Oshea Gairey made an interesting observation on Thursday night, reflecting upon his season five days after St. John’s Catholic Prep lost a three-point game to Indian Creek in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association C Conference championship.
“We could be the best [junior varsity] team in the state,” Gairey, the team’s sophomore point guard, said. “Well, probably the best [junior varsity] team, I don’t know.”
Junior varsity teams don’t have state-wide playoffs, but if they did, and each of the nine St. John’s sophomores currently on the varsity team played down, they would have certainly formed one of the more formidable junior squads in Maryland.
“But what does that get us?” Trevor Lecuona, the only returning starter from last year’s championship team, said. “When other JV teams come up, we’re going to be the best varsity team.”
Even with nine sophomores — three of which, all starters, were out for the end of the season due to injury — three juniors and a lone senior, the Vikings were just a desperation 3-pointer away from sending the championship game into overtime.
“I knew we had talent so it’s kind of where I thought we’d be,” coach Silas Cheung said. “If we were all healthy, this is where I thought we’d be. Without Trevor, M.J. [Ambers] and Elijah [Boyd] in the lineup, if you told me we’d be that successful, to be up with 13 seconds left in the championship, now that’s pretty good.”
To make it to the championship game with such a young team was a feat in itself, especially when taking into account that Ambers and Lecuona combined for more than 20 points a contest on an already low-scoring team.
“If we had a fully healthy team, I personally think we’d have dominated the C conference,” said Lecuona, who tore a ligament in his ankle and missed the final five games of the season. “And teams that we lost to — we had bad losses to Goretti and Tuscarora — and I’m not saying by any stretch that we definitely would have beat them, but I think those 30 point losses would have been more like eight point losses.”
But fully healthy was something that eluded the Vikings from the outset. Boyd re-tore his anterior cruciate ligament in October, just a month away from the beginning of practice, and is tentatively expected to be back in January. Lecuona stepped on a defender’s foot and then another defender stepped on top of his and his ankle rolled over, tearing a ligament. And Ambers, who played just 16 games, averaging nearly a double-double (14.4 points, 8.3 rebounds per game) in that span, broke his wrist.
By the end of the season, the team was as beat up as the raggedy old gym they played in.
“It just stinks when you’re that close,” Cheung said. “To end up losing by three points, when you take a step back and look, it was definitely a positive season.”
One of the upsides of the injuries, especially on a team brimming with youth, was that the role players gained valuable game experience. Terrell Campbell, another sophomore, shined throughout the playoffs, scoring 17 in a semifinal win over Gerstell and led the Vikings with another 17-point performance in the championship. Grant Austin was another key contributor in the starters’ absences.
“We’re going to have some serious depth,” Cheung said. “It kind of shows what the future’s going to be like. Not a lot of sophomores get this kind of experience.”
One thing that the future no longer holds in store for the Vikings are games in McSherry Gymnasium, a venue with plenty of nostalgia.
“McSherry just has so much history in it,” Lecuona said. “I mean, NBA players have played in it. It’s just a fresh start, trying to make new history.”
Of McSherry’s somewhat less than aesthetically pleasing look, Lecuona laughed and said, “It was small, it got hot, the roof leaked. It had a lot of problems, but it was almost a tradition for something to go wrong at McSherry. I don’t know, you liked it.”
St. John’s will be playing in a “much nicer,” but tradition deprived gym in Buckeystown next season, and the young Vikings will have a fresh canvas to begin writing their own history. Fans might have to shed their moniker, the McSherry Maniacs, for something a little more fitting to the new home of St. John’s basketball.
But, with nine juniors instead of nine sophomores, and a gym that doesn’t threaten to spew insulation onto the floor, the future is indeed bright for the Vikings.
“I’m looking forward to it already,” Cheung said.