High School Sports

Unbeaten and scrappy, Catholic’s boys’ basketball team off to best start in school’s history

rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

There has never been a Charlotte Catholic boys’ basketball team like this one.

The Cougars are off to a school-best 21-0 start, ranked No. 3 in the Observer’s Sweet 16, and playing with a passion that leaves opposing coaches – and players – in frustrated appreciation.

Nine of the school’s 15 players are seniors. Many of them remember a dreadful 9-16 season in 2013-14, and the seniors are determined to make this season memorable.

“That’s the key for us,” senior Josh Brodowicz said after Tuesday’s 67-51 win against South Mecklenburg. “We have the motto of ‘Win The Day.’ We work as hard as we can, and the main thing is our team is so deep that a team may be able to stop one of us, but they can’t stop all of us.”

If Catholic has a star, Brodowicz, a 5-foot-9 point guard, is it. Berry High coach Maurice Jones marvels at how hard Brodowicz plays. Think of how fiery Steve Wojciechowski played point guard at Duke in the ’90s. All effort. Jones said Brodowicz is the high school version.

“I think Brodowicz is one of the better guards in Charlotte, if not the state,” said Jones, whose team is No. 8 in the Observer’s Sweet 16 poll but has lost twice to Catholic this season. “He’s the head of the snake and makes those guys go. And they make you earn everything, from scrapping and diving on the floor.

“They make up for their un-athleticism by going so hard to where if you’re not willing to scratch and claw and dive and do everything for any 50-50 ball, they’ll come up with it. And on top of that, they always have a body in front of you. As long and as athletic as we are, it’s tough to score. They’re extremely frustrating to play against.”

Catholic averages nine steals and 13 assists. The Cougars force turnovers and then share the ball when they have it.

On defense, they allow 51 points per game and score 66.

On offense, everyone is productive. Freshman B.J. Mack, a 6-7 freshman center, leads the team in scoring. He averages 10.8 points and 5.8 rebounds and has scholarship offers from Georgia and Virginia Tech, with interest coming from North Carolina, N.C. State, Clemson, Richmond, Xavier and Tennessee, said his father, Brian Mack.

Brodowicz averages 10.5 points, four assists, three rebounds and three steals. Seniors Justin McKinstry, Sam Smith, Jack Larkin and junior Jimmy Abate average between 7.4 and nine points per game.

“The key for us has been teamwork and working together,” Mack said. “Coach (Mike) King has been pushing us a lot to (practice) teamwork and to move the ball around and find the open player.”

That formula has been successful. Catholic can win the outright SoMeck 8 Conference title by beating West Mecklenburg at home Friday night. Beyond that, the Cougars will hunt a fourth N.C. Western Regional appearance and a first since 2009 when the playoffs begin in three weeks. Catholic is 0-3 in regional play and has never played for a state championship.

Of course, that could change over the next few weeks.

“We’re fortunate to have a lot of guys who just come in and focus on that day and focus on the task in front of them,” King said. “What’s behind us is behind us. You’ve just got to focus on taking care of the task at hand.

“These seniors know how to do that. Four of these seniors won nine games as sophomores. It’s good for them to have some success and accomplish this together. We’re experienced and we’re having a good time. It’s fun.”

Correspondent Tim Donelli contributed. Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr

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