By Dan McGrath
Four games in five nights would be an unheard-of burden for an NBA team, even one that practices “load management” and rests its top players.
Load management is an unheard-of luxury for a high school team, but four games in five days was a taxing reality for the Leo Lions, from Jan. 20-24. And a tough stretch it was, as they sandwiched Catholic League losses to Mt. Carmel (75-41) and De La Salle (56-35) around nonconference setbacks against Glenbrook South (85-52) and Perspectives MSA (58-40) to stand at 5-16, 1-8 for the season.
But don’t tell Leo forward Keeland Jordan it was taxing. The lithe, long-armed senior went for 82 points total in the four games, including 25 with 14 rebounds and three blocks against Perspectives.
Problem was, the other Lions managed just 15 points among them, while Perspectives had four double-figures scorers, including Ahdrean Ellis, a former Lion, with a team-high 15.
Jordan had 21 in the first half of the Glenbrook South game before Coach Phil Ralston went to a gimmick defense specifically designed to deny him the ball. The tactic worked, as Jordan finished with 23 points, one fewer than Glenbrook’s Rodell Davis, who had 22 in a free-flowing first half as he and Jordan matched each other shot for shot.
“First time I’ve used a 1-2-2 with a chaser in a long time,” Ralston said. “I felt we had to. Mr. Jordan is a nice player.”
Foul trouble and De La Salle’s long, rangy defenders limited Jordan to 14 points three nights later, but the Lions’ real undoing was turnovers—the meter shut down at 20. Small, inexperienced guards against a quick, athletic press was a recipe for big trouble.
Four Meteors scored 12 points apiece, including former Lion Tavariyuan Williams, who’s making a miraculous recovery from a shooting that hospitalized him for more than a week back in August. Jordan never did foul out, but he missed most of the second quarter after picking his third and a good portion of the third after being nailed with his fourth—both offensive fouls.
The Mt. Carmel game was Alumni Night at Leo, and the near-capacity crowd on hand to salute the late Bill Holland ’73 was treated to two minutes of impressive basketball as the Lions jumped out to a 7-0 lead.
Then talent asserted itself. The Caravan (9-0 Catholic League, 20-2 overall) responded with 13 straight points and was off and running.
Carmel’s Deandre Craig, a quick, powerful, 6-foot-1 guard with a Division I college future, was quietly effective with 17 points, 10 in the second half. On defense he was a nightmare for Leo’s young guards, forcing them into hurried, ill-advised passes that led to a slew of turnovers.
The Caravan’s alternative weapons were heard from as well as senior guard Anthony Ciavarino scored 13 of his team-high 20 in the first quarter and younger brother Angelo, a junior forward, collected 12 of his 14 in the second. Along with Craig and 6-foot-5 center Lee Marks, they were part of a vigorous defensive effort that suggests Carmel will be a handful for any and all Catholic League opponents.
Jordan scored 20 for Leo, but the other eight players Coach Jamille Ridley used combined for 21 points total.
Bill Holland, a former Leo football captain, student body president and Class of ’73 valedictorian, passed away in June, and his family and friends are funding a scholarship in his honor—it has been awarded to a current sophomore. Proceeds from Alumni Night ticket sales and the sale of special “Blackout Night” T-shirts were added to money previously raised and will cover tuition and fees for another Bill Holland Scholar beginning next year.
Off until Sunday, the Lions will have time to catch their breath before they face Public League campaigner Marshall (11-9) in the Breast Cancer Awareness Shootout at Orr High School. Tipoff is at 10:30 a.m.