By Bill Figel

The ups and downs of any regular season define the character of a team heading into playoff competition. 

Leo finished its regular season 11-19 and 1-6 in Catholic League play. During the toughest stretch run in Catholic League play, the Lions’ flirtation with a .500 record proved a slippery slope. 

But now a fresh start begins with records in the wake while the threat of single elimination looms large as a season finale. 

Leo enters the IHSA 2A division as a No. 2 seed at the Julian Regional Wednesday at 6 p.m. versus No. 6 seed Longwood. 

Julian is located at 10330 South Elizabeth Street, just east of Vincennes Avenue. 

Leo’s biggest believer is the man in charge – Coach Jamille Ridley – who values the “ups” in the season while viewing the “downs” as a kind of science experiment with results, not failures. 

“This is a great collection of young men who have developed over time, and they’re getting better,” said Ridley. “To be a basketball player at a place like Leo High School – that is an historic basketball program and has a history and tradition of taking young men where they are and pushing them – is a great experience.” 

Two recent barometers give Leo faithful reason to believe the young Lions will continue to make significant strides, reverse the turnover-to-assist ratio that has plagued them and win the regional at hand. 

First, the Leo’s underclassmen who make up the bulk of the varsity roster went 2-1 in Saturday’s Catholic League sophomore tournament with victories over DePaul Prep and host DeLaSalle before losing in the championship to Loyola Academy. 

Brian Kizer, Nate Stephens, Karon Shavers and Brandon Gandy “were amazing” in the one-day tournament, according to Ridley. 

“This is really the foundation of our program going forward,” said Ridley. 

Second, the Chicago Sun-Times listed Oak Lawn as one of the top 12, “most dangerous” teams in the 4A bracket. 

The Leo Lions gave Oak Lawn – winners of 11 of its last 13 – all it could muster two weeks ago in the Evergreen Park Hoops Invitational before succumbing to the bigger, upper classmen Spartans 68-61. 

Junior point guard Marlo Moore proved a solid a floor leader and three-point threat in that contest while helping the Lions keep it close, especially in the first half. Moore’s leadership will be counted on Wednesday along with Stephen Barze, an effective and proven scorer. 

Host Julian (21-5), the No. 3 seed, will face No. 5 seed Butler College Prep (13-15) at 7:30, with the winners meeting for the regional title and a berth in the Corliss Sectional on Friday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. 

Hansberry (16-10), competing in the South Shore Regional, is the No. 1 seed in the Corliss Sectional.