|The Blue Streaks will need to rebound from a disappointing start to send their coach out on a high note.
PHoto by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com
With 10 letterwinners and three starters back from a squad that reached the second round of the NCAA tournament and finished 26-4, expectations are high at John Carroll.
The Blue Streaks have some extra inspiration this year – head coach Mike Moran announced that his 25th season leading the program is his last.
"In our first meeting, he told us about it. For the past couple years, there were rumors it might happen," John Carroll senior David Linane said. "It is special, especially for the seniors, since we are his last class. It really motivates us to make sure he goes out on top."
Last year, John Carroll rode a 21-game winning streak to start the season. It's not the same story this year as the team opened with losses to Mount St. Joseph (101-82) and Hanover (90-89). The team picked up its first win with a 107-82 win over La Roche.
"It'll be a process. We have a lot of new guys with great potential," Linane said. "We're just trying to get a few things nailed down. We should be fine. It's all part of the process."
Linane, a point guard, is a two-time all-OAC pick. He surpassed the 1,000-point plateau in scoring for his career and is on the verge of taking over the program's all-time assists mark. Junior forward John Cirillo is averaging 16.7 points per game, while junior guard Antonio Vuyancih is averaging 11.3 ppg. Senior forwards Doug Caputo and Simon Kucharewicz were all-OAC picks last year.
"They're good kids," Moran said. "Most of the kids we have back have not just one year of experience, they have a couple years of experience. Guys like Linane, Simon and Caputo – you can go right down the line there. They have been playing for a couple years together."
The experience and talent put John Carroll at the top of the OAC preseason poll with Marietta. The Blue Streaks hope to defend their OAC tourney championship.
"Because these kids have played together for a couple years, the confidence level is up. They react more comfortably to things. They feel pretty comfortable with the coaches," Moran said. "I think they know when we're trying to push them or compliment them. It was probably easier this preseason just getting prepared for the year. We weren't trying to reinvent the wheel or anything like that."
Moran, who entered the year with 442 wins at John Carroll, had a successful high school coaching career in the Cleveland area before he took over the Blue Streaks in 1992. He's watched the game – and preparation – evolve.
"It's my last rodeo in basketball. It's just time. I started right out of college," he said. "The biggest thing, it's much more demanding now. Years ago, you maybe got your hands on two films of an opponent. Now, you have 25 films. You go blind watching those things in order to get prepared. It's nice to not have to travel to scout so much anymore, but I find it more and more demanding than years before."
He's enjoyed the yearly challenge of taking a roster and finding the right fits for all the pieces.
"I've either been a high school coach or a D-III coach. You learn it's not like D-I or D-II where you're able to get a system and plug in players constantly. You look at the roster of Ohio State and you see they probably have a 6-10, 6-11 kid in the post and have a point guard that could run a 4.0 in the 40," Moran said. "At high school and our level, some years, your strengths are your perimeter players and, some years, your strengths are inside. You have to be much more adaptable to changes. Like a card game, you just don't know if you're getting dealt four of a kind or two pair. You hope you get that. There are a lot of times where you draw and don't get that much.
"With our system, regardless of size and height, we look at who our best basketball players are and we find positions for them. Sometimes, maybe, we are undersized inside. Maybe we have a good kid hanging around the perimeter other years."
Will Moran miss getting on a bus for road games?
"Believe it or not, I don't mind it. We'll throw in a film and I'll chew some fat with all the other coaches. We only make a really long bus trip once or twice a year," he said. "I tell you what helps, too – win a couple games and those bus rides are always smoother and easier to take. It's amazing the difference winning makes. We've come back a couple times from big wins and it seemed like we were on a magic carpet. Those trips are nice, too."
The Blue Streaks hope to give their coach at least a couple more magic carpet rides by the end of the year.