This year the two teams will try to return to their title game, but it will be an uphill battle.
"We're struggling right now," said St. John's Prep coach Jimmy Gatto, entering his 33rd year at the helm of the Red Storm. "We're young and we're inexperienced. We're just trying to find our way."
The Red Storm will have trouble this season, returning for the 2000-2001 season without all five of last year's starters, including point guard Taliek Brown, who is now running the show at the University of Connecticut.
Also gone are Dwayne Thompson, now on scholarship at Adelphi, Trevor Bryant, who made the Division I Stony Brook team as a walk-on, and solid contributors Omar Malcom and Ariel Garcia. In all, nine seniors left the team after last season's 56-52 loss to Xavier in the 'B' city championship game.
"This year is going to be a struggle," Gatto said.
Gatto's teams have not struggled in recent years. Before Brown took over the team, guiding it to the semifinals and finals, the Red Storm belonged to Larry Jennings, who led the squad to an overtime loss in the city finals in 1998. Jennings, who went to St. Joseph's after graduation, transferred to Stony Brook and is sitting out the season.
This year's team boasts no superstars, but a collection of inexperienced players Gatto hopes to mold into a cohesive unit in time for the playoffs.
Omar Golden and Irving Moses are the only returning seniors and both saw limited action last year. Chris Dominiak, another senior, did not play last season. Ed Moore, Brandon Coles, Desean Burke and Christian Gerildo are up for the junior varsity team and should all contribute.
Gatto is handing the point guard duties to sophomore Tasheen McCall.
"Hopefully once they get experience we'll get to be competitive," Gatto said. "It's a learning process. You try to explain to them that playing varsity basketball against the teams we play, you have to work hard in practice. It's a very slow process."
Gatto's young team lost its first three games against pretty stiff competition. Public school powers Grady and Bryant and Catholic league favorite Molloy all handed the Red Storm non-league losses. Two more non-league games, against St. Francis Prep and Regis, preceded the team's league opener Tuesday against Iona Prep.
The preseason has not been as tough for Cathedral Prep and coach Jim Dilg. Despite losing four of five starters from last year's CHSAA Class C runner-up team, the Crusaders have yet to taste defeat in the 2000-2001 season.
After a 19-6 campaign last year and a heartbreaking three-point loss to Moore Catholic in the title game, Cathedral returns just one starter, Chris O'Connor, but also returns big-time contributor Tom Czaplinski, who is averaging 28.5 points after his team's first two non-league games - wins over the Xaverian and St. Raymond's 'B' teams.
"They play very hard," Dilg said. "Right now I don't think we're as far along as last year's team, but we have the potential to be there. It's just going to take a little bit of time."
Joining the starting lineup this year are point guard Emmet Toner, three-guard Vinny LaPuma and forward Tom Sabbagh. Brendan Raphael will be the team's sixth man, while Tom McCabe, Sal Candela, Matt Maloney, Chris Lanza and Mike Bennett will all vie for playing time off the bench. Chris Doyle is nursing a knee injury and Dilg hopes to have him back soon.
Cathedral opened its league season Monday against Blessed Sacrament.
"At this point we're shooting to get into the city's again," Dilg said. "It's hard to say what will happen, but that's what we're aiming for."
©2000 Community News Group
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