Photo by Jeff Vorva
Brother Rice coach Bobby Frasor won the Catholic League title Friday night against Leo. He also won the crown as a player 12 years ago.
Brother Rice coach Bobby Frasor was a senior on the Crusaders’ 2005 team, their last — until Friday night — to win a Catholic League South title.
Josh Niego, this year’s leading scorer and rebounder, was asked what he knew about that squad.
“I know they shared it,” he said.
Consider that the closest thing to smack talk in the aftermath of Brother Rice’s 55-45 win over Leo, with which the Crusaders (20-3) closed out a perfect 7-0 league season.
Except that it wasn’t smack at all. It was Niego, who went over 1,000 points for his career in a 60-45 win Tuesday over St. Laurence, relaying yet another lesson taught by his coaches.
“It still bothers coach today,” he said. “Winning outright was huge for the whole program.”
Wearing the net he’d helped cut down minutes earlier around his neck, Niego said he was happiest for “everybody. … It’s the guys, the Brother Rice community, our relationship with the coaches — it’s all about the coaching. They make us look good by putting us in the right places, and we make them look good by making shots.”
In the win over Leo (17-6, 5-2), they did so, especially, early, and especially when Mike Shepski was shooting.
Shepski, Brother Rice’s all-time leading 3-point shooter, went 4-for-4 from outside the arc in the first half, as the Crusaders stormed to a 32-19 lead. His sixth trey on the night — and 210th on his career — gave Rice a 48-28 lead at the outset of the fourth quarter.
But Shepski, who finished with a game-high 24 points, wasn’t the only Crusaders sharpshooter. Jack O’Connor was 3-of-6 from 3-point range on his way to 11 points and Niego and Brendan Coghlan each added a trey as Rice finished 9-of-15 (.600) from long distance.
Overall, the Crusaders were 19-of-35 (.543) from the field for the game.
Leo, which prefers a deliberate style and working the ball inside, wasn’t given many of those looks from a packed-in Rice defense. The Lions went 3-of-11 from 3-point range and were led by Aamir Holmes’ 12 points.
“Leo’s a good team,” Shepski said. “We knew we had to work the ball around every possession and get good shots. We did, and we’ve got so many good shooters.”
After Leo opened the contest with a bucket for its only lead of the game and Rice answered with a Josh Boulanger put-back, Shepski hit his first trey from the top of the key to put the Crusaders in the lead for good. He closed the quarter with another from the same spot.
“That’s a big thing for confidence and rhythm,” he said, “getting the first couple to go down.”
Not that Shepski ever lacks for confidence.
“He’s so explosive with the ball in his hands,” Frasor said. “We don’t really draw up plays for him. We live with a lot of his shots we wouldn’t let anybody else on the team take — I’m fine with that.”
Too, Frasor will live with making room for another championship banner in the Rice rafters beside that of his ’05 squad’s.
“This is better — this is so much fun,” Frasor said when asked to rank cutting down the nets as a player or watching his charges do so as a coach. “It’s fun seeing other guys have success. I want everyone in our program to enjoy helping others succeed.”
From his playing days at North Carolina, Frasor took a motto from Tar Heels coach Roy Williams.
“‘It’s amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit,’” Frasor said. “That’s what we believe, and that’s the way these guys play.”