The Bishop Luers Knights were the 2019-20 SAC champions. It came, for those outside of the team, out of nowhere. Two years prior, they won just one game. The season after, the first with coach Fonso White on the sideline, they won only four games. It was, to many, seemingly out of nowhere when they won 15 games including beating Carroll and Snider down the stretch to claim the city’s title again in 2019-20, after years of wonder if they could ever reach that level again.
So what now? That is the question for the Knights. When you reach those heights, seemingly out of nowhere, how do you sustain? How do you live up to the target that now resides on your back?
“The plan of attack now is to make sure we can keep ourselves in a competitive fashion. I think it’s going to surprise people, believe it or not, that we are going to be deeper than we were last year,” White said.
But how do you do that as the defending champion? How does anything you do surprise anyone? Well the Knights have lost three of their top four scorers with the graduation of Demarcus Hudson, Jalen Causey and Landon Moore; two other seniors who played in 20 or more games are gone too. So there is a lot to build back up to. It is a weird place to be for the Knights, with more expectations than the past but also not as many as a defending champion would normally have.
The head of the dragon that is the defending SAC champion Knights is clearly Naylon Thompson. He has been at the forefront for entire high school career and was arguably the most significant on court catalyst in Luers’ turnaround from one win when he was a freshman to 15 wins and a conference title last season. Last year, he averaged 16 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.5 steals, 2.4 assists and 1.2 blocks per game last year. Also known as: he can do a little bit of everything.
And it never hurts when you can lead your team with a Division 1 prospect.
“Naylon has improved in the aspect that now he knows people are going to key in on him, but even when people try to key in on him, he’s going to be tough to defend. He has improved his ability to get to the rim, he has improved his ability to take you off the dribble and knows that he can create his shot at any time from anywhere on the floor,” White said.
Naylon’s brother Nick Thompson will be coming off a successful season on the football field and is one of the players from that team that is bringing a continued championship mindset from their postseason run. Nick Thompson’s 5.9 points per game will go up with his usage rate increasing. He is a pure athlete that will be expected to score and rebound much more.
“He tells me all the time as he is walking around the gym going to football practice that he is going to be the best player in the gym,” White says of Nick Thompson’s confidence. “I think something about that competition aspect of things is going to drive Naylon to be better but yet it is going to make Nick that much of a better player too knowing that his brother has Division 1 opportunities ahead for him.”
Seniors Lukas North and Johnny Sewell also return as key defenders. They too will have to pick up some offensive slack. North is going to be a vocal leader and critical in passing game. He too can catch fire from deep says White; the left hander hit 7-of-30 three point opportunities a season ago. North could be the glue guy that settles things down while Sewell is going to be a guy who is a hard charger, playing with energy and making intangible things happen.
From there, the Knights will look for balance from Omare Bates and Isaiah Simmons, who could both contribute inside because of their physicality and diversity at the rim to power through or use more finesse moves. White plans to suit up at least 10 guys that are all solid athletes that could potentially contribute at any given time without causing mismatch issues.
Carson Clark will come over from the football team, can handle the ball and has a strong defensive IQ. Clark’s leadership and championship pedigree will be good to bring over from the football field. TJ Bush is up from the JV team with speed and Sedrick Reed will be another wing that can score in a few ways.
“We need to have guys that just understand their role. When you have guys that understand their role, understand who are the scorers, who is gonna rebound, who is gonna pass…that is when you know you have a pretty good chance at competing,” White said.
It does bode well for understanding of roles when you look at the number and quality of guys that Luers will bring from their Regional champion football team. White says that, at those football players’ request, there will be basketball practice the day after the football season ends no matter when that is. There is a lot of excitement, he says, transferring over from the football program to the basketball program as we transition into this winter.
In addition to Nick Thompson, Sewell and Clark, the team will add several more football players, including Nelson Knapke and Jayden Hill – who saw limited varsity minutes last season – and Brody Glenn, who’s athleticism has been seen pretty clearly this fall. Uri Vaszquez and Seth Sceiber will round out the varsity squad.
“When you have success, kids want to be part of that,” White said. “It just shows you where we’ve made strides in a three year time to where we are right now. Our goal is that we compete at the top echelon of the SAC. We are also thinking bigger than that too.”
No more underrating the Knights. While Outside the Huddle gave them more of a benefit of the doubt than anyone else last preseason, nobody outside of the program had them pencilled in as conference champions. The way that White has rebuilt this program so quickly says a lot about the buy in he and his staff are able to establish from their players.
When you buy in and have a good game plan night in and night out, you win. The Knights weren’t flawless last season, but they stepped up when it mattered more often than not. So give them credit, they will be right there fighting in the SAC again.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
Graduation not only zapped some depth, it zapped some height and interior presence. They may end up being just as good in those two areas, but until it is proven, they sit here at the back end of the Top 10 – still not bad – and in the middle of the SAC where spots 3 through 9 could really be a jumble. The Knights aren’t under the radar anymore but they need some quality wins before they move up the charts.
December 18 vs. Homestead
While there are better barometer games even before this, including at Leo – the team that derailed their Sectional hopes last season – this is what we call critical. There is little time to warm up for the Spartans, who beat Luers twice last season despite the Knights’ status as SAC champion.
While the Spartans return a lot, the Knights are going to still be a lot of moving pieces at this point for game five of the season. We learned last year, and it could still be true this year, that this isn’t conference right now where once loss does not eliminate you. Even if this isn’t a win, Bishop Luers wants to stay competitive and make waves in their second SAC game of the season.
Carson Clark, junior
Still too early to call Clark’s planned inclusion with the basketball program crucial? Then you haven’t seen the level of maturity, effort and enthusiasm he has led the football program to this fall. Clark’s work ethic has led to a continued development on the gridiron that made Luers one of the last two area teams playing this season.
Not only is he a leader and winner, Clark is a tremendous athlete. Where are his basketball skills at? Time will tell. But having someone like him on the court isn’t going to hurt the Knights, that is for sure.
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