St. John’s boys basketball team shows promise with new head coach

The Cadets had a strong showing in their scrimmage against Wise on Nov. 21. (Brian Kapur/The Current/November 2017)

In the St. John’s boys basketball team’s second scrimmage of the season, the Cadets showed that losing some talent to graduation and getting a new head coach wouldn’t stop them from charging ahead with a fast-paced offense and opportunistic defense.

St. John’s downed Wise 61-48 in the game’s total score last Tuesday, while the teams kept tally by individual periods and reset the score after each one. The Cadets outscored Wise in three of the five periods, with just the bench players from both teams playing in the fifth.

“Tonight was a lot better in the second half with how we competed,” said first-year Cadets coach Patrick Behan. “We played at a much better pace. In the first half we looked a little confused and let Wise be the aggressor. We want to be able to start the game at a better pace.”

The St. John’s team — led by its trio of captains, junior guard Casey Morsell, senior guard Tre Wood and senior forward Richard Njoku — will look to correct those errors before opening the season this week.

Morsell is still mulling his college options, but Wood and Njoku are committed to the University of Massachusetts and Navy, respectively.

“We have a lot to work on,” Morsell said. “We made a lot of mistakes, but they are all minor. I think they can be fixed by Dec. 2.”

In the Wise scrimmage, Morsell led the team with 25 points while Wood added 11 more.

The Cadets will rely on their captains to help steer the ship, while Behan works to establish the type of program he envisions after taking over for longtime coach Sean McAloon this summer.

“They bring experience, talent and leadership. I’m looking for them to lead verbally and by example — work ethic on and off the court,” Behan said of his captains.

Behan has been involved in coaching in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference for the last five years — two of them as an assistant coach to McAloon before serving as the head coach at WCAC foe St. Mary’s Ryken over the past three years. That experience brings familiarity with the type of competition he will see and the team he has inherited, which has made the transition smooth.

“It has been going smoothly,” said Morsell. “He is a little different from Mac. It’s a good different. It’s a positive change. He’s leading us in the right direction.”

The Cadets went 25-10 last winter while falling short in the WCAC, D.C. State Athletic Association and Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournaments. St. John’s will look to capture some hardware and will have reinforcements — particularly with freshman Devin Savage, who “has a lot of potential. He is getting better every day,” said Morsell.

The team also is seeing improvements from several returning players, including junior Devon Dunn, junior Jalin Abbott and sophomore Darius Maddox. “They are really looking to take a leap at the forward spots,” Behan said.

With a mix of strong leadership from their captains, improving returning players and a talented freshman class, the Cadets will look to create a new identity under Behan that they hope will earn championship glory in February and March.

“The identity would be unselfish but aggressive,” the coach said. “We want to share the ball, but play in attack mode.”

The Cadets will open the season this weekend when they play Mount St. Joseph on Saturday at 5:15 p.m. at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.