Ask Nick Bennett what he expects from his loaded St. Catherine’s High School boys basketball team this season and he’ll channel his inner Bill Belichick.
“Someone asked him, ‘You’ve won five Super Bowls. What do you want to get next out of your career?’ “ said Bennett, referring to the New England Patriots’ coach. “And his answer was, ‘I want to have a good practice today.’
“Everybody kind of laughed at it, but he meant it. That’s how you win Super Bowls. You have to have a good day to day.”
And so it is with Bennett’s third St. Catherine’s team, which is laden with talent, experience and potential.
Four starters return from a team that went 17-7 last season and placed third in the rugged Metro Classic Conference. Of those seven losses, five were by four points or less, including a 59-55 loss to East Troy in a WIAA Division 3 regional championship.
Quinn Cafferty, a 6-7 senior center who led the Angels in scoring (14.0) and rebounding (7.6), is entering his fourth season as a starter. Azarien Stephens, 6-2 senior guard who averaged 11.8 points, is starting for the third straight season.
But what’s scary for any team on the Angels’ schedule is that there’s so much more than than those two.
Tyrese Hunter, a 5-11 guard, averaged 11.2 points as a freshman last season. Elijah Lambert, a 6-4 junior, averaged 8.7 points and 5.7 rebounds.
Isaiah Dodd, who started as a sophomore guard last season and was one of the heroes of St. Catherine’s WIAA Division 4 state championship in football in November, decided not to return. His position will be filled by 6-0 sophomore guard Kamari McGee.
“Kamari has earned his starting spot,” Bennett said.
Clearly this appears to be a team capable of contending with favorites Greendale Martin Luther and Whitefish Bay Dominican for the MCC championship. Bennett certainly likes what he’s seen so far, even though he maintains a cautious outlook.
“I think we’re pretty good,” he said. “We have a little bit more continuity from years past, but we have more than enough work to do. Our conference is going to be really tough, this is the toughest nonconference schedule we’ve played in my three years and we need to start winning those tough games.
“We lost four five games by four points or less. We just have to pull out a few more of those.”
Cafferty, who overcame an horrific leg injury during a game against Case his freshman season, has long been a reliable presence in the post.
“There’s not a lot of mystery to his game,” Bennett said. “He’s big, he’s really strong, he’s very good around the basket and he works hard for the offensive boards. He knows what he does well and he does it very well.”
Stephens, Bennett said, “can knock down shots, can stretch the defense and is active in the passing lanes. He does a good job of deflecting passes. And he’s also a good rebounding guard (3.6 average last season).”
Hunter played with a poise as a freshman that was more reminiscent of an upperclassman.
“Athletically, he can honestly do some things that coaches can’t teach,” Bennett said. “He’s very quick, he’s a very good leaper and he’s wiry strong. He’s improving his shot and he’s becoming a much better defender.”
Lambert joins Cafferty as a quality inside presence.
“He really is that guy who can do a little bit of everything for us,” Bennett said of Lambert. “He’s really a good rebounder and he might be our best defender.”
Filling out the starting lineup is McGee, who averaged 5.4 points and 2.6 rebounds in his limited role last season.
“Everyone sees how hard he plays in games,” Bennett said. “But Kamari plays equally hard in practice. He’s got an endless motor.”
Quality depth comes from players who include 5-11 senior guard Adam May, 6-1 junior guard-forward Elijah Sabala, 6-5 junior forward Jermaine Tomlin and 6-2 sophomore guard-forward Jameer Barker.