Coach Dru Joyce II sees an unfinished product when he looks at his St. Vincent-St. Mary boys basketball team.
The Fighting Irish (19-9) are heading to Columbus for the Division II state tournament this weekend with sectional, district and regional titles in tow, but Joyce is not content.
“We are not there yet, this team still has room to grow,” Joyce said. “I still think that this team has not reached its full potential. There is still room for this team to get better.”
Joyce thinks this way because of the youth on a St. V-M team that will face the Vincent Warren Warriors (26-1) in a state semifinal at 5:15 p.m. Thursday at Value City Arena.
Freshman VJ King and junior Jalen Hudson are St. V-M’s top scorers at 16.3 points and 14.6 points, respectively. Neither player went to St. V-M last season.
King, 16, is 6-foot-7 and 175 pounds. He is originally from Cleveland and moved to Charlotte, N.C., with his parents, Vincent Sr. and Lo, and younger sister, Jalen (14). They moved to Akron last year for Vincent Sr. to take a job as the executive director of the First Tee of Akron.
“I came in and didn’t really know anybody,” VJ King said. “The people here really accepted me with open arms. It was not a hard adjustment with our coaches and players, and all the teachers. They all welcomed me with open arms. It has been a lot of fun.”
King, who considered attending Lakewood St. Edward, said he knew Irish freshman Henry Baddley through AAU basketball, but was unfamiliar with a majority of his new teammates.
As an eighth-grader, Vincent Jr. played on the varsity basketball team at United Faith Christian Academy in Charlotte for coach Muggsy Bogues, a former NBA player.
King has a 3.75 grade-point average and holds scholarship offers from UNC Greensboro, UNC Charlotte, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Delaware State.
Hudson, 16, is 6-6 and 190 pounds. He is originally from Akron, moved to Richmond, Va., as a child and then moved back to Akron this past summer. He helped Benedictine High School in Richmond to a state title and a state semifinal appearance.
Hudson said he moved back to Akron to live with his father, Jerry Hudson, after his mother, Teresa Hudson, took a job in North Carolina. Jalen has two older sisters — Briana Hudson (21), who is on a full track scholarship at North Carolina, and Chanel Hudson (26), who lives in Richmond.
Hudson considered attending Archbishop Hoban before deciding on St. V-M.
“I thought this was a better fit,” Hudson said. “It has been a great experience. VJ and I are scorers, but we are also all-around basketball players. We don’t just do all the scoring. We are contributors on a team where everybody plays an important role.”
Hudson has a 3.7 grade-point average and has scholarship offers from George Mason, Miami University, Akron, Kent State, Cornell, Ohio and Robert Morris.
Nick Wells, 18, is 6-6, 210 pounds and a Lake Erie College recruit. He is a Coventry resident and has been at St. V-M for four years. Seniors Jordan Hargrove, Joey Weber and Fransohn Bickley are also in their fourth year at St. V-M.
“We lost five transfers [from last season], so this was basically a new team,” said Wells, who averages 11.9 points and 8.6 rebounds, and has a 3.0 grade-point average. “It took us awhile to come together, but we complement each other really well. They have all become my best friends. We started playing during the summer time and we all clicked. We started playing in June in the gym and at area parks, and now here we are.”
Jarel Woolridge, Dante Booker, Newman Williams, Travonte Junius, Parris Campbell Jr. and Aaron Bushner also are experienced in the program as juniors at St. V-M.
“I think that what you have is just a young team,” Joyce said. “As far as the group of guys, the football players [Hargrove, Weber, Bickley, Booker, Williams, Junius, Campbell and Bushner] and Wells set a pretty good example for VJ and Jalen as to what it is going to take. Early on when we were struggling, Nick, Fresh, Jordan and Joey took on larger roles. They have seen when we have been successful. They understand what I wanted and how we go about things. Their leadership rubbed off on the younger guys.”
The football players contributed on the 2012 Division II state title team in December. They were also with the 2011 basketball team that won a Division II state title.
Joyce said he met Hudson when he was an eighth-grader, but didn’t get to know him until June when he moved back to Akron. Joyce met King in May.
“Some of it is a natural process of kids getting to know one another,” Joyce said. “Early on, as much as you wanted it to be good, you have to have chemistry. Players have to learn what a teammate’s strengths and weaknesses are. You have to find out where a player wants the ball and other things like that.”
St. V-M also won state titles in 1984, 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2009. St. Mary won a state title in 1929.
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or email@example.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.