By Matt Florjancic
The Warren G. Harding boys basketball team is not off to a good start in 2008. Rather, the Raiders are off to a great start and head into the Christmas break with many achievements to celebrate.
At 4-0, the Raiders steamrolled their way through Youngtown East, Euclid and Farrell (Pennsylvania) before traveling to Shaker Heights last Saturday.
Warren Harding locked down the Shaker Heights attack and won its third road game of the year 77-42. The victory could set the table for a postseason run, which may feature a rematch in district play.
“It was very important for our program going into our fourth game and being able to go on the road and defeat a very good Shaker Heights team,” Warren Harding coach Steve Arnold said. “To come into a hostile environment, we’re going to need a road mentality up in the Warrensville Heights district, which is the toughest district in the state.”
At the beginning of the year, Shaker Heights (2-3) was considered one of the best programs in the Cleveland area. After a five-point victory over highly-regarded Mentor, Shaker Heights looked to go above the .500 mark against Warren Harding.
The Raiders held Shaker Heights guard and Cleveland State University recruit Anthony Wells to five points. Wells knocked down one three-pointer and a pair of free throws in the early-season setback to Warren Harding.
“[We stopped them with] effort, determination and hustling,” Arnold said. “We take pride in our defense. The Wells kid is a very good basketball player and we didn’t want him to [go] off on us. Last year, I think he had 30, 31 against us and we didn’t want a repeat performance.
“It was a total team effort defensively,” he added. “We started Fred Williams on him. Fred is a tough guy. He’s going to be physical with you. Then, we put Desmar Jackson on him, who’s long and lengthy. Wells had to shoot over Desmar. We gave him three different looks and he had a hard time.”
While the Raiders were limiting Wells to a season-low, they were scoring the basketball with ease. Four Warren Harding players finished in double figures and as a team, they converted 35 total field goals.
Angel Gonzalez led the way with 16 points on seven field goals, while Youngstown State University recruit and returning third team All-Ohio guard Sheldon Brogdon added 14. Jackson (12 points) and Williams (13) also finished in double figures.
“Our players know that if we don’t share the basketball, they won’t play,” Arnold said. “We take pride in sharing the basketball, having assists and seeing someone else score. When you have four guys averaging in double figures, it’s hard to defend.
“The classic example is the Wells kid,” he added. “If you have one primary scorer and he’s off, you’re going to have a hard time trying to win that ball game. Our offense is geared around four or five guys, sometimes six.”
Harding’s early season challenges will not go away. Coach Arnold leads the Raiders in another road game Saturday when they face Cleveland St. Ignatius. Once the calendar switches to 2009, the Raiders return home for a match-up with Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, the alma mater of Cleveland Cavaliers star forward LeBron James.
“Every game is a challenge,” Arnold said. “We don’t say Team A is better than Team B, Team B is better than Team C. We prepare the same for every team. We’re not dissecting the schedule and saying, ‘We need to get ready to play this game.’
“When teams play us, our games with them are highlighted,” he concluded. “We’re going to get their best shot, so we need to be ready each and every night. Once we as a coaching staff convey that to our players, they realize we need to be ready. Being ready doesn’t start on game night. Being ready starts on Monday, Tuesday and in preparation in practice.”
Matt Florjancic currently works as a freelance reporter and sports announcer for WOBL and WDLW Radio.