Some may find it hard to believe, but the No. 1 critic of the Chaminade Red Devils basketball team is none other than head coach Frank Bennett.
“For me, I’m their harshest critic,” Bennett said. “I don’t care what anybody else says.”
If anyone thought they should be winning games because they had the best player in the country in Jayson Tatum along with other Division 1 recruits like Mike Lewis II, Tyler Cook, and Will Gladson then Bennett would say you’re right, but not exactly because of their status. Now they’re all onto college and coach Bennett will restart with a new group of hungry, talented players to defend their state championship.
“Not as much pressure is correct to some regard. That’s what makes it exciting for me because I really do know that they believe they can beat anybody. Now it’s about the starting foundation and just stacking those building blocks one piece at a time.”
The Red Devils, with all the pressure in the world, won the MSHSAA Class 5 state championship led by Jayson Tatum, who is currently waiting in the wings to start at Duke University. More importantly, Chaminade will have to replace a four-year starter, who won just about every award a high school basketball player could achieve.
“It’s gratifying, but in the same respect for the guys that we have now, it’s time to turn the page and focus on the next group. “We don’t have the luxury of relying on the No. 1 player in the country. We have to do it as a unit, and that’s what’s beautiful about the journey. I know the guys are ready for it.”
Entering his fourth season at the helm of the Red Devils, Bennett, a Chaminade graduate is starting to become an established ball coach at his alma mater. The better news is that the Red Devils will have plenty of essential pieces that know the Chaminade way.
“Right now we’re fortunate to have a ton of guys that are very talented and want to get better. What a lot of people don’t know is that we had three sophomores on varsity, two juniors, and a few guys off of the JV squad that will come in and play a lot. At times we won’t have 6’9”, 6’9”, 6’10” back there but we’ll have lineups that will be pretty tall, athletic, and skilled. There will be times we can put five guys that can all shoot, attack off the bounce, and defend, which no exaggeration.”
Perhaps the most notable returning face is Jericole Hellems. The six-foot-seven-inch junior was the sixth man off the bench the last two seasons, and now he’ll be a go-to guy among the starting five. He averaged 5 points per game and scored 179 points last season. However, he had a successful summer starting for the St. Louis Eagles U17 team instead of their U16 squad.
“He’s a two-year varsity contributor and a major one at that. He brings a level experience, toughness and he’s fearless of who he goes up against. He was going up against Jayson Tatum for the past two years.”
You could argue that Hellems would be a three-year starter for any other school in St. Louis, but that’s a privilege he had to sacrifice playing under Tatum and company. However, it could’ve been the best thing that’s ever happened to him and will be ready more than ever to show what he’s capable of.
“At times we won’t have 6’9”, 6’9”, 6’10” back there but we’ll have lineups that will be pretty tall, athletic, and skilled. There will be times we can put five guys that can all shoot, attack off the bounce, and defend, which no exaggeration.”
The lone returning starter is Reggie Crawford, and he’s the only player that has been through the rough and glorious times through Bennett’s tenure as head coach. Crawford averaged five points per game and scored 184 points last season. His skills go beyond the court according to Bennett.
“He’s arguably the toughest person I’ll ever coach. On top of that, he’s one of the biggest winners here at Chaminade.”
Crawford has scholarship offers for both football and basketball, and it's unclear which sport he intends to follow onto college.
Another key player is a six-foot-five-inch junior forward Karrington Davis. He had an explosive AAU season with the St. Louis Eagles and had gotten offered by Kansas State and Saint Louis University. Expect to see his stock rise as he’ll be playing much more often.
“Karrington Davis is another guy that’s been on varsity and has a ton of success this summer. He’s got a lot of attention to his name to his credit.”
Jadis White is going the be the next point guard and is certainly qualified to take the reigns. The six-foot-one-inch junior is another player that saw a bit of playing time but will take on a much bigger role this season.
“He played spot minutes for us and in practice he guarded Mikey Lewis every single day. He soaked up the culture and knows what we’re about.”
Another player that didn’t see the floor a whole lot, but will be a mainstay in the starting five is Marin Vrucinic. The six-foot-six-inch Croatian can do a bit of everything on the court and even drained 50% (22-44) of his three-point shots last season.
“Marin’s another kid that we had last year that played a lot in some games. He’ll be leaned on heavily to use his IQ, savviness, shooting and playmaking ability for us. We’re looking forward to showing people who he is.”
Just when you thought Chaminade won’t be as tall, they still will have plenty of height. Liam Courtney completes it at six-foot-ten-inches tall. He is a junior transfer from Canada, who Bennett calls, “semi-athletic,” but is still high on him.
“He’s very skilled. When you talk about sliding left-to-right, he can guard a lot of people, and his IQ is very high. He’s a type of kid you want to coach, and he’s an even better person. He’ll fit in perfectly.”
The Red Devils will be right in contention with the best teams in St. Louis and state. Surprise surprise. They will have a different mentality and won’t have the same amount of pressure unlike the last three seasons roughly.
“They’re competing hard, and the guys want to learn out there. That’s all a coach can ask for on day 1,” Bennett said. “We can’t afford to have days off.”
The legendary class of 2016 is gone, but they will pass the baton and Bennett hopes the future teams will share the same chemistry they had.
“They were just so close. They did love each other on and off the court all the time and did everything together. Their bond on the court was really strong and with those guys graduating and these guys coming in, we have that same bond early on.”