By Dan McGrath

The gag around Leo High School is that if this were the old days of lightweight basketball, the Lions might run the table: Their roster is stocked with talented, versatile guards, most of whom could “measure in” under the old 5-foot-9 lightweight standard.

But basketball is a game in which size matters, and Leo was thought to be a little short—literally—in that area, particularly against St. Ignatius in the season opener at Leo on Friday, Jan. 3. The Wolfpack puts a college-sized front line on the floor, and silky-smooth senior guard A.J.Redd , who always seems to have the ball in his hands, is a sturdy 6-foot-3. 

Outmanned? Not Leo. The Lions scoffed at their size disadvantage and rode balanced scoring, swarming defense and a ton of grit to a 72-62 victory over a St. Ignatius squad that’s loaded with college prospects and pegged as top three caliber in the Catholic League.

“I’ve been reading all the previews, and we’re barely mentioned,” Coach Jamal Thompson said above the din in a jubilant winners’ locker room. “That’s OK. We know what we’re capable of.”

Leo played before its home fans for the first time since February of 2020, and those fans packed the venerable old third-floor gym, raising a ruckus at the opening tip and remaining loud and into it all night. The Lions may well have been a little too geeked up in the early going, missing seven of eight shots, committing four turnovers and trailing 10-2 four minutes in.

But they regrouped and got within four after one period, then rode Cameron Cleveland’s 13-point second quarter to a 32-30 halftime lead. 

That was a lounge-act warm-up to a third period in which Leo hit the startled Wolf Pack with 27 points and took control of the game. Jakeem Cole scored 10 points, Cleveland had eight and Austin Ford contributed six as the Lions hammered out a 59-47 lead after three. Eight points in arrears was as close as St. Ignatius could get in the final period as two garbage-time buckets reduced what had been a 15-point lead to the final margin of 10.

Cleveland finished with a game-high 24 points, Cole had 18, and Ford filled the stat sheet with 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Bench players Jarrod Gee Jr., Cyree Johnson and Jamari Allen also contributed meaningful minutes, Allen’s five rebounds and five-for-six free-throw shooting proving especially useful.

Wolfpack junior Richard Barron, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound beast, scored 14 of his team-high 20 points in the first half. Redd finessed his way to 17. 

“This is only a first step, but I’m proud of the guys,” Thompson said. “We practiced  hard all week, we listened, we got ourselves ready to play and we did what we needed to do. With the way the crowd was into it, it was a great night.”


Leo is back in action on Tuesday,  Dec. 7, visiting St. Francis de Sales.