Overcoming obstacles

After losing five of their six leading scorers, including four of five starters, the boys’ basketball team at Charlotte Catholic looks a lot different this season.

The Cougars went 15-10 and 5-7 in ME-GA 7 3A conference play last year, but their mediocre record wasn’t an exact indicator of their talent. Catholic boasted 6-7 senior forward Mark Pollack, who averaged 20 points per game, along with fellow seniors Ives Harkins, David Belfield, Tafon Mainsah and Michael Murry – Catholic’s top scorers who each measured in over 6-foot-1.

But after graduating the majority of their big men, Catholic is left with 6-foot point guard Robbie Anderson, the only returning starter from last season, to carry the weight of the team.

It’s a heavy task for a talented guard with an inexperienced starting lineup and not a lot of height underneath. But Anderson is setting the pace so far for the Cougars.

Anderson is averaging 20 points per game, four steals and three assists four games into the season. He tossed in 27 points and shot 83 percent from the floor in Catholic’s Dec. 6 loss to Butler.

Anderson’s talent alone hasn’t been enough to translate into wins, though. The Cougars opened their season with a win against Country Day, but dropped their next three. Even with the losses, Anderson said it shouldn’t be long before his team steps up and realizes their potential to compete in their new 4A conference, as they’ve joined the So. Meck 8 after realignment moved them up from Class 3A.

“Every single game, we’ve either had the lead or been tied for most of the game,” Anderson said. “We just keep having these mental lapses. We’ll go for two-minute stretches and then let it fall, and then have a hard time coming back from that. It’s been happening too much and I think we recognize that.”

Catholic fell to Myers Park on Nov. 20, 62-44, after watching a two-point lead at halftime slip away by 10 points in the third quarter. Despite a strong start, the Cougars never saw the lead again. Catholic proved in the first half that, despite its inexperience, they could compete alongside bigger teams. Shooting only 36 percent from the floor destroyed any chances for a win.

But inconsistent shooting can always improve. It’s the size issue that’s keeping Catholic at a disadvantage from the rest of their opponents. Without height underneath the basket, the Cougars are having to adjust to their smaller

Anderson, a third-year varsity veteran, has some help in forwards Zach Robbe and Joe Scibelli and guards Drew Fishbaugh and Josh Brodowicz. Scibelli, a sophomore, is the Cougars’ next leading scorer, averaging 13 points per game.

But even with two scorers averaging double-digit points, the physicality of the Catholic team puts them at a disadvantage, with the tallest starter measuring in at 6-3 and the rest coming in at 6-foot or shorter.

“Without the size, obviously rebounding is a huge problem,” Anderson acknowledged. “We’ve really been focusing at practice on closing out, getting box-outs, and the more fundamental aspects of defense. Last year we had a lot more guys with height and athleticism. This year, we’re smaller and a little less athletic. But because of that, we’re having to focus more on the fundamentals and playing as a cohesive unit.”

Coach Mike King has been experimenting with different lineups to try and figure out what version of that cohesive unit will perform on the court, but four games into the season, the Cougars haven’t pinned down a consistent starting five just yet.

“These past couple of games, we’ve been shifting around a lot,” Anderson said. “We’re seven or eight deep, so we’ve been doing a lot of shifting and we’ve had a different lineup every game. Right now, we’re trying to find what works for us, and we also take into consideration who the other team is starting.

“Regardless of who’s playing, we have to work on execution. We’ve seen a lot of mental mistakes and we’re having to make a conscious effort to execute and not check out.”

Despite their shortcomings, the Catholic team is focused on perfecting the fundamentals and it’s Anderson who says they’ve got enough talent to be competitive this season.

“Since we don’t necessarily have the best athletes, and we don’t have the height, our offense is designed for everyone to get shots, not just me,” he said. “If we run our offense correctly, we should be doing just fine. And I think in these upcoming games, we should start seeing better production from

“Coach King stresses the fundamentals. He stresses hustling, rebounding, running plays and the areas where we know we can improve. He’s very fundamental. Looking at our history, we’re not really historically athletic or big so we have to make up for that in other ways.”

As the conference season gets into full swing, Anderson hopes the Cougars can become conference champion contenders.

“It’s always a goal for us to win conference, go to playoffs and go as far as we can in the tournament,” he said. “We’re a good team and we’re a good group of guys so I think that’s possible, even though we’ve dropped some games.

“The biggest thing coach tells us is, ‘After every practice and every game, did you get better?’ That’s our biggest focus right now – getting better and improving on fundamentals. If we can do that, everything else will fall into place.”


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