Nationally ranked boys basketball ready for Gonzaga

As they enter a key stretch of the basketball season, SJC Basketball is one of the best teams in the country. The most recent MaxPreps high school basketball rankings put St. John’s at 15th nationally. Comparatively, ESPN says the 19-2 Cadets are the 23rd best team in America. But, according to  point guard Malik Mack, “rankings are just opinions.” 

Behan Strong has been one of the biggest motivators for the team so far this season. Right before the season, head coach Pat Behan was diagnosed with ALS, and not just the team, but the whole school has rallied together behind him in his fight. Mack, a McDonald’s All American nominee, said, “With Behan facing ALS, it motivates us to work harder and play like it is our last because we know we can’t take time for granted.” This is a team that cares a lot for its coach, and it shows every time they step on the floor. The Cadets understand that they have something to prove, which is reflected in their dominant wins against programs like DeMatha (14-9) and a tournament win at the Holiday Classic at Torrey Pines. 

The team is “happy with being recognized,” but they do their best to keep their expectations in check, and they “mostly try not to focus on rankings.” 

Players understand that everyone on the team will play an integral role in showing off St. John’s hoops as a powerhouse as the season continues. Mack said the upperclassmen will be extremely important because they are the ones with experience, so they will be tasked with leading the team. Freshman Devin Toatley said that the underclassmen on the team need to come off the bench and contribute  and that they always gotta bring something to the starting five.

This year’s squad features six underclassmen who provide a spark off the bench. Toatley comes to St. John’s after spending time on powerhouse AAU EYBL teams Team Takeover and Team Loaded, respectively. For him, the transition from AAU to high school has not been very difficult. He told The Sabre that the main differences have been the bigger crowds, games, and environments since coming to the WCAC. 

Poised to make a run at the WCAC title, the Cadets have faced one of the hardest schedules in high school basketball so far. This week the team will head into two key conference matchups with No. 18 Gonzaga. With the right combination of experience and youth, the St. John’s Cadets look to prove themselves as a force to be reckoned with. 

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