Poca's Noah Frampton shoots between Catholic defenders Zach Casto (left) and Andy Hoyer.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston Catholic is slowly finding out how the other half lives, and right now is trying to make sense of everything.
In past years under coach Bill McClanahan, the Irish have able to take players with (to put it delicately) limited skill, yet produce unlimited success.
Remember the 2007-08 team that didn't have a single player averaging even 9 points per game, yet wound up winning 19 times and playing for the Class A title?
How about last year's win-with-defense squad, which considered it a personal insult any time the other team scored a basket? That Irish team won a championship by allowing an average of just 40.3 points and never gave up more than 57 in a single game.
Well, Catholic's roster has gotten stronger and perhaps now is even more individually skilled than its 2006-07 title team that featured first-team all-staters Bo King and Joe Sassler.
Nick George, a 6-foot-4 junior who was selected to the all-state second team last year, has developed into a college prospect and a go-to scorer in the low post who should reach 1,000 career points this season.
Before transferring to Catholic last year, senior guard David Godwin averaged 10.5 points as a sophomore at Ravenswood, a major player in Class AA during the past decade.
Junior guard Garret McCarty, meanwhile, has improved greatly since last year and currently leads the team in scoring at 17 points per game.
All of which has McClanahan scratching his head at times this season. All the talent the Irish possess has translated into a 2-1 start with, according to McClanahan, a lot of hiccups, including Friday's 45-41 loss at Poca.
"My concern is that our effort and our consistency is a real problem right now,'' he said, "and that's never been an issue we've had to deal with in the past. I think on our teams in past years we've had here, they may have lacked some basketball skills. Well, this team has basketball skills, but I'm not sure they have the focus and the energy and the intensity - and that's a bit unusual for us.
"It's been a pattern so far. We started out the same at Parkersburg Catholic as we did [at Poca]. We played a beautiful first quarter and in the second and third quarters, we just relaxed and turned the switch off and had to find it again in the fourth quarter. We were fortunate at Parkersburg Catholic, but [at Poca], we weren't.''
The Dots went on a 15-0 run to close the second quarter Friday night and never let the Irish regain the lead. Catholic went nearly eight minutes without a point and finished with 16 turnovers.
"We've got to grow from this,'' McClanahan said. "We've got to learn from this and we have to understand that we are chasing something, and if we want to be playing well in March, we have to start playing well now and take little steps. They're not big steps. It's a distance run and not a sprint, but you have to get better with each stride and we're not quite where we need to be yet.
"Sixteen turnovers is double what we expect to have in a game. It comes back to our focus and our execution. We don't want to put teams on the bonus unless we're behind and we have to foul, but we're fouling sometimes needlessly and that's a lack of positioning and a lack of effort to get in position. On the offensive end, we'll go good for a few minutes, then we'll stand around for a few minutes. We need to grow up and understand what we're doing and the level we're capable of playing at, and we need to go chase it. We've got a spark, but we need to set a fire.''
Align in the sand
When the SSAC realigned its sectional and regional order in Class AAA in the offseason, perhaps the biggest change was putting South Charleston into Region 3.
No longer are the Black Eagles battling Region 4 teams like Huntington, Logan and Winfield for a spot in the state tournament. Now it's the likes of George Washington and Capital (in SC's own Section 1) and Woodrow Wilson (in Section 2).
With SC again expected to floor a strong squad, it certainly changes the dynamic with regard to getting into the state tournament - for both the Black Eagles and their new regional neighbors.
SC coach Vic Herbert, whose team should be highly ranked when the first regular-season poll comes out early next month, disputes the fact the Black Eagles will have a relatively-easy path to the state tournament owing to the rebuilding currently going on at GW and Capital.
"People may say that,'' Herbert said, "but I believe the opposite. You've got crafty, veteran coaches like [Rick] Greene at GW and [Carl] Clark at Capital. They'll make sure they're not too down. Those guys are as sharp as tacks.
"I listen to all that crap they're saying - 'Capital's down, GW's only got [Luke] Eddy.' But those guys have been through it, they've been through the wars. They know how to win ballgames.''
SC opened its season Saturday with a long road trip to improving Princeton and came away with a 59-57 victory after holding an 11-point lead with about 31/2 minutes left.
"Princeton's pretty good,'' Herbert said. "They're going to win a lot of ballgames. It was a tough road opener - they were laying in wait. They were ready. Coach [Ernie] Gilliard's done a super job with them.
"I told our kids we were lucky to get out of there with a win. I knew that for two weeks, and I was telling them they'd better be ready. We met their intensity and for other than that two-minute stretch at the end, we did pretty well with it.
"We are deep - we went 11 guys into the bench in critical minutes, but we haven't meshed together yet like we need to. We were [opening] really late - 28 practices before we finally played, so it was a real test for us.''
Expectations are fairly high for SC, which returns seven of its top nine players from a team that won 21 games last year, but Herbert prefers to temper that enthusiasm for the time being.
"At this point, these guys have potential and I think we could be a pretty good team,'' Herbert said, "but we're average right now. We're not special right now. Mediocre, average. But we have a chance to improve and get better. A lot of improvement to do.
"We'd better [improve]. We've got a tough schedule - Kentucky Christian, which has some transfers from Huntington Prep who weren't able to play there, Madison Central, Ky., Woodrow, Capital and Wheeling Park's tough.
"The best is ahead of our guys. Who wants to start at the top? Because you've got nowhere to go.''
Herbert, who is sitting at 199 career coaching victories, could reach 200 Wednesday night against GW at the Civic Center.
Dot's the way
Despite an undersized lineup and the loss of its top two scorers from last season, Poca has won three of its first four games and opened a few eyes around the Kanawha Valley.
If the Dots are to navigate a difficult Cardinal Conference schedule, they'll need to bring the same intensity every night that they showed in Friday's win against Charleston Catholic and in their opening win against Class AAA Nitro.
"We've got eight kids who can play,'' said Allen Osborne, in his 35th year of coaching at Poca, "and they play hard. We're not big in body, but we've got big hearts and they want to win. They work hard every day.
"I'm really proud of the things we've done so far, but we've got a long way to go. Our league's tough and we're going to be outsized every game we play. We've just got to play and play through that.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.