The first season under Head Coach Cam Joyce will be a fun one.
Working with Athletic Director Rory Fitzpatrick '88 and Assistant Athletic Director Brad Ganor, Joyce has constructed a balanced schedule with plenty of challenges throughout.
The Wildcats will play 22 games, including 11 contests at Sullivan Gymnasium. Many of the opponents are familiar faces, but the Wildcats will play nine games against teams not on the 2018-19 schedule.
One of the top highlights will be a trip to Miami in early January. Belen Jesuit High School will be hosting a tournament/showcase from January 2-4, bringing top schools from across the country to Miami. The Wildcats will play three games in Florida during the Christmas break trip.
Another game that looms large on the schedule is the annual New Year's Eve battle with St. Vincent-St. Mary. The showdown between the Wildcats and Fighting Irish will be a family affair between Cam Joyce and his father, Dru Joyce II.
Looking at the schedule as a whole, Joyce's goal is to give his Wildcats as many challenges as possible. The eventual objective is to prepare his men for March, not to simply compile a good regular season record.
"We have a great schedule. We have a lot of good teams," Joyce said. "My goal is to test our guys to get ready for the playoffs. Rory and Brad have done a great job in helping to align some really great matchups for us in the season to prepare for the run we want to make in March."
And even before the regular season begins, the Wildcats will have some great preseason competition.
The Wildcats' first opposing competition will be Garfield Heights and West Geauga. The Bulldogs will host the November 14 scrimmage. Two days later, the Wildcats will travel to Lima Senior, where the Spartans will host many teams in a facility with plenty of courts. The coaches will mix and match the games.
The Basketball Cats will host their own scrimmage on November 20. Saint Ignatius will bring in Sandusky, North Canton, Maple Heights, Ashtabula Lakeside, and Lakewood. Then the Wildcats finish the preseason on November 25 against Lutheran East, now a Division II program with several State Semifinal appearances in Division III.
The regular season will start with a good challenge on Saturday, November 30. The Wildcats will kick off the 2019-20 campaign at the All-Ohio Nike High School Hoops Showcase in Columbus against a strong team – Thomas Worthington. The Columbus school is a Division I program with strong recent history. The Wildcats have an 0-1 record all-time vs. the Cardinals.
"Opening the season, we get a chance to go down to Columbus for the All-Ohio Nike Showcase, which is a great event that Jerry Watson puts on down there," said Joyce. "I've spoken with Jerry, and both coaches are on board, we're going to open against Thomas Worthington. They have a really good team this year. They have a couple of really talented kids. It's a great opening game to test our guys."
In the first of five weekend back-to-backs (not including the games at Belen Jesuit), the Wildcats will play Richmond Heights on Sunday, December 1. The game is part of the Great Lakes Classic hosted by Cleveland Heights High School, with a 4:15 pm tipoff. The Wildcats and Spartans have never played before.
The Wildcats will then enjoy a three-game homestand. The first home game for Joyce will be on Saturday, December 7 vs. John Marshall. Rich Austin '10 will lead the Lawyers, who lost a home game to the Wildcats last year.
Copley visits Sullivan Gym on Tuesday, December 10. The Wildcats and Indians have never met before. The next opponent, Canton McKinley, has faced the Wildcats plenty of times. The Bulldogs edged the Cats last year, 64-56, and McKinley owns a 29-16 advantage in the series. This year's showdown will be on Saturday, December 21 after an 11-day break from games for final exams.
Two days after Christmas, Saint Ignatius will head east to play Cleveland Heights. The Wildcats snuck by the Tigers last season, 61-59, and have a 33-13 edge in the all-time series.
"Cleveland Heights picked up some transfers, so they'll be a really good team," Joyce said. "And they have a great coach in J.R. Bremer, a former pro, and he'll have those guys ready."
A game circled for many is the New Year's Eve showdown with St. Vincent-St. Mary. The Akron powerhouse will play host to the game, which is always a fun one. This year's contest obviously carries added weight with the hiring of Cam Joyce.
But for Joyce, the matchup against his dad is not even on his radar at the moment.
"Honestly, it will be surreal. I'm not thinking about it as much as people have asked me," said the younger Joyce. "We have 7-8 games before that game. I'm trying to get ready for the season and the opponents we have before them. It'll be great for the family – we'll have all of our family there. But we'll be trying to win, it'll be like any other game. They have a really good team, being in back-to-back state championships and they have plenty of talent coming back."
The Wildcats won't have much time to party on New Year's. The men of Ohio City will board a flight for Miami on January 1.
Belen Jesuit will be hosting a number of schools for a tournament or showcase. The Wildcats will play three games in the Magic City, one each on January 2, 3, and 4. The opportunity to travel, the first long trip for the Basketball Cats in a while, is not just about the on-court competition, but about the chance to bond as a team.
"We don't know who we're playing yet, but they'll probably be good. Florida is known for their athletes, so I'm sure there will be some athletic teams," Joyce said. "I'm hoping we play Belen Jesuit. They haven't decided whether it will be a tournament or a showcase. But even more than basketball, this will be great for our team chemistry. This will be a good trip off the court for our players, coaches, and the families who travel with us."
Once the Wildcats return home to a cold Cleveland, the schedule will heat up.
The team's first game back is on Friday, January 10 against its archrival – St. Edward. The Wildcats split the two games last season, so they'll enter with a 55-46 advantage in the series. Coach Joyce will certainly have his men ready for this one.
"We want to protect home court," Joyce said. "They have a very experienced group. They have a lot of seniors who have played a lot of varsity minutes, so that will be a great test for us."
In a tough turnaround, the Wildcats will head to Trumbull County the next day. Warren Harding will host the Cats for a nightcap, the first meeting of the teams since December 2017. The men of Ohio City have won 15 of 25 meetings between the schools.
A four-game homestand then awaits the Wildcats. Collinwood will kickoff the stretch with a contest on Tuesday, January 14. The Wildcats and Railroaders have not done battle since 2008, when the Wildcats earned a 70-48 win. The Cats are 8-1 vs. Collinwood dating back to the 1920s.
Cleveland Central Catholic will tour Sullivan Gym on January 18. The Wildcats will be seeking revenge after a 72-66 overtime defeat before a snowstorm last year. The Wildcats have a 9-4 series lead. Louisville is another returning foe, as the Wildcats sqeeuzed by the Leopards in a close road game, 60-55, last January. Louisville will be here on Friday, January 24. The next day, Stow-Munroe Falls will visit West 30th and Lorain. The Bulldogs snapped the Wildcats' 10-game win streak last year in the regular-season finale.
The Wildcats will be back on the road (briefly) for a January 31 contest vs. Benedictine. The Cats dealt the Bengals a blowout defeat, 74-38, in a win that helped Saint Ignatius fire into the home stretch. The Wildcats are 31-19 vs. Benedictine in an ages-old rivalry.
In the backend of another back-to-back, the Wildcats host Villa Angela-St. Joseph on Saturday, February 1. The Basketball Cats bested the Vikings on their home court, 76-58, last year. The series has been close over the years, with Saint Ignatius enjoying a narrow 16-13 lead.
On Friday, February 7, the Wildcats will play in Lakewood at the home of the Eagles to finish out the regular-season series. St. Edward won its home game handily last year.
It's the Wildcats' turn to travel to Erie this season. Trips to the Keystone State have been interesting over the years, as the Wildcats have battled snow several times en route to Erie. This year, Valentine's Day will be the date of the game. Last season, Chase Toppin hit a game-winner in the final seconds to sneak past Cathedral Prep. The Wildcats have done well against the Ramblers in the past, winning 13-of-18 games.
In the final back-to-back, the Wildcats host Rhodes on Saturday, February 15. The Rams have several talented players who make this one a game.
The regular-season finale features an opponent that has not traveled to Sullivan Gym in many moons. Toledo St. John's Jesuit will come to Cleveland for the Wildcats' Senior Night on Saturday, February 22.
The Wildcats and Titans have not played since a matchup in the 2002-03 season. For many years, the contest was a regular game on the schedule. In the offseason, 40-year head coach Ed Heintschel retired, and the Titans named Mike Schoen to the position. The two teams, with new coaches, will face off for the 22nd time this February. The Titans own a 13-8 series advantage.
"We get a chance to renew the rivalry with Toledo St. John's, another Jesuit school in the state. They have a tremendous program, and we have a lot of respect for what they do there. That will be a great home game for senior night."
The second season will then commence, the only season that truly matters in the eyes of Cam Joyce. He hopes the regular season helps to prepare his men for the postseason.
"You want to win as many home games as possible. You want to try to go undefeated at home and defend your home court," Joyce said. "On the road, if you can split or win 60-70% of your road games, you're looking at a really good team that can handle different environments. The biggest thing about the schedule is you want to have our kids in different environments, like the showcase, where there are a lot of teams, people, and coaches.
"Then you want to have those rivalry games with St. Edward, Toledo St. John's, St. Vincent-St. Mary, Benedictine, Cleveland Central Catholic. I think we have a little bit of everything. We have good teams from Divisions I, II, and III. We're playing teams from out of state. I think we're covering all of the bases to prepare ourselves for the playoffs."