Inspired by football team’s playoff run, expect SJN boys to push issue on court

Austin Allison takes the ball to the basket during St. John Neumann's preseason victory against Barron Collier on Tuesday at Golden Gate High School. GREGG HARDY/CSI

BY GREGG HARDY
CSI EDITOR

Even though the season opener is right around the corner, Justin Anderson said it’s a little too early to predict how the St. John Neumann boys basketball team will fare during Year 2 of his head coaching tenure.

However, new Celtics forward Austin Allison offered up this bold prediction following SJN’s 62-52 preseason victory Tuesday over Barron Collier at Golden Gate High School:

“I’m going to go with 27-21,” said Allison, a 6-foot-4 forward who’s in his first year at St. John Neumann after moving here from Baltimore this summer.

Pretty low-scoring for a basketball game, right?

Only Allison wasn’t talking Celtics basketball. He was predicting the final score of Friday night’s Class 2A regional football title game between Neumann and defending state champ Hialeah-Champagnat Catholic. (The Celtics will host the game — set to kick off at 7:30 p.m. — in a rematch of last year’s regional quarterfinal, which Champagnat won 44-12 in Hialeah.)

PHOTO GALLERY: View images from the Cougars-Celtics game

Anderson said he and his players are “feeling momentum” from the football team’s playoff run. One of his players, 6-foot-1 sophomore Kyler Howard, is on the football team.

“Our school’s feeling it,” said Anderson, whose team opens the regular season Monday night with a home game against Community Christian Academy. “It’s an awesome thing to see football able to still be there.”

The Celtics went 5-20 in Anderson’s first season. He said one thing is for sure with this year’s squad: “We want to play fast. We want to get up and down. We really want to be a blue collar-type team — we’re the first team to the floor.”

SJN coach Justin Anderson instructs his players during a timeout in Tuesday’s preseason game against Barron Collier. GREGG HARDY/CSI

Allison figures to be a big part of that uptempo style. He showed an ability to score in different ways Tuesday: from the perimeter, driving to the basket and crashing the offensive boards for putbacks.

“Definitely, that’s what we strive on in practice is (an) uptempo game, pushing hard — mostly on defense,” Allison said.

If you spend any time around Anderson, you know he’s big on fundamentals. During the offseason, he runs basketball clinics inside the SJN gymnasium for players of all ages. At those clinics, some of his varsity players stand alongside youngsters doing basic dribbling and passing drills.

(“The summer went really well — really good feedback from the community,” Anderson said of the clinics. “It’s a good opportunity to build relationships in the community.)

As his team was doing layup drills during halftime of Tuesday’s game, Anderson took a Celtics big man and worked with him on his low-post defense. Before the half, he chided one of his guys for not jogging to the bench during a play stoppage — “We don’t walk off the court,” he told him.

“Doing the little things right. That’s really, really important for us,” said Anderson, who can be heard during his clinics urging players not to be “too cool for school.”

Some games to watch on the Celtics’ schedule include: two Class 5A-District 10 meetings with crosstown rival Community School of Naples (Dec. 3 at SJN and Jan. 22 at CSN); a Jan. 4 home date with Barron Collier; and Anderson pointed to a Dec. 13 game at Naples High School.

COUGARS ON THE HUNT

Barron Collier, like St. John Neumann, is led by a second-year coach, Adrian Dunn. The Cougars, stuck in a district with two area heavyweights — Naples and Palmetto Ridge — went 8-19 last season and missed the playoffs for the third straight year.

Dunn thinks this season could be a different story for the Cougars, who have three returning starters, including all-district guard Jayden Rolle. Naples and Palmetto Ridge both lost a lot of talent from last year’s rosters, and Dunn said the district is “wide open.”

Barron Collier coach Adrian Dunn thinks his Cougars can break through this season in Class 7A-District 12. GREGG HARDY/CSI

 

“It’s up for us to go out and just grab it,” said Dunn, who’s team starts its new season Dec. 7 at home against Estero. “We’ve got young guys (at point guard and on the wing) that I’m trying to get them to … ‘Hey, let’s just step up and play basketball. Let’s be competitive, make good decisions, and we’ll see where it falls.’ But I think we have a shot. I really do.”

The Cougars are eagerly awaiting the return of seniors Rolle and Luke Hancock, a 6-foot-3 power forward/center. Both played key roles for Barron Collier’s football team this season.

“Once we get the football guys in and get them acclimated, I think we’ll be pretty competitive,” Dunn said. “That’ll give us a lot of athleticism.”

One football player already on the floor for the Cougars is big man Elkhanan “Elky” Tanelus. Opponents are going to find a limited amount of real estate in the paint against the 6-foot-2, 295-pounder.

“He’s only been at it for about two weeks now,” Dunn said of Tanelus, “but I think he’s going to really be able to help us out once he can get a little bit more basketball IQ down because his physicality … you can’t overlook that.”