St. Anthony boys’ basketball coach Alan Mitchell is a competitor, so it took him some time to put last year’s season into context. The Saints finished 15-13 and 4-4 in the Del Rey League, one of the top leagues in the state. But they did that with a young and inexperienced roster that arrived ahead of schedule.
“When you look at it in the heat of the season, you feel like you’re underperforming,” said Mitchell. “But when it had concluded you look back at the whole year–we were so young, we honestly had no business winning 15 games. We played three teams that ended up winning championships. We were definitely ahead of schedule. A .500 year for that group? We overachieved.”
This year the Saints return several key players from last year’s young roster, which has sophomore guard JoJo Wicker fired up.
“We look really good, we look ready for the season,” he said. “We have a lot more experience this year, we’re gonna be in a good spot.”
Wicker is one of a trio of everyday starters for the Saints, a playmaking young guard with a very bright future. Joining him are senior Quincy Phillips and junior forward Aman Haynes, the two other most critical pieces to the Saints’ attack. Phillips is an efficient scorer who dropped 30 points on Long Beach Poly in the Saints’ opener, while Haynes provides some much-needed frontcourt toughness on a team that boasts a lot of guards.
“The other positions are extremely interchangeable,” said Mitchell. “We can change them based on our opponent, our day to day how they’re playing.”
Amaan Zavahir is a 6-4 senior who played a lot last year and will spent a lot of time on the court for the Saints this season as well.Darius Williams will be in the mix as a point guard, and Jared Lloyd Jr., Donovan Pitts and Justin Blair will also see significant floor time.
“Those last spots we can either add more shooting or more size depending on the matchup,” said Mitchell. “I’m grateful to have the depth and flexibility. There’s no reason not to be successful. These guys all bring something different to the table, they give us a lot of excitement and vision.”
Wicker and Mitchell agree–while the Saints feature some real offensive flamethrowers on their roster, the identity of the team will be on the other side of the court.
“I think our grit is our biggest strength,” said Wicker. “We all play hard defensively. And a lot of our offense will come from our defense as a result.”
Mitchell has been pleased by the way his team has stepped up into new roles.
“I think the demand of our culture is a standard that we feel we can be successful anywhere,” said Mitchell. “Those young guys bought in last year. They had to get extremely uncomfortable for us to have success. They had to get used to winning. They accepted the challenge and we went on a nice little run last year.”
Mitchell makes no bones about his goals–he wants a league championship for his Saints, even in a powerhouse Del Rey League that features Bishop Montgomery, St. Bernard, Serra, and others.
“We’ve been preaching since we started working out in August, a league championship is attainable,” he said. “As tough as our league is, it’s attainable. I wholeheartedly feel like with what we have in our locker room and our depth we should have a league championship as our goal.”