St. John’s boys basketball team shines in all-star HoopFest competition

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After pulling within four on a dunk by senior Richard Njoku, the building went wild. (photo by Robert Bettmann)

By Robert Bettmann

For the St. John’s boys basketball team, Sunday night’s National HoopFest game against IMG Academy of Florida was an opportunity to compete against some of the very best student athletes in the nation. It was also a homecoming of sorts for new IMG Academy coach Sean McAloon, who was the St. John’s coach from 2012 to 2016.

“It’s good to come home,” said McAloon, who in June took over an IMG team that went 26-2 last year. “This is not a team I’m used to playing against — these guys are still my family.”

The 2017 National HoopFest is a multi-city high school basketball event that matches some of the country’s top programs against local standouts. This weekend’s HoopFest was the first of four scheduled this year, with upcoming events planned in Dallas, Memphis and Tampa. HoopFest’s D.C.-area stop, held at DeMatha in Hyattsville, Md., included 13 games.

Against St. John’s, IMG jumped out to an early lead and was up 17-5 at the end of the first quarter. The Cadets made some effective adjustments, keeping IMG away from some easy finishes at the rim, and doing a better job getting shots off — including a half-court buzzer-beater at the end of the first half. When St. John’s narrowed IMG’s lead to four with four minutes to go in the third quarter (40-36), the crowd was in a frenzy. But IMG pulled away from there, scoring consistently and hitting their free throws, resulting in a 72-65 final score.

A number of college coaches and NBA scouts were at Sunday’s game, in part to see IMG’s Silvio De Sousa. De Sousa, who moved from Angola to play basketball and now lives in Florida with a guardian, has committed to play college basketball for the University of Kansas (currently 7-0, ranked No. 4 in the nation). According to several reports, De Sousa may actually make the jump to college play later this month. Meanwhile, St. John’s senior captains Tre Wood and Richard Njoku are committed to the University of Massachusetts and the U.S. Naval Academy, respectively.

Against top-notch competition, St. John’s played a strong game under first-year coach Patrick Behan. (photo by Robert Bettmann)

IMG’s De Sousa was named player of the game, with 28 total points, going 11 of 12 from the field and five of six from the free-throw line, with three assists and two steals.

“This is what we work for, playing teams like this,” said Cadets junior Casey Morsell, a captain alongside Wood and Njoku.

Morsell finished with 16 points, hitting seven of 13 from the field with three assists and a steal. Two St. John’s freshman guards made particularly strong offensive contributions: Ishmael Leggett had 16 points (five of 10 from the field, two of four from three, and four of five from the line) and Delonnie Hunt chipped in 15 (five of nine from the field, two of two from three, and three of three from the line).

St. John’s lost the overall rebound battle 28 to 19, in part because of the skill level of the IMG big men, including the 6-foot-8-inch 240-pound De Sousa.

Before the season started, USA Today High School Sports ranked the IMG Academy Boys basketball team No. 10 overall in the country, making it the strong favorite entering last night’s game. Still, the St. John’s squad showed skill and coordination as a team, and at every position.

“We struggled early, but I was pleased with our effort throughout,” St. John’s coach Patrick Behan said. “We put pressure on them, and I thought a number of our players, including Delonnie Hunt, really showed up and played hard. I’m pleased with our effort.”