Five years ago, Super 25 No. 14 Chaminade (St. Louis) had one of the top players in the country in Bradley Beal. As a senior with the Red Devils, the future Washington Wizards guard averaged 32.4 points a game. Chaminade steamrolled through its usual schedule, winning its first 27 games until its season ended with a 57-56 state Class 5 quarterfinal upset loss to McCluer North (Florrisant).
Flash forward five years. Chaminade again has one of the top players in the country in Jayson Tatum, but this time, in addition to their usual league schedule, the Red Devils have taken on more Super 25 teams than anyone else in the country.
On Monday, Chaminade will play No. 8 DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.), the eighth team on the Red Devils’ schedule that is in the Super 25 or has spent time there this season. The Red Devils are 13-3, including a 4-3 record against Super 25 foes.
Coach Frank Bennett, who was an assistant on the 2010-11 team, said he feels his team will be better prepared in the state playoffs because of its schedule.
“It’s very valuable to play teams that make you pay with every little mistake you do,” Bennett said. “If we don’t make adjustments or learn from our mistakes, we’re not getting better, so that’s how we need to be an example for our postseason run.”
Tatum is a big reason for Chaminade’s monster schedule. Considered the No. 2 player in the 2016 class by ESPN, the Duke signee is a draw that has brought tournament invites and counting Monday’s game with DeMatha, two TV appearances on ESPN networks. The senior forward is averaging 29.9 points and 8.8 rebounds a game.
But Chaminade is far from a one-man team. The Red Devils also have a top 100 player in Missouri signee Tyler Cook, a talented sophomore forward in Jericole Hellems and a solid center in Pitt commit Will Gladson.
“With this squad, we’re fortunate to have a lot of guys who are really good and with that, come a lot of opportunities like this and I’ll take every single one of them,” Bennett said. “At the end of the day, it’s important we play Chaminade basketball. That’s taking high-percentage shots, defensively believing in each other and staying connected. When we do that, we’re very good. Obviously our opposition is very good.”
Chaminade’s schedule is unmatched so far by even the superpowers of high school basketball: Oak Hill (Mouth of Wilson, Va.); Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.); and Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.). Oak Hill has played three Super 25 teams. Findlay Prep will play its first this weekend. Montverde will play its sixth and seventh Super 25 opponent this weekend.
“Chaminade has played a good schedule,” Montverde coach Kevin Boyle said. “That’s one of the things we take great pride in. If you look at our last 80 games, half have been teams that were ranked in the top 25 or at least regionally ranked. Most years, nobody is close to us as far as difficulty of schedule.”
The tested by fire method has paid off for other teams. In 2014, Whitney Young (Chicago), led by Jahlil Okafor, broke through for its first state title in five years after playing a tough out-of-state schedule. Last season, Callaway (Jackson, Miss.), led by Malik Newman, survived a tough slate to win the 5A state title.
But that method doesn’t always work.
Beal’s backcourt mate in Washington, John Wall, played on a highly touted Word of God (Raleigh, N.C.) team in 2008-2009. The squad included C.J. Leslie, and played a schedule that included games with out-of-state powers St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.), Arlington Country Day (Jacksonville), American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.), Westchester (Los Angeles) and White State (Memphis). The Rams went 17-11 and perhaps worn out, were upset 56-53 in the 1A state independent schools state championship game by United Faith (Charlotte).
Bennett said he isn’t worried about his team fading down the stretch.
“We have a locker room full of guys who play against all the national competition in the summer and they’ll play two or three games a day,” Bennett said. “Our schedule is a slower pace for them.”
Tatum, in his blog, said winning state is the only thing that matters.
“Honestly, the only thing on my mind is winning states,” he said. “I’m not accepting not winning the state title. Anything short of that will be a failure.”