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Coach: Tim Philp (8th Season)
Last season's record: 17-10 (Lost to Mount St. Michael’s in CHSAA Class A Semifinal)
2011-12 record: 5-4 (thru Jan. 3)
Impact Players: Josh James, Jr., G; Tyler Iacuone, Sr., G; Naim Thomas, So., G; Malik Omess, Jr., G
Rising Stars: Quarry Greenaway, Sr., F; Devino McCray, Sr., F/C; James Decker, Jr., G/F
Coach’s Forecast: “Now that we’re up in AA, we want to compete and be right in the mix. Cardinal Hayes twice, St. Raymond’s twice, Mount St. Michael’s twice, crossovers against Xaverian and Holy Cross; we want to be able to compete against the best teams in the area. That’s the goal. Ultimately everyone wants to be able to raise a championship banner but our goal is to compete and be in the mix and get everyone on the team better. Our guards are solid and have experience and I think by the end of the season, they all will have elevated their games and be better basketball players.”
Marquee game remaining –
1/10 – at Holy Cross – A crossover game, this will be one of the tougher match-ups the Crusaders will have all season.
1/17 – vs St. Raymond’s – The Crusader’s host one of the best teams in the state after facing St. Raymond’s on the road in Stepinac’s first game of the season.
1/20 (home), 2/14 (away) – Mount St. Michael’s – Stepinac will look to avenge their loss in last year’s Class A semifinal.
2/8 – at Long Island Lutheran – Stepinac travels out to long island late in the season to face Lutheran. This will be a great test for Stepinac’s guards.
Stepinac will look to its exciting group of guards, led by Division 1 prospect Josh James, to compete in the in the tough CHSAA AA Division.
After Stepinac’s heartbreaking loss in last year’s CHSAA Class A semifinal, Conroy Baltimore, the only member of Stepinac’s 1,000 point/1,000 rebound club, approached then sophomore guard Josh James. Both were visibly upset, but Baltimore took the moment to mentor the budding star.
“I told Josh this is his team now,” said Baltimore, who is now a freshman at Lehigh University.
Baltimore certainly knew what he was talking about.
Flash-forward ten months and James is not only the leader for the Crusaders but one of the best players in the area. After a great summer, the junior has earned multiple Division 1 offers and has established himself as a legitimate scoring threat.
“As he continues to get older and mature, (James) is getting better and better,” said Stepinac coach Tim Philp. “He’s gotten stronger, he’s gotten taller and he’s worked on his game year round. Right after last season there was no let down. He was playing AAU, he was in the gym; he works very hard and he’s continuing to turn the corner.”
James currently lists Stony Brook, Quinnipiac, UMass and Iona as his top four schools, but more are sure to come this summer when his junior season comes to an end.
“I feel like my game will continue to get better and better,” James said. “Obviously I’m scoring more but I feel that my game is better than that. I enjoy playing defense, I can rebound, I can pass; I want to be a complete player.”
But it doesn’t end with James for Stepinac. Senior Tyler Iacuone is one of the few returning players who saw minutes for the Crusaders last year and behind those two, the Crusaders have a young but experienced group of guards who have all taken on increased roles and are playing valuable minutes. Junior Malik Omess has established himself as a scoring threat and sophomore Naim Thomas is a tough guard who makes hustle plays on both sides of the ball.
“We’ve all known each other for a while now,” James said of the group of guards. “We’re definitely at that point where we can look each other and know exactly what we want to do. We push each other every day and having that competition drives us to be better players.”
But it wasn’t the guard play that the Crusaders needed to worry about this summer. With the graduation of Baltimore and Julian Wright, and football star Austin Taps choosing to sit out his senior season to focus on football recruiting, Stepinac had the tough task of finding the bodies to replace the trio for this season.
They found those bodies with seniors Quarry Greenaway and Devino McCray. The two are relatively new to varsity basketball but have proven they have what it takes to play at the high level Stepinac needs. Greenaway played on varsity last year but saw limited minutes in Stepinac’s season and McCray sat out last season after transferring, but Philp says the two have stepped up their level of play and are valuable pieces to this year’s team.
“The jump that Quarry has made this season is incredible,” Philp said. “He got some minutes last year but this whole summer, he was another kid who has been in the gym. He’s bigger and faster and he plays harder than anyone on the court… And Devino is a body who has come a long way. He sat out last season but he’s come in right now and made a direct impact. I like where we are right now. It’s a tough league and a tough schedule, but we’re going to be ok.”
Follow Jordan Griffith on Twitter: @MSGV_JGriffith