by Jonathan Vander Lugt
Springside Chestnut Hill basketball sits at 3-7 and just looking at the numbers, the situation doesn’t seem too different than it’s been in recent years.
The Blue Devils haven’t won a conference game since 2015, including back-to-back 0-10 runs. The program is just barely scraping out of its nadir, but second-year head coach Julian McFadden is full of optimism.
He has to be, otherwise his young team would struggle as much of it seeks its first varsity league win since they’ve been in the program.
“Watching over some film the other day, I think we’re playing our best basketball right now. It’s just the simple things – making the extra pass and trusting each other on defense,” McFadden said. “I feel pretty good about the conference season – going into it playing your best basketball is what you always want.”
That said, it can be tough for a bunch of grown men – let alone teenagers – to perceive a four-game stretch filled with three losses as its best basketball of the year. Of this, McFadden is well aware.
“They know what our schedule was like last year compared to this year,” he said. “It’s really different – at this point, 3-7 is fine. Last year we went into the Inter-Ac season at 7-4 kind of feeling ourselves but we weren’t really challenged against a team like you’d see in the conference. Our early schedule is going to do wonders for us down the stretch. I think I’ve packaged the message in the right way, and hopefully they’re internalizing it. We’ve seen signs of it in practice here and there.”
So, what’s different?
“We’ve been doing a lot more team building and things that don’t have much to do with basketball,” McFadden said. “Getting the guys together to understand each other off the court – stuff that really matters when you’re trying to become a good team. We’re getting progressively better and that’s exactly what you want. We’re getting to the point of where we’re recognizing and doing those little things, and that’s what makes a difference as far as winning or losing. We’re still going to make mistakes, but that’s just the reality of coaching a young team.”
At this point, the usual suspects are continuing to produce: Ke’Shawn Williams, Zyon Grant, Jack McDonald, et al. Sophomore Delonce Hines recently scored a season-best 13, and though he has yet to score in double digits, C.J. Sweitzer (the team’s lone senior) has provided leadership in spades.
“CJ has been phenomenal – he’s basically been a senior leader since even last year,” McFadden said. “He says the right things, is always in the right positions, and is always willing to pick his teammates up. It’s something you don’t always find in kids this age. He’s a leader everywhere he goes – I can’t ask for a better kid.”
Elsewhere, Jared Sprague-Lott will carve out a role as the season progresses. After sacrificing the past several months of athletic activity to Tommy John rehab (baseball is his main sport, and yes, even high school sophomores are getting Tommy John these days), Sprague-Lott has seen limited minutes over the past three games.
“He’s been playing as a sixth man lately, though he’ll probably crack the lineup sooner rather than later. Skill-wise, he’s probably one of my better guys,” McFadden said. “He’s still trying to get his wits under him because his right hand has been out, so he’s been only able to dribble with his left. He hasn’t even shot a basketball until two weeks ago. We’ll see more from him as time goes on – he’s sort of my secret weapon because people haven’t seen a lot of him.”
He’s joining a team that will, as stated before, seek its first conference victory since most of the team was in junior high. Overall, McFadden gives himself and his squad a C+.
“We’re kind of in the middle of the road. We had a rough start just because we had to figure out what we were on offense and defense. We’re getting to the point where we’re starting to get it,” he said. “That’s for players and coaches too – as coaches we’re still trying to figure out how to put this puzzle together and make everything work and be as successful as we can be.”
Midseason Grade: C+