|Patrick Connaughton, a 6-foot-4 junior, is averaging 23 points and 17 rebounds a game this season for St. John’s Prep, which won its first six games. (John Blanding/Globe Staff)|
Prep Eagles soar to a perfect start
Sean Connolly had no idea what to expect last season - his first - as coach of the St. John’s Prep boys basketball team.
Then he watched Patrick Connaughton play.
Lacking a true point guard, Connolly often used the 6-foot-4-inch Connaughton, a natural wing, at that position. Connaughton, then a sophomore, responded well.
“Last year, it was mostly Pat,’’ Connolly said of the 2008-09 team’s scoring production. “This year, guys have improved and stepped up, so we have a lot more guys who we think can score. We don’t need Pat to score 30 points to win this year, and last year we did.’’
After an 11-9 run last winter and a preliminary-round loss to Acton-Boxborough in the Division 1 North sectional, the Eagles soared to a 6-0 start this season and first place in the Catholic Conference - a conference St. John’s hasn’t won since 2000.
“We have a strong team this year,’’ said senior Stephen Collins. “We’re small, but we’re fast and athletic . . . Ever since Coach Connolly has come here, our tempo has been a lot higher. We’re in a lot better shape than most teams, so that helps us out a lot.’’
Connolly coached at his alma mater, Bishop Fenwick, for four seasons before joining Prep in mid-October 2008 to replace 12-year coach Danny Letarte.
When Connolly first showed up for the team’s tryouts, he didn’t know half the players’ names, yet he began to teach them an entirely new system.
“No one knew what to expect when coach Connolly was coming in,’’ said Connaughton, who played under Letarte the previous year. “Everyone loved coach Letarte, but everyone liked the way [Connolly] ran practice - more shooting, more things that people like to do.
“Coach Connolly doesn’t care what you want to do. It’s what he wants to be successful, and that’s how he coaches . . . It’s probably the best thing that happened at St. John’s.’’
The team lost six players (five graduates) from last year’s squad, but Connolly likes the way his new team is configured.
“Last year, we had a lot of size but not many guards,’’ Connolly said. “It’s the opposite [now]. We have a lot of guards this year, but we don’t really have a true center.’’
With the change in the team’s makeup, Connolly adjusted his coaching strategy. He encouraged the team to be less selfish. Instead of pulling up and shooting, he wanted the players to look to making the extra pass.
“We have a lot of guards to handle the ball,’’ Connolly said, “so we like to attack and get the other team to foul, and we like to take more foul shots than the other team.
“We try to go by people and create something by the baskets instead of settling for jump shots.’’
In a 77-59 win at Boston College High Tuesday night, Prep went to the free-throw line 32 times, converted 26 shots, and fouled out a pair of BC High players.
“Every day we work on jump stops and jumping into people, and it creates contact . . .,’’ Connaughton said. “After running and conditioning, we shoot free throws for a good 10 minutes, so were ready for it in the game.’’
Connaughton, averaging 23 points and 17 rebounds a game this season, has adapted to and enjoyed the team’s new style of play.
“Shooting is less part of my style, but going by people is,’’ the junior said with a smile. “To be honest, I don’t want to sound arrogant or anything, but I don’t think anyone can stop me in the state. And when you go by someone, it opens up so many more opportunities than just shooting.’’
Formerly a three-sport athlete, Connaughton stopped playing football this year to focus on basketball and baseball. A highly regarded pitcher, he’s drawn interest from North Carolina, Virginia, and Wake Forest and has received offers to play at Boston College and Florida State.
But he would rather play basketball.
“All the baseball coaches that talk to me,’’ he said, “I just tell them, ‘I like basketball better, and I’m going to wait and see what happens with that before I make a decision.’’’
Connaughton has plenty of time to figure out what or where he’ll play in college, but for now his focus remains on the current season.
“Everyone on this team wants to win,’’ he said. “We haven’t been the most successful program since I’ve been around, and everyone wants to change that.’’
After finishing third in the league last year, Kevin Bradley’s team returned all but one of their players this season.
“We were young last year, and we’re still young this year,’’ Bradley said. “It’s maturity and just growing up and being able to accomplish what they want to go out and do.’’
Junior Catherine Roache, averaging 14 points and five assists per game, knocked in 17 points and added four assists in the victory.
A solid contributor last season, sophomore Christina Medley will return from a broken foot next week to add some firepower to the offense.
“She had about 40 threes last year,’’ Bradley said. “She’s a big scorer for us, a great rebounder.’’
Despite the recent success, Bradley believes his team is out of synch and hasn’t not been able to score on a consistent basis. Even so, he knows that the team’s performance later in the season is what matters most.
“Yeah we’re 7-0, but we want to be better at the end of the season,’’ he said. “We’re going to play some really good teams, and I just want to play well when we get into the tournament. Our goal is to start playing well when we get into February. The good thing is we haven’t peaked.’’
Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org