By Steve wilaj
They still have the same players. They’re still led by the same coaching staff. And they still wear the same green and gold.
But comparing the Ursuline team that lost its first six games to the Fighting Irish squad that has won eight of its last 10 contests is like comparing night and day.
“Totally different basketball team,” Ursuline coach Keith Gunther said after his team’s 57-43 win against Kennedy Catholic on Tuesday. “I just think early on – with some of the younger guys we had on our team — they just didn’t understand how we play and how we wanted them to play. I think throughout that six-game streak we really learned a lot and some toughness was built.”
Gunther knows that at 0-6, his team could have folded. He credits them for persevering.
“We told them just to stay focused, keep building and stay positive,” Gunther said. “We’ve been able to do that and I just take my hat off to them.”
Against the Golden Eagles (12-5), the Irish’s growth was on full display.
Ursuline (8-8) jumped out to a 26-15 halftime lead and never looked back. Led by guards Desmond McElroy, who finished with 17 points, and Preston Williams, who had 18 points — as well as an effective full-court press — the Irish had no trouble in disposing of Kennedy.
“We just went hard every possession,” McElroy said. “That’s what we do at practice, so it makes it easier in the games.”
Speaking of practice, Ursuline installed a new offense earlier in the season after its rough start. Instead of running set plays for the majority of the game, Gunther switched to a four-guard offense and just let his kids play basketball.
“We changed our offense to fit the players that we have,” Gunther said. “We’re really just focused on beating people off the dribble and kicking it. For as athletic and as quick as we are, for a lot of teams, it’s been tough for them to guard us.”
The Golden Eagles were paced by Jimmie D’Onofrio and Mac Hartman with 10 points each. Following the loss, a visibly-frustrated Rick Mancino had some harsh criticism for his team.
“We just aren’t clicking together as a team,” said Mancino, Kennedy head coach. “We just have some major team issues.”
Mancino added that the Golden Eagles need players to “step up.”
“I don’t know if we have any leaders that will step-up ... I don’t know if some of our players care,” he said. “I think they’re going through the motions. We had no emotion tonight. Our practices aren’t hard, our guys aren’t going hard and I think it all boiled to a point today. It was just miserable.”