6-5, including sophomores Graham Gilleran and Ross Jones.
“It’s definitely a change from years past,” Buckner said. “There have been times where a team’s best offense against us was a missed shot, because they would get easy offensive rebounds. Now maybe we can push around some teams inside and keep defenses honest.”
For Zelaya, entering a tough tournament like the Crusader Classic is all part of a plan to play elite competition early to get key experience.
“I want to see these guys on the road against tough opponents,” Zelaya said. “It’s easy to play at home against someone who’s not as good as you are.”
Buckner echoes that sentiment, as the Crusaders prepare for a demanding West Catholic Athletic League season.
“We’re going to be OK this year,” Buckner said. “Mitty and St. Francis are the class of the league, but after that, its up for grabs. I’m just looking to prepare us for the grind of the WCAL.”