John (R) with family.

Knebs' Notes
Basketball 2013-14
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  John Knebels, aka "Knebs", enjoyed a 30-year run as a sports columnist for the Catholic Standard and Times archdiocesan newspaper that closed in June of 2012. He is a proud graduate of Cardinal Dougherty High School, Temple University, and Cabrini College. An adjunct college instructor and high school teacher, Knebs still contributes to various local newspapers. He recently began writing a book about his high school alma mater and hopes to be done by the summer of 2014. In the meantime, he plans to moonlight here as an occasional reporter on what he labeled "the most prolific high school website in the nation." John can be reached at jknebels@gmail.com.


FEB. 9
CATHOLIC LEAGUE
St. Joseph’s Prep 46, Archbishop Wood 30
 
In terms of being an important regular-season game, this one definitely possessed some drama. A loss by either team could have pushed them below the standing’s top six and then would have necessitated winning a pre-quarterfinal contest, which would also have meant losing practice time and, arguably more importantly, some pivotal rest for bodies weary of bruises, shin splints, and muscle fatigue.
  Coming off an upset loss at Conwell-Egan on Friday night for their third defeat in five games, the Hawks were arguably in a must-win situation, lest their confidence plummet to unreachable depths. Meanwhile, after starting the league season 5-0, the Vikings were 2-4 since then and still had to play five-time defending champ Neumann-Goretti in a make-up game on Monday.
  The opening tip resulted in both teams swatting for a loose ball on the floor, with the Prep eventually coming away with the game’s first possession.
  It was that kind of a day for Archbishop Wood, which converted only 13 baskets and canned only one three-point shot. The Vikings also suffered a miserable 5 of 13 from the foul line in the second half.
  Despite scoring only four points in the third quarter, the Prep emerged with a victory that was never really in jeopardy after it built leads of 15-4, 21-10, 31-12, and, at halftime, 36-20.
  Although junior standout Chris Clover (five rebounds, four assists, two steals) tallied 18 points to lead the Hawks in scoring for the 12th time in 13 CL games (he matched senior Kyle Thompson’s 19 points against West Catholic), several teammates – all of them seniors – offered key contributions.
  Nine rebounds and five points by Thompson . . . nine boards, six points, and strong inside defense by Rick Slusarczyk . . . Eight points and three rebounds by Ryan Wall . . . nine points by Tom Fox . . . five points and only two turnovers by point guard Alex Stewart . . . a first-quarter, three-point swish by Chris Hoffner seconds after a Wood timeout that seemed to deflate the Vikings . . . seven-for-19 team shooting on three’s. Heck, even seldom-used John Luciano frenzied the crowd when he canned a step-back jumper with 18 seconds remaining in the game to finish the scoring.
  Speaking of Luciano, like a few seniors playing extended minutes partly because it was the Prep’s Senior Day, something occurred that is probably not a big deal, but in many ways explained why Prep coach Speedy Morris has attained so much respect over these past decades.
  Halfway through the second quarter, Morris took Luciano aside during a brief break and, as suggested by his trademark hand gestures, was coaching the heck out of the kid. The point is that, whether mentoring a franchise representative like 2013 graduate Steve Vasturia, a rising star like Chris Clover, or a rarely utilized bench player, Morris is a basketball teacher through and through.
  One other observation: With 42.2 seconds left in regulation, Fox was replaced. As he stepped away from his home court for the final time in his notable career, Fox and his father, varsity assistant Joe Fox, shared a longer-than-usual embrace.
  Asked later, both Foxes described the moment as special.
  “He has coached me ever since I started playing when I was very young,” said the younger Fox. “I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I owe him so much.”
  The elder Fox, now watching his third hoops-playing son graduate from the Prep, recognized how quickly time had gone.
  “Not everyone gets a chance to coach, let alone coach their kids,” said Fox, an unmistakable gleam of pride in his eyes. “I’m grateful for it. Very grateful.”
  NOTES: Legendary public address announcer Dan Baker graced the crowd from the opening Senior Day ceremony until the very end, choosing perfect final words when considering the ridiculous winter that we’ve been braving.
  “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “in less than two months we will see you at Citizen’s Bank Park for Phillies baseball!” From his mouth to God’s ears . . .
  Speaking with Baker after the game, I thanked him for once announcing my name to the crowd at Veteran’s Stadium before a game on April 27, 2003, against Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants. For no particular reason other than being a loyal Citizen’s Bank customer, I had been asked to throw out the first pitch. Less than three hours later, Phillies pitcher Kevin Millwood was being mobbed on the mound after throwing a magnificent no-hitter, making Ricky Ledee’s first-inning solo homer stand up.
 
“Pretty momentous first pitch,” Baker said. “Maybe you should throw them more often.”
  Name the time.

JAN. 24
CATHOLIC LEAGUE
Archbishop Carroll 51, St. Joseph’s Prep 36
  Sometimes it’s what a player doesn’t do that stands out more than what he does.
  With less than a minute remaining and a convincing victory already clinched, Carroll coach Paul Romanczuk replaced a slew of starters who had methodically defeated a Prep team thanks to balanced scoring (Ernest Aflakpui 19 points, Derrick Jones 10, and Austin Tilghman 10) and a literally in-your-face and hand-all-over-chest defense that caused an unsightly amount of Prep turnovers.
  So in came senior Brian Mulligan.
  Although he has been part of the varsity squad for three seasons, Mulligan is not considered a main cog among Carroll’s burgeoning arsenal of talent. Not even a minor cog. In fact, he has yet to score a single point this season.
  But an athlete’s importance is often not measured in points, rebounds, assists, and blocked shots. That’s where a guy like Mulligan comes in.
  “Not only doesn’t he take a day off in practice,” Romanczuk said, “he doesn’t even take a play off.”
  So with the last few seconds ticking away, Mulligan had the ball with a wide-open trey attempt just begging to be launched. The boisterous throng of Patriot zealots implored the eminently likeable guard – and diocesan scholar – to take full advantage of his only playing time.
  A former starter for St. Anastasia’s grade school team, Mulligan heard the noise, and he recognized the potential.
  “It’s definitely nice to get your name in the paper,” Mulligan said. “But that wasn’t the time to score any points.”
  Precisely right. Indeed it was not the time to score any more points. Which is why his name is in the paper. Well, at least on the Internet. These days, that’s basically the same thing.
  Because when he smartly elected to ignore his competitive instinct and let the game end in a classy manner, Mulligan, in that small but often-unrecognized gesture, wonderfully represented a program that has established itself as a thoroughly legitimate threat to ultimately overtake five-time defending champion Neumann-Goretti for Catholic League supremacy.
  “If he had shot it, I would have understood,” Romanczuk said. “But I am not surprised in the least that he didn’t. You won’t find any player who is more unselfish than Brian Mulligan. When you watch him at practice, he goes all out. When we have a game, he knows he might not get minutes because it all depends on the situation. Never a complaint. Always about ‘team.’”
  When Mulligan was approached for a post-game interview, he thought there must be some mistake. Why would anyone want to talk to him? He had nothing to do with his team’s 15-point triumph.
  “Let me think for a second,” he said with a laugh. “I’m not used to this.”
  Mulligan went on to explain that he “knows the program really well” and has “adapted to his role” and accepts it without hesitation.
  “I’m really excited to be on this team,” Mulligan said. “It’s fun to be part of something like this.”
  Mulligan said he plans to major in business and/or finance in college and hopes to one day snare a job on Wall Street. He’s likely to attend either Penn State, Boston College, or Villanova.
  Might there be some hoops in his future? The words “future coach” cries out when this young man speaks.
  “That’s not out of the question,” Mulligan said. “It’s something I’m sure I’ll consider at some point. I’ve been around the game most of my life and have enjoyed it.”
  So, Mulligan was asked for the third or fourth time, how tempting was it to acquiesce to the crowd’s verbal pleas with the ball in your hands and no defender within three feet?
  “Our job was to let the clock run out,” he said. “We’re up 15 points. There’s no sense in winning by more. But did I want to shoot?
  “You kidding? Absolutely.”
  Too bad a boxscore can’t include three points for brutal honesty.
  And total class.

JAN. 15
CATHOLIC LEAGUE
SJ Prep 55, Lansdale Catholic 42
  Michael Jordan – and no doubt many others – once said that the ultimate compliment to an athlete is when a fan base plans ahead of time to heckle an opponent.
  Consider Ryan Wall complimented, because on Wednesday night at Lansdale Catholic’s jam-packed and overheated gymnasium, the St. Joseph’s Prep senior was certainly heckled; playfully heckled with loud boos every time he touched the ball, but heckled nonetheless.
  Calm and cool, Wall got the last laugh when he scored a career-high 14 points to help the Prep defeat the stubborn Crusaders, 55-42.
  “I obviously heard them, but it didn’t bother me,” Wall said with an impish smile. “It was done in fun. Well, most of it was, at least.”
  Turns out that Wall lives just a half-court heave from LC. He attended Mary Mother of the Redeemer grade school and participated in CYO and summer ball with many of his peers who now play for Lansdale Catholic.
  So the boisterous audience consisted of many teenagers who have known Wall since he was very young. Donned in a crimson and gray uniform instead of LC’s beloved green and gold, Wall was considered an enemy for about two hours.
  But what a two hours they were.
  Wall's first bucket was a swished three with 5:10 left in the second quarter, part of a 7-0 Prep surge that increased its edge to 21-10. Wall scored two more baskets before the end of the half, the last coming off a perfect feed from senior Chris Hoffner.
  After an insomnia-inducing third quarter that included a grand total of 16 points – eight for both teams – the Prep carried a 34-24 lead into the fourth quarter. The final stanza was precisely the opposite – a spirited track meet that featured both squads sparring with hard drives through the lane and several pretty assists. When LC clawed to within 47-37 with two minutes left, Wall annoyed the crowd by scoring four key points to put the game away.
  Meanwhile, on defense, Wall consistently harassed LC’s front court and blocked two shots to increase his season total to 20; the remainder of the Prep’s roster has swatted away a composite 21 attempts.
  Afterward, while Wall talked about his finest varsity performance, several LC pals (not to mention an adult or two) innocently tried to interrupt him. Wall maintained his focus throughout a rare interview, but one that was well deserved.
  “He played great,” said Prep coach Speedy Morris. “Ryan came through big time. This is his neighborhood and I’m sure it’s been something that’s been talked about, and he did a great job for us.”
  Wall admitted that this game had been circled on his – and his friends’ – personal calendar since the schedule came out.
  “They’ve been saying things all year,” Wall said. “I figured I would just play hard and see what happens. It turned out pretty well.”
  Much to the chagrin of LC’s determined, albeit affable, hecklers.
  As Michael Jordan might say, Ryan Wall appreciated the compliment.
  NOTES – Prep star-in-the-making Chris Clover was blanked in the first quarter but still managed a game-high 19 points (nine in the fourth quarter). The junior added six rebounds and three assists . . . Senior Tom Fox contributed 12 points while classmate Kyle Thompson pulled down eight boards . . . Senior Alex Stewart drilled two threes and finished with seven points. After a forgettable outing against Neumann-Goretti a few days earlier, Stewart and aforementioned fellow point guard Chris Hoffner did a nice job of controlling the flow, combining for only one turnover in a combined 32 minutes. “We definitely wanted to put that last game behind us and move forward,” Stewart said. “It’s important to learn from your mistakes and do better next time. I thought we played a strong game overall. We seemed more relaxed and confident.” . . . Lansdale Catholic received 16 points from senior Andrew Riviello, who scored 10 of LC’s first 14 points. Seniors Brendan Schneider and Brian Rafferty netted eight and six points, respectively . . . A shout-out to the officiating crew of Joe Anhalt, Jack Loughran, and Ken Connors. On three different occasions, a close encounter necessitated a quick double-check conference. Twice, a call was reversed. Kudos to the trio for recognizing that refereeing is never about the people making the decisions; it is only about getting those decisions right. More refs should do the same, as it cuts down on the inevitable catcalls from the crowd throughout the game because the fans recognize that the refs are doing their best, and for 95 percent of sports zealots, that’s all they really want.