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Bishop McDevitt dealing with the target of increased expectations

01/07/2020, 11:00am EST
By Ari Glazier

Robert Smith (above) and Bishop McDevitt are 1-2 in the PCL after making the semifinals a year ago. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Ari Glazier (@AriGlazier)

After two straight years of emerging as upstarts in the PCL, Bishop McDevitt is in the unfamiliar position of having to play catch up to their preseason expectations.

The Lancers’ 5-5 start to this season, including a 1-2 conference record, comes on the heels of coach Will Chavis building the program up from a nonfactor to a contender for top dog in the best league around.

In the 2017-18 campaign, McDevitt nabbed its first league playoff berth since 2014, and their first state playoff victory since 2012. 

The following year, they continued to turn heads, going 11-3 in Catholic League play (21-8 overall) and earning a spot in the league semifinals at the Palestra before being bested by La Salle. Following their exit at the Cathedral of College Basketball, Chavis’ squad made a run to the PIAA 3A state semifinals before having their season extinguished by Trinity.

Now, McDevitt, which returns key seniors like Jamil Manigo and Robert Smith, does not have the luxury of being overlooked. While initially pegged as one of the league’s top contenders, the standings say otherwise, although their two losses (to contenders Archbishop Wood and Cardinal O’Hara) were both by only three points.

“We realized that we’re getting hunted this year,” Smith said. “Everybody knows what we’re capable of and what we did last year so they just want to be where we’re at right now, so we can’t let that happen.”

Chavis dismissed the notion of outside pressure affecting the team, although he did suggest that the team’s internal mentality had changed. He also articulated that having a rotation consisting largely of upperclassmen wasn’t as easy as it may seem. He also pointed to the graduation of players like Seneca Willoughby, AJ Greenberg, and Austin Alcorn off last year’s squad as being significant hurdles.

Smith, on the other hand, uses the pressure as motivation, seeing himself as underestimated.

“I’ve been getting overlooked by a lot of people,” Smith said. “ I like to have that pressure because I know what we’re capable of and what we can do.”

Jamil Manigo (above) is one of the top inside-out scoring threats in the Catholic League. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Smith and Manigo form one of the area’s best in-and-out pairs. Manigo is a powerhouse, although he stands at just 6-3. His stocky build and aggression are enough to make it very difficult for defenders to prevent him from bullying his way to the basket. 

Smith is a sharpshooting combo guard, more than capable of penetrating defenses. He’s also a solid team defender, able to punish lackadaisical ball handlers by jumping into passing lanes. 

They are joined by fellow seniors, point guard Ahmir Harris, wing Glenn Smith and wing Shamir Mosely, plus freshman Terrell Pitts, and sophomore big man Alassande Amadou, in the rotation. 

The two star seniors are as different off the court as they are on. Chavis calls the more vocal Manigo  “fun loving” and “goofy”, although he is more than capable of locking in when it comes time. Smith on the other hand is far more reserved.

“That’s where I think he needs to get better,” Chavis said. “I think he needs to be more of a vocal leader and just a leader in general. Not so locked in on what he has going on, but trying to understand that if he leads people, we’ll all be better off for it.

Smith described himself as being steadfastly focused on improving his game.

“Either I’m home or I’m at the gym, getting shots up or lifting. Just doing something productive that involves basketball.”

The 6-0 guard has received some D-I interest. He’s hauled in offers from Binghamton and Saint Peter’s. He’s alto taken a visit to Towson. In anticipation of the change in his life that college will bring, Smith uses a similarly rugged attitude that he applied to the notion of McDevitt being hunted by opposing teams.

“It’s gonna be tough but I can get through it ‘cause I know me,” Smith said. “I know I’m not a quitter so I’ve got to fight through everything.”

Smith and Manigo combined for 27 points in McDevitt’s 42-39 win against La Salle in a PCL semi-final rematch on Friday. It was the Lancers first conference victory, and it came in a low scoring and disjointed fashion. Although La Salle isn’t the team it was last year, losing multiple key seniors, they hung tough, spurred on by a barrage of three pointers. 

They then combined for 27 more on Monday night, though McDevitt couldn’t overcome a still-unbeaten O’Hara squad, losing 45-42 on the road. 

Now nearing the midway point of the season, and the meat of conference play, the Lancers face a crucial stretch. 

Their next five PCL games come against teams with losing records in the Catholic League. It is essential to McDevitt’s postseason chances that they win most if not all of these matchups, three of which come at home. After that stretch they close out their regular season by taking on some of the league’s stalwarts in Neumann Goretti, Bonner-Pendergast, and Roman Catholic, who are a combined 7-0 in league play.

The burden will fall on the McDevitt senior class to do what they have done all throughout their high school careers and rise to the occasion, if they hope to match their newly-minted expectations of being a top tier program.

“A lot of teams are coming for us, this year is a statement year,” Smith said. “I like to have that pressure, because I know what we’re capable of and what we can do.”

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