First-year head coach Cam Joyce is not afraid of talking about his goals for the Saint Ignatius basketball program.
Form good men of character. Defend home court. Defeat St. Edward. Win a state championship.
Joyce isn't afraid of aiming high in his first year. But just as important as having goals, Joyce has his players believing in his plan of attack.
Joyce assumes the reins from the winningest basketball coach in school history, so he's not building from scratch. Having played in Northeast Ohio, Joyce knows the prestigious history of Saint Ignatius basketball. A foundation is in place. So, nodding to the past, Joyce is forging a new future.
Joyce is building, one day at a time. Slowly but surely, Joyce has installed his system. Practice by practice, Joyce is welding his men into a unit, teaching them new schemes and ideas.
It's hard work, but the excitement surrounding the program is evident. A charged energy exudes from the players and coaches. Watch practice and you can see it firsthand. Practices are long and tough and Joyce is not afraid to coach with passion, but at the end of practice, players smile. Coaches joke and laugh as they talk shop.
So, how does Joyce plan to accomplish his lofty goals?
It starts on defense, with a man-to-man, halfcourt approach.
"We're going to press and do some different things, but at the core, we're going to be really good defensively in the halfcourt because that's where the game is played," Joyce said. "If you can stop people in the halfcourt, you'll give yourself chances to win every night, regardless if you make shots or not. I harp on defense, and you can ask our guys or see that in practice. That's just who I am. If you can't guard, I'm going to struggle to play you. We need to take care of business on that end of the floor."
The offense will also look different.
The Wildcats will play an exciting brand of offense. Joyce wants his men to work quickly and efficiently. The Wildcats will not be afraid to quickly fire a pass under the basket for a quick bucket, or to shoot open 3's early in possessions.
But that doesn't mean the Wildcats will play out of control. The term Joyce uses is "playing with pace."
"We want to play fast offensively. But we won't run up and down the court every play," Joyce explains. "We're going to play at a good pace. If we're able to play with a good pace, we can play fast or slow. Sometimes because of the team you're playing, the game may slow down and it's harder to dictate the tempo. But offensively, we're going to run at our pace. If we need to slow it down, we will. We want to be able to do both, we don't want to be one-dimensional."
The guards, particularly Chase Toppin and Caleb Blake, will be the keys to running the offense this year.
The Wildcats are blessed to have two savvy senior point guards to run the offense. Toppin is arguably the most talented player on the team, a senior with Division I offers beginning to trickle in. Blake is a natural leader, a Student Senate Vice President who can quarterback an offense just as well as Christmas on Campus.
This season, Joyce expects a lot from his two veteran point guards. After all, the offense will begin with them as the distributors.
Another key piece will be Danny Nunez. The 6'0, 175-pound senior will play a huge role as a shooting guard. Nunez shot the 3-pointer quite well last season. This year, Nunez will be far from a specialist, but a regular creator and distributor.
"Danny shot it really well from 3 last year, but he's really more than just a 3-point shooter," Joyce said. "He can come off the pick and roll, get people the ball, and he's a good ballhandler who can create for others. We're looking for Danny to do some more creating. He's a good guard. Last year, people were used to making 3's, and we want him to do that, but Danny will do more."
Speaking of dynamic guards, much is expected of Tommy Spear. A returning varsity player, Spear lit up the scoreboard from behind the arc. Joyce hopes the senior can continue to drain the deep ball.
"Tommy is very solid. He's a glue guy," Joyce said. "He knows how to play and has a great feel for the game."
The last returning senior is Griffin Hanna. The name should be familiar to Wildcats fans, as Hanna led the football team as the starting quarterback this season.
Hanna will be a major contributor on both ends of the floor. He showed his talent and ability for a stretch last season when he was healthy.
"Griffin is really talented offensively," Joyce said. "Right now, he's trying to get his legs under him and get back to being a basketball player. Last year, he averaged 10 points per game before getting injured. He definitely can fill it up scoring for us."
Micah Anglin rounds out the seniors. A great leader, Anglin earned a spot on the squad after serving as a manager last season. At 6'1, 170 pounds, Anglin is a versatile player who can step in as a 2, 3, or 4. He's a strong, physical player with good skills on defense.
Talent abounds with the underclassmen, too. Leading the way will be Jonathan Effertz. The 6'0, 150-pound guard flashed greatness as a freshman last season. When he returns from injury, Effertz will be dynamite.
Beyond him, Emmett Hanna could be an unheralded star. In practices and scrimmages, Hanna has produced great energy. At 6'3, 190 pounds, Hanna can line up anywhere from 2-4, as an athletic guard or forward.
Fellow junior Mike Mattimore is another guard to watch off the bench.
"Mike Mattimore is like a microwave off the bench," Joyce said. "He can get some points in a hurry. He's a big-time shooter, plays hard, and is a really good perimeter defender, especially on the ball. Mike can score in bunches."
Declan Mangan rounds out the guard position. He figures to be a 2-guard, a good on-ball defender with a solid shot. Look for him to be good for the Basketball Cats after a nice year as a kicker for the Football Cats.
Unlike at guard, the Wildcats are young at forward.
The most veteran of the bunch is Henry Raynor, the lone returning forward as a junior.
Raynor caught eyes all season with his dynamic play as a sophomore. His athleticism inside and his dunking ability surprised opponents all season. Raynor will draw more attention this year as a 6'7, 200-pound junior.
"Henry is one of the guys we're going to lean on. I expect great things from him," Joyce said. "He has Division I schools interested in him. I believe he'll make a big jump this year, and the interest will turn into offers. He and Chase have a great shot at playing basketball at the next level."
Three juniors ascend from JV to varsity this season – Nick Lamirand, Aidan Hubbard, and Will Yontek. All are talented with high ceilings.
Lamirand and Hubbard are both football guys who will need time to adjust to the winter season. But both are very solid and bring special ability. Lamirand is a smart player who does everything well and leaves it all on the floor. Hubbard is a physical presence who can body his way to the bucket.
Yontek is similarly talented. The 6'6, 200-pound forward could be exceptional this season. He's worked very hard this offseason to become a well-rounded player.
"Will has had a tremendous spring, summer, and fall. He's gotten to a new level with his game," Joyce said. "He can stretch the floor, score inside, and he's very skilled. We've just been preaching confidence to Will."
A young man to watch at forward is Shondo Green. It's impossible to overstate his ceiling. The 6'4, 215-pound sophomore bulked up in the offseason, and it shows. Green also spent countless hours in the gym in the offseason honing his shot. So not only does he bring strength and physicality, but he also offers a deadly outside shot. He has a lot of potential.
Another youngster with loads of potential is CJ Yarian. Recognize the name? His older brother, Austen, lit up Sullivan Gym with his amazing play from 2015-17. At 6'8, 205 pounds, Yarian could be a gamechanger.
"He has a tremendous basketball IQ. He's long and he can shoot it from outside," Joyce said. "He does a lot of things you can't teach. That's why he's been able to move up."
Green and Yarian may flirt with JV this season, so that they get enough playing time to develop. With Effertz out with an injury for the time being, both Green and Yarian are on varsity. The time spent with Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Kyle Hubbard will pay off for these two.
In all, the Wildcats will be very good this season. Along the way, greatness may emerge. Whatever the result, the brand of basketball will be exciting.
"We're going to get after people and we're going to have some fun. We're going to play with passion," Joyce said. "We hope to have some big crowds, not just for one game, but for all of them. I hope that people enjoy watching Saint Ignatius basketball."
Joyce has just one message for Saint Ignatius basketball fans – come support the team.
"Hopefully our fans come out and support us. We have a really good team and we're going to play an exciting brand of basketball," Joyce said. "We're going to have a really good season – hopefully we can make a run down in Columbus. We would love to have as many fans as possible at our home games. A goal of ours is to protect home court and go undefeated at home. If we have fans at our home games, that will help us accomplish that."