By Dan McGrath
If things had gone as well all season as they did in a Senior Day season finale, the Leo basketball team would not be looking at a 4-9 record.
Such is life in the Season of the Pandemic.
The Lions were a young team learning on the fly, and with those 13 games compressed into a COVID-influenced five-week schedule, they were learning in the heat of competition, managing just two wins in seven games within the cozy confines of the Leo gym.
Still, a 74-61 nonconference victory over Christ the King Jesuit College Prep at Leo on Saturday, March 13, gave the Lions reason to feel good about themselves … and offered an intriguing look at the future.
The victory broke a six-game losing streak. It enabled senior Ri’chard Coleman to conclude his four-year career as a contributor to a satisfying effort. And with the 10 underclassmen in uniform providing 69 of those 75 points, it left Coach Jamal Thompson eager to get started on next season … after a week off for some well-earned rest, perhaps.
“This season was like a training camp,” Thompson said. “We knew we were young, and with all those games, we didn’t have much practice time, but we still needed to learn and grow and develop as best we could. The record isn’t what we wanted, but I think we accomplished a lot in terms of gaining experience. Now we have to build on it.”
Christ the King, from Chicago’s West Side, was not some feel-good nonconference “gimme” opponent for Senior Day. The Gladiators (12-5) have aspirations of joining the Catholic League, and the long, strong, aggressive squad they brought to Leo looked as if it could hold its own after finishing second to Hope Academy in the less rigorous Chicago Prep conference.
Makai Reed was a handful with 26 points inside and Josh Reed collected 12 from all over, but the visitors were undone by a variety of Leo presses that forced 24 turnovers and got the Lions more offense-from-defense easy baskets than they’d had in any game this season.
Junior Cameron Cleveland caught fire in the second and third quarters, scoring 22 of his team-high 25 points and fueling a 21-4 second-period run that broke open the game. Ja’keem Cole had 13 of his 16 in the first half and fellow sophomore Tyler Smith contributed 12, but the unsung star of the game was Christian Brockett.
The freshman guard didn’t score a point, but he had 10 of the Lions’ season-best 22 assists, along with seven steals. With long arms, quick hands and uncanny anticipation, Brockett seemed to be everywhere on the press that decided the game in Leo’s favor. He gives off a vibe that he might be a special player.
Leo’s sophomores got the day off to a rollicking start by beating Christ the King’s sophs 50-49 in the preliminary game. Freshman Tristan Taylor rolled down the lane for a left-handed layup with two seconds left that settled the back-and-forth affair and closed out a 6-6 season for the young Lions.