Riley believes Crusaders on verge of success

The Father Judge senior guard helped the team with scoring, as well as toughness on the defensive end.

Drew Riley has provided the Father Judge basketball team with scoring, as well as toughness on the defensive end. PHOTO: JOE MASON

The easy thing to do would be to get discouraged.

What Drew Riley intends on doing is getting better.

Riley is a senior guard on the Father Judge High School basketball team, and the Catholic League schedule started in the worst way possible.

Judge opened the season with a murderer’s row of opponents, and even though the Crusaders have played tough, including taking St. Neumann-Goretti and St. Joe’s Prep to overtime, the 0–5 start wasn’t what Riley was looking for.

“We’ve played really good teams really close, but we need to find a way to close one out,” Riley said after his team lost yet another heartbreaker, this one a 47–42 setback at the hands of neighborhood rival Archbishop Ryan. “It’s just not going our way. We’re getting so close, but we haven’t been able to win at the end. But we’re still working as hard as possible.”

Riley could focus on the negatives, which in reality is only the final score, but what he and his teammates are doing are looking at the positives.

And there are a lot of them.

Judge doesn’t have a lot of depth, so the team’s starters play just about the entire game. And together, the team has come very close against some of the best teams in the city.

The Saints are arguably the best, Prep’s only loss was in overtime to Bonner-Prendergast, and Ryan has been one of the best teams in the league for the past few seasons.

Fighting those squads to the last minute lets Riley know there isn’t a huge difference between a great record and losing one.

“I really think we can turn it around,” said Riley, who ranks third on the team in scoring. “Coach (Sean Tait) always tells us that we want to make the playoffs, try to get a home game and then see where we can go from there. We’re still in position to make the playoffs if we start to win a few games, and if we do that, anything can happen.”

The Crusaders earned their first win in Catholic League play on Monday night when they defeated Lansdale Catholic 62–55.

Riley thinks if the Crusaders stay the course and continue to put in the effort, there’s no reason they can’t battle for one of the 10 playoff spots in the Catholic League.

And while hard work might be the key ingredient, he also says continuity is something the Crusaders have going for them.

Riley grew up playing basketball in Rhawnhurst. There, he played with fellow Crusaders Conor McHugh and Shane Dooley. Nick Conway, who is on the shelf with a shoulder injury, also played with them.

“I’ve been playing with these guys forever,” Riley said. “It’s great, we play well together because of that. And we all play the same way. We don’t really care how we get it done, I know I just want to do whatever it takes to help the team. Scoring, defense, rebounding. We are like five guards out there, we really don’t have other positions, so we just all go out and try to do everything we can as hard as we can.”

Riley is playing the exact same way he did a season ago, but this year his role has expanded quite a bit.

Last year, he and Dooley were starters. The other three were seniors Marc Rodriguez, Matt O’Connor and Mike Power, and those guys were the unquestioned leaders who carried the team to the playoffs.

“I think Drew learned a lot from the seniors last year, I know he was very close with Marc,” Tait said. “Drew is everything you want in a player. He gives you everything he has, you get every bit of his frame, and he just wants to win so bad.”

The effort Riley and his teammates put in is what makes the slow start so tough to deal with, but it’s also what makes the coach believe good things are on deck.

“We have good players who work so hard,” Tait said. “We’re not deep, so the guys give us everything they have, and that makes it tougher to close games, but they’re giving it everything. And I think we have some winnable games on the schedule, so we have to win those. If we do that, I think the league is so balanced, top to bottom, anything can happen.”

Riley has his sights set on the playoffs.

He also is focused on figuring out what he’s going to do next year.

Ideally, the former soccer player will continue his basketball career, and he also knows what he wants to study.

“I want to major in nursing,” Riley said. “I like that because it’s something I’m interested in and I really want to help people, and that seems like a good career.”

But first, he wants to get the Crusaders back on track.

“I don’t think any of us care how we get it done, we just want to start winning and go from there,” Riley said. “I know everyone on the team is ready to do whatever it takes. We’re still having fun, but winning will make it a lot more fun.” ••