Despite their Saturday afternoon tilt with Catonsville High School getting iced out today, Mount St. Joe (Baltimore, Md.) head coach Pat Clatchey has plenty to be appreciative of on the eve of the holidays.
His 9-0, top-ranked locally and nationally ranked (No. 54) Gaels are rolling behind Terps four-star guard signee Darryl Morsell; Terps four-star junior power forward target Jalen Smith; and an emerging sophomore guard Mark Turgeon and staff scouted as well this month.
MSJ has already taken down No. 16 St. Benedict's (NJ); withstood a 'game' Poly team in overtime; and are set to head south at the end of the month to play in the Junior Orange Bowl Classic in Miami, Dec. 28-30, which features some top Florida programs as well as St. Rita out of Chicago.
"I don't really pay a lot of attention to the rankings, but it's good to be off to a good start," Clatchey said. "We played St. Benedict's, and had another tough game back-to-back with Poly. Both were good teams and we came out on the winning side. So we're off to a good start, but there are a lot of games left to be played. And the object is to keep getting better and prepare yourself. And put yourself in a position to compete for championships."
That MSJ does annually under Clatchey, and the St. Benedict's win was a big one already.
"They were very big, very athletic, and we played tremendous in the first half. We were up 40-24 at halftime, and we couldn't have played better than we did," Clatchey said. "I think the guys were locked-in, focused, and each time they made a run we had an answer. It never got to be a one possession game."
And in that contest Morsell, who signed last month with UMD, had one of the typical, all-around games the 6-foot-4 standout prides himself on. Morsell is a jack-of-all-trades competitor, one that can play as many as four positions on the floor.
Morsell locked down at the defensive end, while coming up with 12 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, and 3 blocks to lead the win over the ranked power. Meanwhile, Jalen Smith had "his season coming-out party," Clatchey said, with 24 points, 16 points and 3 blocks "going head-to-head with their guy who is already committed to Syracuse. So Jalen is pretty much posting 'double-doubles' every game now."
On the season, Morsell is averaging 13 points and 9 rebounds with a season game-high of 21 points. Clatchey said Morsell is 1-for-3 so far on three-pointers, and over 72 percent at the free throw line. The slasher/finisher is known most for his 'junkyard-dog' defense and all-around floor game, but still-developing shooting range.
"It is getting better, something he works on daily. You know, he is aware of it," Clatchey said of Morsell's jumper. "And not just for the next level, but to become the best player he can be. It's improved, but I don't think it's where he wants it to be or where it needs to be. But he is very conscious of it and puts in the time and effort."
Morsell's first three-ball came in MSJ's last game. And of what's jumped out most since his pledge/start of the season, Clatchey said:
"I think it's really, as he always has, just striving to be a complete player and help us win as many games as possible. I don't think it is one thing. His goal is to lead us to championships, which we need him to do, and not alone as we have other good players on the team. And he gets that. But (his scoring), he is slashing, getting in the lane, in transition, offensive rebounds. The usual for him."
Smith, meanwhile, is averaging 18 points,10 rebounds and 3 blocks, "while knocking down his free throws and stepping out and hitting an occasional three. And finishing a lot better than he did last year. And he has made a lot of progress, and he has a chance to be a very, very good player," Clatchey said of the 6-10 jumping-jack, who Maryland remains in strong early position for.
The usual college staffs/recruiters have been through the MSJ gym of late, with Maryland, Villanova and Virginia the most recent visitors this month. Turgeon has already been to two MSJ games this season.
Meanwhile, MSJ's sophomore 6-2 lefty combo-guard, James Bishop, another starter averaging 16 points per game, "is really starting to open some eyes," Clatchey said. "He is really starting to come on. He can really shoot it, creates his own shot, gets in the lane....he is pretty darn good."
But all in all, the Terps' signee Morsell has continued his workman-like, versatile approach to each game, though he has been spotted off the floor in a lot more red and white of late, his coach pointed out.
"Well, I think someone (in the family) has been to the Terps book store or done a lot of on-line shopping for sure," Clatchey quipped of Morsell's recent styles since his pledge. "But I just think both he and his parents, you know, they are glad the decision has been made and now just focus on this season. Next year has now been settled, and academically he is very good. I just think it was a really stressful time for him, the decision, and now they can just get back to sense of normalcy as a family."
Next up, MSJ faces Boy's Latin on Dec. 23, before a short break for the holidays and then trekking to Miami.