By Ron Brocato, Clarion Herald Sports
This is the stage of the basketball season the stars of the game come out to play, and the 10 pieces of the Clarion Herald’s Elite Team begin to fall in place.
Well, St. Augustine is making the task a bit difficult to single out the team’s top individuals. It seems the key players are candidates to bump some deserving guy from another area Catholic school from a spot on the team.
I usually poll the coaches, who spend more time with their players than do we in the media. When I got around to checking in with Purple Knights mentor Mitchell Johnson, he provided as much insight as any coach in a quandary.
“It’s different people on different nights,” the veteran coach told me.
And watching the Purple Knights, reveling in their 23-2 record following a 65-46 thumping of 21-4 Jesuit on Jan. 15, I am as confused as the coach.
So who’s their top player(s)? Let’s see, is it Darius Henry?
He’s a heckuva 3-point shooter. But so is Devon Jefferson, who accounted for 15 points in the romp over the visiting Blue Jays.
What about center Jalvin Mitchell, an inside scoring, rebounding and shot-blocking threat?
But then again, there are games in which guys like Damon Landry, D’Mari Wiltz, Jaron Pierre and Danté Smith do their thing as well as anyone else on the team.
The door is still open. St. Augustine has seven more Catholic League games to play between Jan. 25 and Feb. 15. But as of now Coach Mitchell’s guess is as good as mine.
Could be the year
Through its long membership in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association (1966-2019 and counting), St. Aug has won five state basketball championships.
But the Purple Knights’ last title came in 2011 when they handed Scotlandville a 67-43 drubbing at the Lafayette Cajundome.
Since 2012, Scotlandville has been the kingpin, having won three Class 5A state titles before winning back-to-back Division I titles in 2017 and 2018 as result of the split playoffs.
And although the Hornets once again have the best record (22-1) and are the highest seeded team in Division I, this could be the year St. Augustine ends the Hornets’ reign.
Scotlandville’s lone defeat came against Sophie Wright, 80-77, on Jan. 3 at the Alario Center, and if the brackets shift one place, the Hornets and Purple Knights would be the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively, and would not meet unless the two powers made it through the division playoffs unscathed.
Currently, Holy Cross occupies the No. 2 seed position following the Tigers’ recent win over Jesuit.But there is no question, that St. Augustine has the balance to win its first Division I title and gain its sixth gold trophy since 1983.
Upon whom will the Hornets concentrate their defense when points come from every direction from players in purple and gold jerseys? This is a team that has beaten its district rivals by an average of 26.5 points.
Since the 2016-17 season, there have been just 13 teams in Division I. And Scotlandville has been the top seed both years.
St. Augustine was the No. 2 seed in 2017, but lost in overtime to district rival and No. 6 seed, Brother Martin, 33-32, in the semifinal round. Scotlandville then defeated Brother Martin, 53-52, for the first Division I crown.
How they line up today
Behind Scotlandville, Holy Cross and St. Aug, in the current power rankings are 4. Jesuit, 5. Catholic, 6. Brother Martin, 7. St. Paul’s (the 2018 runner-up), 8. Byrd, 9. Curtis, 10. McKinley, 11. Archbishop Shaw, 12. Archbishop Rummel and 13. Evangel.
Other power rankings
De La Salle, the 2017 Division II champion, is currently ranked No. 4 behind the reigning champion, University Lab, No. 2 Loyola Prep and No. 3 Archbishop Hannan.
Ranked No. 3 a year ago, De La Salle’s bid to repeat as champion ended in the semifinal round when the Cavaliers lost to University, 64-59.
St. Charles Catholic holds the No. 12 spot in Division II and Pope John Paul II is at No. 7 in D-III.
Ron Brocato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.