A year ago, Bishop Loughlin came agonizingly close to winning its first CHSAA Class AA intersectional title since 1992, but the Lions lost to rival Christ the King in a triple-overtime thriller in the title game at Rose Hill Gym in The Bronx.
The Royals are the preseason favorite to repeat, but Bishop Loughlin? Expectations, at least from the outside, aren’t quite as high.
“Nobody believes in us so I think that’s going to help us,” senior guard Davonte Dunham said. “We’re going to come out hard every night. We’re very dedicated. We still think we can win.”
Dunham, a 6-foot-2 guard, is the only player back from last year’s squad who saw significant minutes. Gone is McDonald’s All-American Jayvaughn Pinkston, who is now at Villanova University. Sharpshooting guard Branden Frazier is at Fordham University, Kareem Canty, another future Division I player, transferred to Bridgeton Academy in Maine and Anthony Givens (JFK) and Theo Brown (South Shore) bolted to the PSAL.
That provides an opportunity for a talented trio of freshmen guards who Bishop Loughlin coach Ed Gonzalez, partially out of necessity, called up to the varsity squad.
Leading that group is 6-foot-3 Elisha Boone. It also includes 6-foot-2 Kadeem Carrington and 6-foot-1 Devyn Wilson.
“They’re very talented, very strong,” Gonzalez said. “I wanted to make sure they continue to grow, get better and get stronger. I think in the freshmen league they would have been very dominant. I think they’re ready and can play on this level. We need some help and those are the guys I thought could assist us.”
Gonzalez considers point guard Tyliek Kimbrough, one of nine juniors on the team, a sleeper. He’s part of a solid crop of guards.
“It’s a guard-oriented league and my guards are just as talented as anybody else,” Gonzalez said. “It’s just a matter of them coming together, growing and maturing very quickly.”
Almost by default, Dunham, a dangerous perimeter threat who will miss two more weeks with a broken left foot, has become the team’s leader.
“I plan on taking a big role on this team as a senior,” Dunham said. “I’m going to be the go-to guy, but I’m going to need these guys to help me out so it’s going to be a team effort.”
Without a dominant post presence like Pinkston, Loughlin will have a different identity this season.
“We have a lot of guards and that’s going to help us because we like to run anyway,” Dunham said.
But the true identity, according to Gonzalez, will be on the defensive end of the floor.
“Our bread and butter is going to be our defense,” he said. “We’re very quick and tough defenders.”
Gonzalez said he’s not concerned about preseason rankings or even regular season games. It’s all about being ready for March and he has confidence his team will mature in time for the postseason.
For now, Gonzalez is enjoying the underdog rule. It’s just added motivation for the young Lions.
“They know no one is giving them a chance, which is a good thing,” Gonzalez said. “They like each other, they play hard and they’re young. They can only grow and get better. In this league you have to play hard and I think that’s one thing they bring to the table. If we stay within a couple of possessions in each game, I think we’ll be OK.”