BY JEFF FALK
ASSUMPTION HILL – Close your eyes and open your mind.
Now picture the 2012-13 version of the Lebanon Catholic boys’ basketball team celebrating its District Three Class A championship. The whole team standing at mid-court of Hershey’s Giant Center moments after edging Greenwood in the final game.
Ear-to-hear smiles all around. Everybody hold up their symbolic ‘number one’ index finger. Each and every player touching the district championship trophy.
Now remove the skinny red-headed kid standing in the middle from the frame. What have you got? Not really all that hard to imagine, is it?
Very few are the programs which can lose a player the caliber of a Timmy Orr and still realistically fantasize about another district title. But as the 2013-14 season gets ready to tip, Lebanon Catholic finds itself in just such a unique position.
The Beavers have lost their top player, go-to-guy, emotional leader and 1,000-point scorer, and all they can do is look ahead. Being deep, versatile, experienced and talented is a great way to erase one’s memory.
“From our end, it’s a positive,” said Lebanon Catholic head coach Scott Clentimack of the Beavers’ fourth district title overall. “Where it could be a negative is if the kids became complacent. That’s my biggest fear. Number one is: ‘How are we going to replace Timmy?’ and the second is: ‘Are we going to become complacent?’ Last year we expended a lot of emotional energy. I think this group can do it. The motivation is that only one boys’ team in Lebanon County has won back-to-back district championships. That’s us. And this team can be the second.
“What was special about last year wasn’t necessarily the destination, but the journey,” added Clentimack. “It was a culmination of three years. We took some lumps early, but we just kept work and working. That’s what I remember most. To talk about doing something was one thing, but it actually playing out was phenomenal. It was pretty cool.”
But if the Beavers are to realize their gratification, they’ll have to wait. Before the District Three Class A postseason, there is the matter of competition in Section Four of the Lancaster-Lebanon League, where Catholic is the smallest entry.
Last season, the Beavers compiled an overall mark of 18-8, a record which included a loss in the opening round of the PIAA Class A tournament.
“We show up every game expecting to win,” said Clentimack. “I think we are competitive in the section, but our feelings aren’t hurt if we don’t go the league playoffs. It’s like icing on the cake. It’s (the league playoffs) not something the kids even talk about.
“We’re never going to go undefeated,” Clentimack added. “We’re never going to win the whole league. We try to peak. We try not to expend everything we have on the second last week of the season. We’re trying to play our best basketball at the end of the season.”
The Beavers boast six returning players who saw significant action in mostly supporting roles last season.
The most notable are 6-2 senior forward Anthony Pletz, 6-0 senior forward Alex Frattatroli and 5-10 senior guard Anthony Thomas. Pletz is a deadly marksmen who is looking to expand his game to inside the arc, Frattaroli is a player who really blossomed last season after being moved from guard to the paint and Thomas has a deadly first-step and an uncanny knack for finishing around the bucket.
Senior point guard Jaylan Colon is a top-notch, shut-down defender and ball handler, senior guard Drew Gates provides a steadying influence with his heady decision-making and 6-1 junior forward John Groh has yet to realize his up-side inside.
“We’ve been able to get into the basketball aspect of it quickly,” said Clentimack of his team’s experience. “We got into the basketball stuff early. I’m going to roll out the basketball and let them go. We’re not going to go over the press-break stuff. We’re going to go right into the press, because they already know it.
“They’ve been working really, really hard,” continued Clentimack. “I haven’t seen a let down. There’s always challenges out there. But now we’re not sneaking up on anyone. We’re the defending district champs. We’ve adopted the motto, ‘Play angry’. We’re going to have a chip on our shoulder. We did some things in the off-season to give ourselves a little edge. And the kids bought into it.”
After a year away from the program, the Beavers have welcomed back 6-4 senior forward – and baseball pitcher – Matt Kern. Iain Moyer, a 6-0 senior forward, makes Catholic agile, flexible and versatile.
“I like this team’s chemistry,” said Clentimack. “I like their make-up. There’s no jealousy. They’re all on the same page. We don’t gear stuff towards a particular individual. Obviously the more skilled guys are going to thrive more. With that in mind, they (his players) have to understand who the better players are. But everybody understands their roles. They all understand their strengths. They all understand their weaknesses.
“We don’t change a whole lot,” Clentimack continued. “My biggest thing with Timmy (Orr), I think multiple guys will be able to replace his statistics, but the question is: ‘Can we replace his leadership?’ But we’re going to continue to do what we do.”
The Beavers will begin their quest on the road, Friday, December 6 at Mount Calvary.
“I would like to see us be a little more physical,” said Clentimack. “Not dirty, just more physical. We can improve in every area. But this group is pretty well rounded and pretty good in most aspects of the game.
“We expect to win the district championship again,” concluded Clentimack. “We think we should be the favorite. We’d like to make a run at a state title. We feel like we’ll be a little better prepared for the Philly charter schools this time. But those are our two main goals.”