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913 area boys hoops notebook: Saints Classic is a barometer

St. Thomas Aquinas guard Cole Friedman looked for an opening against Bishop Miege during their game on Friday night. Aquinas will play host this week to the Saints Classic basketball tournament.
St. Thomas Aquinas guard Cole Friedman looked for an opening against Bishop Miege during their game on Friday night. Aquinas will play host this week to the Saints Classic basketball tournament. Special to The Star

In his time as the St. Thomas Aquinas High School boys basketball coach, Sean Reilly has never had quite this odd of a start to the season.

His Saints enjoyed an invigorating 6-0 record on the season despite not being full strength for any of those games between the football team’s run to the Kansas Class 5A state championship game, a mid-December flu bug and a handful of recent injuries.

It finally seemed like it may have caught up with the Saints last week when they dropped games to Gardner Edgerton and Bishop Miege. But Reilly said that is why they are glad they have a long season.

“It’s the middle of January and we still haven’t had our team at full strength yet,” Reilly said. “When you say ‘two tough losses,’ in my perspective, we’ve battled.”

Aquinas now turns its attention to the Saints Classic, which they will host this weekend. Aquinas will play Washburn Rural at 6:15 p.m. on Thursday to start the three-day tournament.

“This is always something we use as a mid-season barometer for how tired we get and who can carry momentum over three days,” Reilly said. “Then we begin to make adjustments from there.”

Hawks’ growing pains

With only one senior, this year is all about growth for the Olathe East boys basketball team.

They had a rough start, losing two of their first four games. But the Hawks bounced back to win four straight before falling to Lawrence on Friday.

“We’ve got some growing pains to go through,” Hawks coach Jim Super said. “We’re learning how to practice at a high rate, at a competitive rate and disciplining ourselves when we get down instead of reverting to one-on-one to save the team. Those are the kind of lessons we are learning and I think they’re picking up on them.”

Super said the Hawks’ biggest strength right now is their balance. They have five players averaging 10 or more points per game, with Javion Blake averaging a team-high 15.7 ppg. Josiah Talbert, Dion Union, Cameron Hunter and Cedric Roland also average in double figures.

Super also pointed to their efficiency in transition, which should help with the Hawks’ first-round matchup against undefeated Bishop Miege this week in the Saints Classic. Olathe East will tip off at 7:45 p.m. on Thursday at St. Thomas Aquinas.

Miege stays undefeated

Rick Zych had a simple answer when asked what was driving his team’s impressive turnaround this season — confidence.

That is no doubt due in part to the return of Zych, who won 308 games and two state titles in 17 years with the Stags before a two-year stint at Park Hill South.

His presence appears to have sparked the team, which finished 5-16 last season, yet improved to 7-0 with a 52-45 victory against rival St. Thomas Aquinas on Friday at home. He also pointed to the success of the girls team, which is also undefeated at 8-0.

“We are very close to the girls team and they have a great program,” Zych said. “We are just trying to build.”

Although Bishop Miege only faced one tie in the Aquinas game on Friday, it was not until the fourth quarter that they were able to pull away. The Stags finished on a 21-14 run and hit six consecutive free throws in the final minute to seal the game.

“We got up and down the floor better in the second half. That was big,” Zych said. “We did a better job of rebounding and we hit some free throws down the stretch.”

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