Ryan sophomore Izaiah Brockington is averaging 14.5 points per game thus far. BILL ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES
Catholic League basketball has a rude way of imparting its lessons on those not accustomed to its rigorous demands.
Austin Chabot learned this lesson the hard way on the court for Archbishop Ryan as a sophomore; one year later, that tough-luck tutelage is paying off in a big way.
Chabot and the Raiders stumbled to a 2–11 record in the Catholic League last year, failing to clinch a spot in the playoffs the team had been accustomed to qualifying for over the years. While it was certainly difficult for a young group to take it on the chin so badly throughout the season, Chabot insists the 2014–15 version of the Raiders is much different. Now battle-tested and aware of what to expect from the buzzsaw that is the league schedule, Chabot and company are out to prove last season was nothing more than a fluky aberration of what this program is truly capable of.
“Last year a majority of us were sophomores, and we just weren’t prepared for varsity games yet,” Chabot said during a recent interview. “We found ourselves not strong or smart enough, and we had to work 10 times harder than everyone else to find ourselves where we are now. We realized we have to play as a team; there can be no selfishness in this league, because no win is given.”
And although Ryan’s Catholic League slate doesn’t begin until a Jan. 2 home contest with La Salle, Chabot believes his team has taken the necessary leap to be more competitive this time around. Purely a long-range shooter as a sophomore, Chabot has added more elements to his game, showcasing an improved ability to penetrate and get to the rim in a Dec. 19, 52–49 win over Tacony Charter. Chabot tallied 16 points in that one, roughly two points under his season average through six games, five of them Ryan wins (the team’s only loss was a 52–51 defeat at the hands of highly-regarded Public League foe George Washington on Dec. 12).
Quite simply, Chabot said, all of his teammates are better this season, especially he and fellow junior starters Austin Slawter and Fred Killian. Their sophomore struggles have not rubbed off on rising star Izaiah Brockington, mainly because the junior trio has been able to impart relatable wisdom to Ryan’s second-leading scorer in his first varsity season.
“In a league as tough as this one, losing like we did builds character and shows you who you really are,” Chabot said. “Some can’t handle the pressure and talent that surrounds playing in this league. Me personally, I was always doubted; people figured I’m just a shooter and can’t play against some of the top recruits in the nation. What they didn’t understand was that we were still building, and still are. We have this year and next to keep building character as people and players.
“It can be difficult, and it takes a toll mentally and physically when those other guys beat up on you. It’s not easy, but we’re tough guys at Ryan and we know we can handle it.”
As usual, the Raiders aren’t very tall, and Chabot and Killian will be undersized against the Neumann-Goretti’s and Archbishop Carroll’s of the league. At the same time, Ryan isn’t scared, and the team thinks it can cause its own havoc by doing what head coach Bernie Rogers’ teams have always done well in his 15 years running the Princeton offense; that is, they are relentless on defense and pride themselves on outworking other teams, whether it’s diving after loose balls or eating two minutes of the clock before the right shot comes along. As usual, Ryan’s offense is predicated on getting the best shot, and there is no singular superstar on this team. Rather, the Raiders must be as good as the sum of their total parts, combining what each does well into one big jigsaw puzzle.
It’s not always sexy or easy on the eyes, and few teams win uglier than Ryan. But in this league, you take wins no matter how they come or how unsightly they appear.
“The system we have for our personnel is perfect,” Chabot said. “We have a lot of guys who are smart with the ball, guys who can handle and shoot. If the first shot isn’t good, we kick it out and wait for the next one to be there. There’s always a next step to keep things moving. We want the right shot, and we want to avoid turnovers that lead to a foul or fast break. We pride ourselves on good defense and trust each other to take care of the ball on offense. You earn every win and learn from every loss.”
Added Brockington: “I’m not going to lie, at first it was very challenging to learn this offense because there aren’t really many set plays. There’s so many options, and it’s predicated on passing up a good shot if you can get a great shot later. I think it’s a really good system, because it slows the game down, gets you the shot you want and allows you to control the defense, instead of the other way around.”
Brockington said the learning curve for him as a sophomore hasn’t been as steep, mainly because his teammates are helping him avoid the pitfalls that plagued them last season.
“It’s been really good working with these guys,” he said. “They encourage me and help me learn the offense, so I don’t get frustrated when I make mistakes, ones they may have made last year. We just try to keep everyone calm and level-headed so we can have a better season than last year.”
Brockington may be the closest thing Ryan has to a true scorer. His quickness makes him elusive, and said he prides himself on his ability to drive and pull up for mid-range jumpers. Against Tacony Charter, he tallied a team-high 18 points to go along with six steals. He also echoed Chabot in saying with conviction that the team has to be fundamentally sound, because a cohesive unit that does the little things well not only makes individual play stronger, but also benefits the group as a whole.
“It honestly doesn’t matter who gets the shot and when, we just want the best shot for everyone,” Brockington said. “Whoever is on that particular night, we feed him the ball. Everyone uses their own skills to complement each other, and I want to make the guys around me better. We are about the team, and at the end of the day we just want to win.”
Hopefully win more than last year. And as Chabot honestly said, he doesn’t think Ryan is there just yet to go head-to-head with the Catholic League elite just yet. But they’re getting there.
“Personally I don’t think we’re ready yet, but we’re close,” Chabot said. “We’re still learning a lot of little lessons in these preseason games, ones you nip in the bud so you don’t make the same mistakes in the league. With a couple more games and a few more pieces to the puzzle getting together, we’ll be there.
“As tough as we are and as together as we are, it would be great to be back in the playoffs. I honestly think if we keep playing together and don’t separate or be selfish while listening to our coaches and playing good defense, we’ll be back in the competition. We’ll be someone to worry about.” ••
Archbishop Ryan’s Austin Chabot showed an improved ability to drive to the basket as a junior. He’s averaging close to 18 points a game for the Raiders so far. BILL ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES