Friday, January 7, 2011

Crusaders have endured some tough on-the-job training

I am not sure what WaukeshaPatch.Com is, but they have in interest in Crusader basketball.

CMH Boys Basketball Team Seeks Confidence, Consistency
Crusaders have endured some tough on-the-job training.
By Mike Schmidt

Each and every member of the Catholic Memorial High School boys' basketball team knows what it's going to take for the squad to achieve its goals over the course of the rest of the season.
Now it's just a matter of finding it. The team gets its next chance at 7:30 p.m. Friday when it plays the Blackshirts at Waukesha South High School.

"The biggest challenge for an inexperienced team is finding a level of consistency, to avoid the peaks and valleys" said Crusader Coach Dean Bellanti, whose squad enters 2011 sporting a 1-8 overall record and a 1-3 mark in Classic 8 Conference play. "So how to you get to a level of consistency and confidence?"

It's a question Bellanti did not have to ask himself at this time a season ago, when he and the Crusaders enjoyed a banner campaign that saw the squad win 27 of 29 games and go undefeated in Classic 8 play to take the WIAA Division 2 state championship title.

But that was a different year, a different team, and one with a different set of expectations.

Led by a group of seniors that were led by play-making point guard T.J. Bray, the state's Mr. Basketball, as well as sharp-shooting swingman Derek Schell and center Austin Pucylowski, the Crusaders were a veteran-laden team with players who embraced clearly established roles and executed them with consistency and confidence.

This year's team, one that features just two seniors and a total of five upperclassmen, lacks the experienced veteran presence that was so crucial to last season's state title run. Some members of the squad have yet to carve out an established role, while others have been unable to embrace the roles necessary for betterment of the group.

"You try to define roles, but those aren't always the roles the kids want to accept," Bellanti said. "Then you have to sell them on that, 'This is the role that the team need you to play.'"
Progress can be a slow process, and Bellanti admits that's been the case with his Crusaders. But the Memorial coach said he has seen signs his team can compete against the other teams in the Classic 8 Conference.

"Have we been there?" he asked. "Not every night. But we are there at times."

One player Bellanti said has established himself as one of the squad's leaders on and off the court is senior forward Ryan Connell. Despite averaging just 4.7 points per game, Connell has provided value and contributions to the team that go beyond conventional statistics.

"Ryan Connell has been a very consistent player for us this year," Bellanti said. "He's really tried to embrace the system and do whatever he could within his abilities to make us consistent and competitive."

One of the most noteworthy subplots of the Crusaders' season has been the fact that the team has suffered three losses by a total of four points this year, which has Bellanti and his players asking "What if?" when looking at their win-loss record.

Memorial fell 43-41 to non-conference opponent Milwaukee South on Dec. 3, dropped a Dec. 7 Classic 8 clash to Kettle Moraine by a score of 49-48, and fell 46-45 to conference foe Waukesha West on Dec. 21.

"If those four points were made and we came out on top, we're looking at ourselves from a whole different perspective," Bellanti said. "The margin of error and the margin of victory and defeat is probably about one inch. But that one inch can be a mile long sometimes."

Connell said an inability to play consistent basketball for four quarters has prevented Memorial from seizing opportunities to win close games. However, the veteran post player said he believes that his team's best performances are yet to come.

"We can definitely come back and have a better second half," Connell said. "We've been in pretty much every game, so it shows we can play with anyone."

What do you think the Crusaders need to do to move forward this season? Tell us in the comments.
Photo credit: Ryan Taugher, a junior guard on the Catholic Memorial High School basketball team, takes a shot during practice Monday. Credit Sarah Millard

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