Here it is, going on late January, and St. Petersburg Catholic boys basketball coach Mike Moran isn’t looking at the calendar. He’s not counting the days until the end of the season, wondering what he’s going to tell his team at the postseason banquet.
The past three seasons have been lean for the Barons. They were 9-14 in 2008-09, followed that with a 7-13 record and were a mediocre 13-13 last season. Through it all, Moran saw light at the end of the tunnel.
Things have started getting brighter this season. SPC is 11-5 and in a fight with Admiral Farragut and Shorecrest for Class 3A, District 9 supremacy. The five games remaining on the schedule actually have meaning.
“When you’re 8-15 at this time of the year you’re kind of looking around wondering if it’s February yet,’’ said Moran, also an assistant athletic director and teacher at the school. “There was a time when I had a chance to get out of coaching and move on, but I’m glad I didn’t. You don’t really appreciate being good until you’ve been not so good.
“We got spoiled here, and it went away in a hurry.’’
In the first seven years of Moran’s tenure, the Barons averaged 22 wins a season. They had college-caliber players like Aaron Holmes, who signed with Florida State but ended up at Tulane. They won five district titles during that era.
But that seems like a long time ago.
“It fell off fast,’’ Moran said. “It was a tough pill to swallow. But we saw they were on their way. We just had to hold on. But it wasn’t easy. Teams that you were beating for a number of years had the opportunity to lay some lumber, and they didn’t hold back. You can’t blame them.’’
It should be noted that the Barons aren’t all the way back. That point was made clear Tuesday night in an 81-66 loss to Shorecrest. But SPC has enough talented players to be dangerous.
Junior point guard Ryan Green leads the team with 24 points per game. That’s the same Ryan Green who is a highly recruited running back . Green has played since he was a freshman, but this year he’s turned up the scoring.
“He’s having a ridiculous year,’’ Moran said.
Green said he’ll do whatever to win, even if it means not scoring.
“I’m ready to put the team on my back at any time but I don’t feel like I’m the only scorer on the team,’’ Green said. “Anyone on our team can make plays. For me, it’s pass first and shoot second.’’
Junior Kevin O’Donnell is one of the players who gets lots of Green’s passes. He averages more than 16 points per game, and in five of the past six games he’s averaged more than 20. Moran also lauds the play of sophomore Reilly Gibbons and freshman Mike Fridella.
“Only had one other full-time freshman starter and that was Aaron Holmes,’’ Moran said. “I expect (Fridella) to be in that league when he’s done. His basketball IQ for a 14-year-old is out of this world.’’
The only senior on the team is Justin Varley, who gets minutes as one of the first guys off the bench. He’s been through the lean years and sees a difference in this team.
“Before we didn’t have any chemistry,’’ Varley said. “We didn’t play as a team. Now, everybody plays together and likes each other. There’s good chemistry. We’ve played all summer together so we know how to play together.’’
The Barons are at a crossroads this year. They are not a great team, but they are better than years past. And the future seems even brighter, which is why Moran isn’t going anywhere.
“We’re formidable this year and we have a chance to win the district,’’ Moran said. “But I expect to be very, very good over the next couple of years. I think our best days are ahead of us.’’
Rodney Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org