Do a bit of research on the basketball program at St. Michael’s College School in Toronto and a few numbers hop off the page.
Forty-nine, as in the number of games the Blue Raiders played last season. And 19, the number the team has played this season.
And 36, as in the number of 3-pointers attempted in a recent contest.
And so a couple presumptions can be made heading into the Mirabito STOP-DWI Holiday Classic: a) St. Michael’s will be the most seasoned team in the event, and, b) Opposing defenses had better prepare to contest attempts from the perimeter.
The tournament’s second entrant from the province of Ontario, St. Michael’s was founded in 1852 by the Basilian Fathers, and is Ontario’s only independent Catholic school for young men. The basketball program is under zero restrictions regarding a ceiling on games scheduled. This season’s 18-1 record comes despite a recent break for exams.
The Blue Raiders played in six tournaments last year, among them the Great Florida Shootout in Kissimmee, Fla., where they went 2-1.
“Our team over the last couple years has started to get really, really good in Canada. I think we were looking at a new challenge, getting an opportunity to play some American teams,” coach Jeff Zownir said. “We knew that if we were going to go to the States, we’d have to have a team that could compete.”
The present group, headed by the junior backcourt tandem of Godwin Boahen and Nelson Kaputo, is one Zownir believes can be competitive. As for the level of competition regularly faced on the home front relative to what he expects to see in Binghamton, Zownir said:
“I think the upper-echelon teams around Toronto can play with most American teams. Some of the best teams that we play (at home), I would think would be comparable to a number of the American teams that we’ll see at the tournament.
“I think the one big difference that I expect is generally the size of players that we’ll see at the tournament. Christ The King (Saturday’s opening opponent) has a 6-foot-10 player. I think that’s one thing that will be new to our guys.”
Those who fancy a wide-open, let-it-fly approach to offense might pencil in a look at the Blue Raiders, an assortment of whom enjoy green-light encouragement from beyond the arc.
“We push the ball and we shoot a lot of three’s, we spread the floor,” Zownir said. “We shoot a pretty good percentage. It’s a pretty exciting style and if we’re on that day we can hit a lot of three-point shots. It may be surprising for a lot of people who maybe have not seen that style.”
It is a style with which the coach is intimately familiar. While attending McMaster University in Hamilton — which he captained to a national title-game appearance — Zownir grabbed a share of the Canadian record by converting nine 3-pointers in a game.
“It’s an invaluable weapon,” he said. “We emphasize the three-point shot day-in and day-out, and we have kids who can shoot it, and I think we’ve come to understand the style of basketball we want. We’ve had a lot of success with it over the last couple of years. Some people, particularly people of the older generation, will look at us and think ‘You’re crazy shooting that man three-point shots.’ But we have a lot of success with it because we practice that, we work on that, we prepare for it.
“As a coach, if you have a style you want to play and your kids believe in that style and they’re prepared for it and you’ve got kids who can shoot the ball … It can really be damaging to other teams, especially when we get on a roll.”
Along with the Boahen-Kaputo backcourt, St. Michael’s starting five includes Kaion Julien-Grant, a 6-2 forward who tends to the grunt work; Parker Joyce, an multi-faceted 6-3 junior; and Danilo Djuricic, a 6-6 freshman considered among the top Canadian prospects for his age group.
“A really smart player,” Zownir said of his big youngster, who has logged a 28-point, eight-rebound game this season. “When you look at him you won’t believe he’s in Grade 9 and he’s 14 years old.”
The road for St. Michael’s in the Holiday Classic figures to be challenging. Following the opener against three-time tournament champion Christ The King comes either Math, Civics & Science of Philadelphia or New Rochelle. All of which is fine with Zownir.
“The most important things for us when we come back are our league and provincial championships,” he said. “So I think the goal is to play really good competition, which I expect, and for us to get better coming out of it.”