An 8-8 record might not seem too impressive, but for Holy Redeemer it’s a step toward respectability.
When the school was formed for the 2007-08 school year, it brought together two storied programs — Bishop Hoban and Bishop O’Reilly — and Seton Catholic, another that produced solid players. Those first four seasons were terrific. The Royals were 88-23 in that span. They won a District 2 Class 3A title and were runners-up twice.
But after finishing 24-5 and winning the district crown in 2010-11, Redeemer began to slip. It fell to 10-13 in 2011-12 and 10-14 last season. Last season was particularly tough. Coach Mark Belenski, who won two Class A state titles while at Bishop O’Reilly, had to deal with the unexpected passing of his wife about a month before the season.
Belenski resigned quietly shortly after last season and his longtime assistant, Paul Guido, took over.
“I told all the guys … the Xs and Os and the basketball part I’m cool with, I’m OK with that part,” Guido said. “Some of the off-the-court stuff — time management and the budgeting of the money — have been a little more difficult than I expected. But I’m doing OK with it. We’re having fun.”
Fun was hard to come by early. The Royals played a grueling preseason schedule, resulting in a 2-6 start with four games lost by 24 points or more. Since then, they have won six of eight. Through 16 games the past two seasons, Redeemer was 7-9 and 5-11.
Guido started coaching as an assistant at O’Reilly in 2000-01. When Belenski was hired the following season, he stayed on as an assistant there and when the Catholic school merge. While the two are good friends, Guido wanted to put his own touch on the Redeemer program.
“A lot of it is the morale of the kids,” Guido said. “They’re starting to understand some of the changes that we made and are buying into what we’re trying to teach them about different defenses and working better on offense. Another big change from the beginning of the year is we’re taking better care of the basketball.”
This Redeemer group doesn’t have the benefit of a star player. There’s no Owen Wignot, who went on to a successful career at Siena. There’s no Pete Alexis, who received a scholarship to Penn State and is currently starring at Philadelphia University.
The Royals, though, are a scrappy bunch. They have six regular-season games left and are favored in at least three of them. But they’ve demonstrated recently those opponents in those three underdog situations need to be cautious.
And with a few breaks, Redeemer could finish over .500 for the first time since 2010-11.
400 and counting
GAR coach Paul Brown recorded his 400th coaching victory Wednesday in the Grenadiers’ 69-46 victory over Holy Redeemer. He added No. 401 two days later in a 65-19 rout of Northwest.
Brown coached six seasons at Dallas before taking over at his alma mater for the 1996-97 season. He replaced John Hopkins, who was 503-148 as GAR’s coach from 1973-96.
Doing his part
Much of Hazleton Area’s success could be traced to guard Sal Biasi and rightfully so. He’s a scoring machine. But one player who has really come on is senior Jon Fogarty, a first-year starter.
Fogarty played a big part in the 60-57 win over Crestwood that gave the Cougars sole possession of first place in Division I. Although he had just nine points, he helped establish the inside offense early. He later hit a big three-point shot.
“You talk about a kid who has done unbelievably because he works so hard to get to this point,” Hazleton Area coach Mike Joseph said. “He reminds me of J.J. Reimiller from my first year. J.J. was a jayvee player his junior year and all he wanted to do was play varsity basketball and play on a championship.
“That kid (Fogarty) at 5-10 is leading us in rebounding. He’s fearless going to the basket against anybody.”
No so fast
Hazleton Area (13-2) is the only team over .500 in the six-team District 2-4 Class 4A standings. While the Cougars are the favorites to win the title, don’t overlook Williamsport (6-7).
Williamsport fell 61-53 to Hazleton Area last week, with the Cougars opening the third quarter with a little burst that was the difference. Williamsport, though, has the only Division I recruit in the bracket in Isaiah Washington, who will play at Penn State next season.
Hanover Area looks like it has a good one coming through the rankings in freshman Brandon Chafin. He entered last Friday’s game with Holy Redeemer and immediately brought up the intensity, something not often seen from a ninth grader.
“He’s doing some tremendous things for us right now,” Hanover Area coach Steve Harnischfeger said.
Meyers won its 62nd consecutive WVC regular-season game Wednesday by defeating Lake-Lehman 61-59. The Mohawks extended the streak to 63 by defeating MMI Prep 70-46 later in the week.
The two-point victory was the closest Meyers has come to losing during the run. Only eight times, including the Lehman game, the margin of victory was single digits. Four of those game were wins against GAR, which is the last team to defeat the Mohawks during the regular season. The Grenadiers won 53-46 during the 2008-09 campaign.
GAR guard James Holmes was terrific from behind the arc last week, sinking 10 three-pointers in two games. He had eight three-pointers in the first five WVC games.
Fox Sports Radio The Game will have local basketball every night this week at 1340 AM and 100.7 FM. The schedule includes three boys games: Hazleton Area at Pittston Area on Tuesday; Old Forge at Riverside on Thursday; and Meyers at Holy Redeemer on Friday.