In what was supposed to be a rebuilding season, the Leo Lions roll into the Christmas break with a 7-2 record after a satisfying 67-46 thumping of Mt. Carmel in their Catholic League home opener at Leo on Dec. 16.

Combining good ball movement with solid defense and strong rebounding, the Lions staged their best performance of the season before a near-capacity crowd at Leo’s refurbished gym. Sophomore Dachaun Anderson led the way with 13 points as nine players scored for Leo. Junior Malcolm Bell contributed 10 off the bench, senior Mike Simmons added nine and senior Aamir Holmes and freshman Jadon Williams had eight points apiece as the Lions used a 20-10 second-quarter advantage to take control and never looked back.

“We’re not there yet, but it’s coming,” Coach Shawn Frison said. “We’re getting good leadership from the seniors, and our young guys are starting to pick things up.”

Leo tuned up for the Mt. Carmel game with a 65-22 dismantling of CCIS Ellison, a neighborhood charter school, on Dec. 14. Holmes and senior Khalid Manney scored 10 points  apiece as Frison went to his bench early and often.

Senior Mario Pittman, who underwent knee surgery in early fall, celebrated his return to the Lions’ lineup with 11 points in Leo’s 33-29 victory at Providence on Dec. 9.

Bell remains a go-to guy at crunch time for Leo. At the Woodridge Shootout in Norridge on Dec. 4, his block in the final seconds denied Lincoln Park an attempt at a game-tying shot, and Leo held on for a 60-58 victory. Against Providence Bell beat the halftime buzzer with a three-pointer from the deep corner, sending the Lions to the locker room with a one-point lead after they had trailed for most of the half.

Leo added Ellison and Little Village to the schedule to fill openings after Hales Franciscan and Seton Academy ceased operations this year. All 14 players who suited up saw considerable playing time against Little Village and 11 of them scored, with senior Joe Yuknis collecting a career-high eight points.

Leo is off until the Big Dipper Holiday Tournament gets under way at Rich South in Richton Park on Monday, Dec. 26. Leo will face Butler Charter in its opener at 4 p.m.