Brendan Horan will be the first to admit that the offensive system in place at Archbishop Ryan is somewhat of an acquired taste. When a visiting reporter generously described the X’s and O’s of Bernie Rogers’ basketball playbook as “not the sexiest in the Catholic League,” Rogers’ most talented player smiled and began chuckling.
“In the beginning, when I first came to Ryan, I hated the offense,” Horan said. “Because in grade school, I was used to just playing 1-on-1 where all you’ve got to do to score is beat your guy.”
Horan learned pretty quickly not to judge a book by its cover, and after scoring 23 points in Sunday afternoon’s 59-43 Catholic League victory over visiting Bonner-Prendergast, he’s right where he wants to be within Rogers’ system.
But how exactly has his viewpoint changed when it comes to the Raiders’ technically sound offensive attack?
“You have to play as a team,” Horan said. “The offense here taught me that you have to care about your teammates. That’s the most important part.”
It’s somewhat difficult to describe to an outsider how Ryan finds success at the offensive end of the court. Considering the team doesn’t usually have an undisputed star with Division-I talent, Rogers’ system is never predicated on one player; rather, it’s about finding the best shot for the most open player … no matter how long that takes.
Recently retired longtime Philadelphia Daily News high school sports writer Ted Silary affectionately called it “Ryan’ing” the opponent, and the Princeton-style offense that Rogers runs looks somewhat similar to Norman Dale’s system in the 1986 classic sports movie Hoosiers, where the titular team is specifically instructed to pass four times before looking to shoot.
While Rogers has no such rule in place, Ryan was able to carve up Bonner-Prendie by meticulously passing and weaving the ball around in halfcourt sets, wearing down the defense until an open look presented itself behind the three-point arc or down low under the basket.
As a result, Horan, a 6-foot-2 senior who is the only one in Rogers’ rotation that has played major varsity minutes prior to this season, had his best performance of the year. He torched the Friars for 17 of his 23 in the first half in a contest Bonner-Prendie (1-11, 0-4 league) never led. When a 33-20 Raiders (9-4, 1-3) halftime lead was cut to seven after three, Horan helped close the opponent out at the foul line by going 5-for-6 in the fourth quarter.
“This offense is really big on ball movement, and we moved the ball really well today,” Horan said. “We like to pass the ball around, and none of us are selfish. Whether I score or my teammates score, I’m just as happy either way.”
The victory was a critical one for the Raiders. After winning nine Catholic League games in each of the last two seasons (good enough to comfortably qualify for the postseason), they dropped their first three to West Catholic, Conwell-Egan and Archbishop Wood by a combined 48 points. Considering the Raiders close out the season with four road games against top-line talent (Archbishop Carroll, Neumann-Goretti, La Salle and Roman Catholic), they need to pick up as many wins as possible now to put themselves in a position to be one of the 10 Catholic League teams that make the playoffs.
The Raiders graduated eight seniors from last year’s group, including five of their top six scorers. Perhaps the biggest void to fill is the one left by Bryan Okolo, Ryan’s leading scorer the last two seasons who now plays at the University of the Sciences. However, Horan maintained that guys like Okolo and the other graduated seniors helped this current crop of youngsters be prepared for how to handle themselves in the rigorous waters of the Catholic League.
“Last year we had so many seniors, and even though we lost them all, they were guys we really looked up to,” Horan said. “Especially Bryan. I’ve always tried to take parts of his game and incorporate them into mine. He was a great shooter but an even better kid.”
Now, Horan is supported by fellow seniors Nick Heuser (eight points) and Matt Dever, while sophomores Austin Chabot (11 points, six rebounds), Fred Killian and Austin Slawter are all starting and logging heavy minutes. This puts the focus on Horan (15.3 points per game average this season) to deliver the goods, and on Sunday he did just that.
“My teammates and coaches just tell me to drive the ball and read it,” Horan said. “If the defender helps, kick it out; if he doesn’t, take it yourself. They help me a lot with that, and I think we trust ourselves and trust each other.
“Our number one thing is positivity. When you go 0-3, the first thing you want to do is hang your head, but we just came together in practice and worked as hard as we always do. Today, it paid off.”
Horan and the Raiders had a very successful non-league showing, winning eight of their nine Catholic League precursors. Now, they must show they can do it with some consistency in the league, which is always easier said than done. With winnable games coming up against Bishop McDevitt and Cardinal O’Hara, Ryan hopes to be right in the thick of things when it comes time to make that final push toward the playoffs.
“It’s a very good league, so I think for us we just needed to realize that the entire season wasn’t over because we lost three games,” Horan said. “We can win some games and be right back in the mix. We have to come out with energy. In those three losses, we started slow and got blown out. In this league, consistent energy is the most important factor.”
Having fun during senior year is also an important factor, something Horan recognizes. While he chatted to a reporter following the win, Horan’s father, James, stood nearby talking to a college scout who had come to watch his son play. James Horan, a 1987 Ryan grad, played basketball for the Raiders and was a Catholic League second-team selection by the News Gleaner.
“My dad and his friends always say to savor this, because it’s going to be the best experience of your life,” Brendan Horan said. “I’m happy, but I’m not satisfied. I’m just focused on the next practice, where I know we have to come out and work even harder to make sure we get that next win.” ••