New look G.W. finds success with depth, balance

The ar­chi­tect: In his second year as Wash­ing­ton’s boys bas­ket­ball coach, John Creighton has already won 23 games, in­clud­ing Thursday’s 45-42 win over FLC. TIMES FILE PHOTO

After los­ing his top two scorers from a sea­son ago, John Creighton knows some­times it’s just as op­por­tune to be lucky as it is good. 

Some might call Wash­ing­ton’s 45-42 Thursday road tri­umph at Frank­lin Learn­ing Cen­ter (FLC) win­ning ugly, but in the rough and tumble Pub­lic League, any vic­tory can and should be viewed as sur­viv­al. Against the Bob­cats, GW did just that: sur­vived. Some­how.

In a tight first half that saw the Eagles take a 22-21 de­fi­cit in­to the break, Creighton’s squad quickly re­boun­ded in the third quarter, build­ing an eight-point lead in the frame’s lat­ter stages. When that withered and turned in­to a 42-41 FLC ad­vant­age with 1:05 re­main­ing, the deep, bal­anced Eagles nev­er flinched.

With FLC hold­ing pos­ses­sion with 33 seconds to go, the Eagles op­ted for one last de­fens­ive push be­fore foul­ing com­ing out of a timeout. A timely trap off an in­bounds pass al­lowed GW seni­or guard Joseph Ran­dall enough lee­way to wriggle the ball away from the de­fend­er and go coast-to-coast for the game-win­ning lay­up. Just for good meas­ure, ju­ni­or guard As­ante Ali stole the en­su­ing in­bounds pass and found seni­or G/F James Cot­trell un­der­neath for an easy in­sur­ance buck­et. Just like that, those lucky Eagles (9-5, 5-3) had turned cer­tain de­feat in­to a huge Pub­lic League Di­vi­sion B vic­tory.

“It’s just dis­cip­line, when it comes down to it,” GW’s second-year head coach said fol­low­ing the vic­tory. “Our guys have to un­der­stand when you’re up in crunch time, the op­pon­ent should be work­ing their butts off, not you. We did well in the third, but in the fourth we col­lapsed, mainly be­cause it’s tough to teach teen­agers not to shoot when they have a wide open look. 

“That’s where we’re at right now, get­ting bet­ter with our bas­ket­ball IQ’s and late-game situ­ation stuff. Right now, we’re not a four-quarter team, and we got lucky, but I am proud of them for get­ting the win. That’s something I’ll nev­er com­plain about.”

In his first year at the helm of the Eagles bas­ket­ball pro­gram, Creighton guided his team to a 14-win sea­son, in­clud­ing nine in Di­vi­sion B, good enough to win a reg­u­lar sea­son title and get to the play­offs. However, this year’s group — while cer­tainly con­tain­ing the po­ten­tial to rep­lic­ate last year’s suc­cess — looks very dif­fer­ent.

In 2012-13, Creighton had Kend­ale Tru­itt, a top-five scorer in the city, at his dis­pos­al. Not only that, but he also had Tru­itt’s young­er broth­er, Devante, a phe­nom­en­al scorer in his own right, so in crunch time, it was no secret where the ball was go­ing. Now, with Kend­ale hav­ing gradu­ated and Devante trans­fer­ring to Phil­adelphia Elec­tric­al & Tech­no­logy Charter of Di­vi­sion A, Creighton has learned to spread the ball around to a team that, while not as top-heavy as last year, is deep­er and more ver­sat­ile.

“We go 10-deep right now, and that over­all bal­ance gives us more op­tions in crunch time,” Creighton said. “There’s op­tions wheth­er the op­pon­ent plays man-to-man, zone or press de­fense. We have an op­tion for any­thing that will be thrown our way, so now it’s a mat­ter of bring­ing it to­geth­er. I see it in spurts: this could be a very, very good team, bet­ter than the one that won the di­vi­sion last year.”

Against FLC, Wash­ing­ton cer­tainly flexed those depth muscles. Ju­ni­or for­ward Jerome Blume was the lead­ing scorer with 10, and he also ad­ded 11 re­bounds. Cot­trell was next with nine, then Ran­dall with eight, Ali and seni­or guard Khyree Hunt-Hawkins with six, four from ju­ni­or Jher­on John­son and two from foot­ball wideout Rasheed Black, who also con­trib­uted down low on the glass in the first half when team­mates got in­to foul trouble. This doesn’t even in­clude seni­or G/F Charles Brown, who has missed the last three games with a leg in­jury; in league play, Brown is av­er­aging 15 points in four con­tests, so his ab­sence has forced oth­ers to step up.

“We don’t have many guys with varsity ex­per­i­ence, so it’s tough to har­ness that in-sea­son on the fly,” Creighton said. “A lot of them are com­ing up from the JV level, but I think we’ve been able to build bet­ter chem­istry and team mor­ale since we don’t have to rely on one guy. Last year when we were in doubt, we gave the ball to Kend­ale; now, we have the lux­ury of choos­ing what we do based on match-ups.”

While a re­peat of last year’s di­vi­sion title may not be in the cards (at press time, GW sat be­hind Bartram, Del-Val Charter, Boys’ Lat­in and Si­mon Gratz in the stand­ings), Creighton still be­lieves this team has what it takes to make a play­off run, or at least do what last year’s team couldn’t, which would be to win a post­season game.

To do so, Wash­ing­ton will have to keep do­ing what it did against FLC (6-12, 2-7), which is to real­ize suc­cess can be achieved through the sum of its over­all parts. Des­pite not hav­ing two ex­plos­ive scorers as they did a year ago, the Eagles can identi­fy which play­ers are bet­ter ball-hand­lers, de­fend­ers, re­bounders, free throw shoot­ers, etc. Put­ting the five best play­ers on the court de­pend­ing on real-time match-ups is how Creighton’s 2013-14 team will be able to go farther than last year’s.

“I would hope look­ing back on this game come play­off time will help us,” Creighton said. “It shows the kids that oth­ers have the abil­ity to step up with Charles out. Stat­ist­ic­ally-speak­ing, we’re pretty even-keeled. If we see a mis­match, we’ll go for it. We are evenly bal­anced, and we trust each oth­er. You’ve got someone like Joseph Ran­dall who prides him­self on de­fense, and he gets him­self the game-win­ning steal and buck­et. Today was his day to shine, and I think by put­ting him on the court in that situ­ation and show­ing him we trust him will go a long way.”

Most of all, Creighton is en­joy­ing this ride be­cause of the kind of kids who are on his roster.

“They’re all good kids,” he said. “They make it easy for me to want to work my butt off to help them get bet­ter. They get good grades and there’s no dis­cip­line or be­ha­vi­or­al is­sues with them. They put in the time and hard work, which is why I’d love to see it all come to­geth­er for them in the end.” ••

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