By Ron Brocato, Clarion Herald Sports
On opposite ends of the scorer’s table will stalk two of the city’s premier head basketball coaches whose teams have been in the upper echelon of the Catholic League since their rivalry began in 2012.
The principals are Chris Jennings, who has led Jesuit to victory in nearly 70 percent of its games since becoming the Blue Jays’ head coach in 1992, and Mitchell Johnson, the latest in a long line of brilliant strategists at St. Augustine.
As athletes, both were outstanding guards at the schools where they now coach, and they display that same intensity during games. In full bloom, their antics are photographers’ dream shots.
And that is what can be expected when District 9-5A play begins two days into 2019.
That became evident last week when Johnson’s Purple Knights edged Jennings’ Blue Jays, 53-52, in the championship game of the Chalmette Valero Christmas Classic tournament.
That game was our first look at St. Augustine this season, since the Knights no longer participate in the annual CYO tournament.
Johnson has the material to claim another district championship. The win over Jesuit improved the Knights’ record to 15-2.
St. Augustine also won the Newman Invitational Tournament two weeks ago.
Jesuit, 13-2, has a Dec. 22 home game against Catholic of Baton Rouge before hosting district opponent John Curtis on Jan. 2
After having seen the district’s six Catholic schools play, the early results indicate that St. Augustine and Jesuit are the teams to beat. Either is capable of taking home the district trophy.
St. Augustine has good size, runs the floor well and is quick enough on defense to force opponents to make that one extra pass.
Jesuit is a typical Jennings-coached team with one exception: The defense is as tenacious as always, but the brunt of the scoring this season will come from the gun of point guard Elijah Morgan.
So far, the senior has been named the outstanding player in two tournaments. He scored 32 points in each of the final two games of the Chalmette tournament. He will, undoubtedly, be the focus of the defenses. His teammates will tally points off his assists.
The two favorites will be challenged by Brother Martin and Holy Cross, both of whom are capable of springing upsets.
Brother Martin will have played 10 consecutive games away from home, including the district opener at Archbishop Rummel on Jan. 2.
The Crusaders have played well on the road, posting an 8-4 record entering the final weeks of the year.
Holy Cross, winner of seven of its first eight games and on a two-game winning streak, is on the verge of a breakthrough campaign. The Tigers (now 11-4) will find out how they fit in when they open district play at St. Aug on Jan. 2.
Despite a 6-7 record, Coach Wesley Laurendine has watched his Archbishop Shaw Eagles progress over his three years on the bench. They have a district bye until Jan. 5, which they will use to finish their pre-district schedule against Newman on Jan. 2.
Scott Thompson knew his first year as Archbishop Rummel’s coach would be a learning experience for him and his players. Until last week, the Raiders learned a great deal about losing (11 of their last 13 games).
But Thompson saw the makings of a team willing to sacrifice to be a winner. The Raiders won two of their last two games over South Plaquemines and Franklinton.
Ron Brocato can be reached at email@example.com.