Judge hoops settling into new selfless identity

Fath­er Judge’s Jeff Sie­gafuse (left) is one of a hand­ful of Cru­saders be­ing coun­ted on for in­creased scor­ing and lead­er­ship this sea­son. KEV­IN COOK / FOR THE TIMES

— With a roster crack­ling with team chem­istry, the Cru­saders are hop­ing for a dif­fer­ent end this sea­son.

Sean Tait isn’t sure how much more tal­en­ted this year’s ver­sion of the Fath­er Judge bas­ket­ball team is com­pared to last sea­son’s coun­ter­part, but the fourth-year head coach knows this much: the 2012-13 Cru­sader team is light years im­proved in terms of self­less­ness.

Last year, the Cru­saders got off to a tor­rid non-league start, win­ning eight of their first nine games. Judge also had an im­press­ive Cath­ol­ic League win over league stal­wart La Salle, and played St. Joseph’s Prep, an­oth­er per­en­ni­al power, down to the wire be­fore los­ing.

But some­where along the line, things star­ted fall­ing apart for the Cru­saders. They began limp­ing mid­way in­to their league slate be­fore com­pletely col­lapsing at the fin­ish line. They lost the fi­nal four games, in­clud­ing a first-round play­off game to La Salle.

Tait blamed the fall from grace on selfish play from some of the team’s former lead­ers. As a res­ult, the coach em­ployed some “ad­di­tion by sub­trac­tion,” as he likes to put it, hop­ing to im­prove the over­all team chem­istry even if it meant shed­ding some of­fens­ive fire­power.

“Without a doubt, the bright­est spot so far has been our un­selfish­ness,” Tait said of the Cru­saders’ first five games, three of which they’ve won. “It’s been a big pos­it­ive.”

The most re­cent sampling of the new-look Cru­saders came dur­ing a 63-47 non-league home win over Straw­berry Man­sion on Fri­day night. At times, it wasn’t the smoothest of per­form­ances, as un­forced turnovers were a prob­lem that of­ten had Tait red-faced on the side­line.

But Judge em­ployed im­press­ive bal­ance throughout, which is why there nev­er seemed to be a palp­able threat of Man­sion tak­ing the game over. The Knights crept to with­in a hand­ful of points in the second half, but, for the most part, Judge led by double di­gits.

A few weeks ago, Tait spoke of Judge’s need to get con­tri­bu­tions from every mem­ber of its eight-man ro­ta­tion. That oc­curred on Fri­day, with four play­ers reach­ing double di­gits in the scor­ing column. (Seni­or guard Sean Hanna led the way with 12, while slash­ers Ma­lik Robin­son and Jeff Sie­gafuse con­trib­uted 11.) Ju­ni­or James Bogans and sopho­more Will Brazu­kas, who are split­ting point guard du­ties, com­bined for 15 points.

“Bal­ance,” Tait said when asked the key to the vic­tory, something that will have to con­tin­ue if the Cru­saders want to avoid an­oth­er sea­son like last year. “Those three guys (Hanna, Robin­son, Sie­gafuse) … we’ll go as far as they take us. Jeff and Ma­lik es­pe­cially have to be good, be­cause a lot of Sean’s of­fense comes from what they cre­ate for him. We have the tools, and I think we’re fly­ing un­der the radar a bit, which is good for this group. I think we’ll be OK.”

Surely Tait won’t know too much about how his team will fare this sea­son un­til the Jan. 4 Cath­ol­ic League open­er against La Salle. The Cru­saders will play three more games between now and then, games Tait wants to use to solve a rampant turnover prob­lem, as well as find­ing more of an of­fens­ive flow as a unit.

“We were up one with three minutes to go against Cent­ral Bucks South (on Dec. 19) and we just gave it away with too many turnovers,” Tait said. “I think we could be 5-0 without them.”

One of the keys to Judge’s sea­son, however, may come in the form of Frank­lin Towne Charter trans­fer Brandon Maguire. Maguire, a Brides­burg nat­ive who at­ten­ded North Cath­ol­ic as a fresh­man be­fore the school closed, ended up at Towne be­cause it was close to home. There, he be­came the start­ing goalie on the much-im­proved Coyotes soc­cer team, one he helped guide to a Pub­lic League cham­pi­on­ship game ap­pear­ance this sea­son.

Long be­fore the soc­cer sea­son ended, however, Maguire began the ne­ces­sary steps to trans­fer to Fath­er Judge. Ac­cord­ing to Tait, it was im­port­ant for the 6-foot-5 seni­or and his fam­ily that he gradu­ate from a Cath­ol­ic League school, much like his older broth­er and late fath­er did from North. An ad­mis­sions delay meant Maguire wouldn’t be able to en­roll at his new school un­til Nov. 1; however, now that he’s ar­rived, he’s helped im­prove Judge every time he’s stepped onto the court.

And while Maguire is still re­fin­ing some of his skills and trans­lat­ing them to the Cath­ol­ic League style of play, he is mak­ing an im­me­di­ate im­pact for the Cru­saders. He’s been giv­ing them the tal­en­ted, dif­fer­ence-mak­ing big man they’ve been lack­ing since the 6-foot-9 Seamus Radtke gradu­ated two years ago.

“Brandon can score from down low either straight up or with his back to the bas­ket, and he can also pull up and shoot from the peri­met­er,” Tait said. “He can re­bound and block shots, and he’s pretty smart de­fens­ively. Once he’s 100 per­cent com­fort­able, we think he can be an All-Cath­ol­ic-caliber play­er.”

Maguire’s im­pact was felt against Man­sion, even if it just came in spurts due to foul trouble. The cen­ter con­trib­uted 10 points, six re­bounds and a couple of blocked shots

“His abil­it­ies are on the col­lege level, and he will play at the next level,” Tait said of Maguire. “I’ve been get­ting on him to even be a little more selfish of­fens­ively be­cause he can have such an im­pact. Once he fig­ures it all out, he’ll really help us.”

After just five games, Tait hasn’t doesn’t quite have his fin­ger on this Judge team’s pulse, but one thing does re­main clear: the coach is ec­stat­ic with the team’s bal­anced, self­less style of play, one that will go a long way over the course of the en­tire sea­son.

“Since our first game, we’ve got­ten bet­ter every time we’ve stepped onto the court,” Tait said. “We need a ‘good win’ be­cause we don’t ne­ces­sar­ily have one of those yet. All wins are good, don’t get me wrong, but we need one that will really give us the con­fid­ence we need.

“I’m see­ing guys start to make plays they wouldn’t have made a few weeks ago. Hon­estly, it all comes down to mak­ing shots and not turn­ing the ball over. La Salle is bring­ing the same team back, more or less, and we’re not, but we’re in a bet­ter place, chem­istry wise.” ••

Sports Ed­it­or Ed Mor­rone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or em­or­rone@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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