By Dan McGrath

As for the concept of starting the high school basketball season before Thanksgiving … bad idea.

Young, inexperienced and new to each other as the Leo Lions are, they clearly could have used another week of preparation before facing Farragut in the Rich Township Shootout in Richton Park on Monday, Nov. 20.

The 11 a.m. starting time … another bad idea—Leo was supposed to be in class, not wondering what happened to cause an ugly 52-44 loss in the season opener.

The Lions will try to bounce back in another nonconference game at Bogan on Tuesday, Nov. 28. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

The Lions were competitive for the better part of three quarters against Farragut and looked to have a shot at winning when they grabbed a seven-point lead midway through the third.

But they wouldn’t score again until 1:04 remained in the game as the Admirals stretched their 2-1-2 zone into a three-quarter-court trap that forced a blizzard of turnovers—nine in the final period, 22 for the game—and misfired shots.

Farragut got within three after three quarters, pulled even on a Daniel  Murillo three-pointer early in the fourth, then took off a 14-0 run that left the Lions dazed, confused and beaten.

“Tough one,” Coach Jimalle Ridley said. “We made too many mistakes to give ourselves a chance.”

The glorious Ronnie Fields/Kevin Garnett Era is a distant memory at Farragut, though Coach Emmanuel Little is a former Admirals star who played college ball at North Dakota and enjoyed a long career in Europe.

Farragut is not top-tier Public League, but the Admirals are a team of hustlers with a credible backcourt and enough size to be disruptive. Gerald Brock scored 13 of his game-high 16 points in the second half and bedeviled Leo’s youthful guards with his left-handed forays into the lane. Jaylen James, a long-armed, 6-foot-7 leaper, dominated inside with 11 points and 15 rebounds.

Junior Emmanuel Walker hit four three-pointers and scored 14 points for Leo, while Marshawn Durr and Jerry Brown combined for an additional 17. But the Lions shot so poorly and turned the ball over so frequently that nobody’s offense will show up on the highlight reel.

Leo’s roster is almost unrecognizable from last year’s—Isiah Gibson is the lone senior.

Ridley coaxed eight wins out of a squad that had been decimated by transfers and was woefully short on varsity experience last season. Keeland Jordan, Jachi Lewis, Kevin Jackson and Amare Hall have moved on after doing the heavy lifting as seniors, Jordan taking with him a 22-point scoring average that will be difficult to replace.

But juniors Walker and Neil Anderson are back after logging major minutes as sophomores. Walker has sprouted to 6-feet-5, while high-energy Anderson has grown in stature and in confidence after turning in an all-conference performance as a wide receiver for the Leo football team.

Jordan Kizer, Brandon Gandy, KaRon Shavers and Nate Stephens are intriguing newcomers. The Catholic League is a tough place for on-the-job training, but Ridley believes the four freshmen are far enough along that they won’t be overmatched by varsity exposure.

There was some real talent on display in the Black-and-Orange Game at Leo on Friday, Nov. 17.

The Lions entertain Catholic League favorite De La Salle in their conference opener on Friday, Dec. 1. Perennial rival Brother Rice visits the Lions Den a week later. Christmas break finds Leo at the IC Catholic Holiday Tournament Dec. 27-30 in Elmhurst, while the Jan. 19 Fenwick game is Alumni Night.

“We’re very young,” Ridley said, “but we’ll work hard. Energy and effort can take you far in this game as the talent develops.”