By Jeremy Balan
The matchup between the Sacred Heart Cathedral and Bishop Alemany boys basketball teams in the Division III state championship on Saturday isn’t a clash of styles as much as it is a class of personnel.
As crazy as it may seem, the two teams appear to be mismatches for each other. The advantage is effectively to be determined.
The Irish have a distinct advantage in the frontcourt, with standout senior forwards Taylor Johns and Joshua Fox, but the Warriors counter with a host of guards, all capable of scoring in bunches.
The key to the Irish may be defending the Alemany guards, led by Nevada-bound senior wingman Marqueze Coleman, who averaged 21.5 points per game in the regular season, and senior point guard Max Guercy, who averaged 18.3 points per game in the regular season and has a scholarship offer to play at Hawaii.
“It’s important that we guard the ball pretty consistently.” said Sacred Heart head coach Darrell Barbour. “Our most important thing is to play defense, limit penetration off the dribble and contest shots even if they beat us.”
Conversely, the Irish will have an edge inside in rebounding and in the paint with Fox and Johns, with 6-foot-7 freshman Malik Anderson the only true frontcourt player likely to start for Alemany. According to the Los Angeles Daily News, the Warriors were outrebounded 49-20 in the Southern California championship game against St. John Bosco, but still won.
“Sacred Heart does have a size advantage, but on the other hand, Alemany has just found a way to win this season,” said Gerry Freitas, the director of Hoop Review, a scouting service for college coaches. “It’s going to be a tough task for them to guard [Johns and Fox]. Sacred Heart’s size is Alemany’s problem, and Alemany’s depth is Sacred Heart’s problem.”
The Warriors’ depth is almost entirely in the backcourt and their top six scorers are guards. The Alemany guards are also physical and have some size themselves. Sophomore shooting guard Bear Henderson is listed at 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds and Guercy may be the toughest player on the team.
“I’m not saying Henderson is there yet, but in the long run he will be their second-best player in this group and will go Division I,” Freitas said. “[Guercy] may be not very tall, but he’s a block of granite. He’s an ox.”
The Sacred Heart guards will not only need to play well defensively, but also limit turnovers. Barbour focused on the importance of limiting turnovers, but also limiting the type of turnovers. He’d rather have players throw a ball out of bounds than put the ball into the hands of Alemany, allowing them to jump into transition.
“They can score in transition, but they’re also good at scoring in half-court sets,” Freitas said. “You don’t see a team that can do both often. They have the discipline that you need to do that.”
Barbour hasn’t shied away from sharing his game plan and will start with junior guard Herman Pratt, arguably the best perimeter defender in the City, guarding Coleman, but stressed the need for in-game adjustments.
“There are different ways of winning. Every game is different,” Barbour said. “We don’t have to change the way we play, but I’m getting the feeling from people that they think we need to play over our heads. I’m convinced that if we play our game, we will win.”